I stayed away from any “da Vinci” title for years, especially after the “Code” which was all fiction and had very little to do with Leonardo. Such was my dislike for anything to do with da Vinci that I hesitated for weeks reading Cenacolo, written by Joseph Orbi.
Then, on my birthday, a friend gave me a hardcopy of the book which I was unable to put down. Of course, the title was among the first on my list when I bought my Kindle.
“Cenacolo” is a brilliant novel; historical/fiction at its best.
“Cenacolo” means a refectory, or, dining-hall, the main setting for this terrific suspense historical novel about Leonardo da Vinci at the time he was living in Milan. It is also a generic term for “the Last Supper,” the famous da Vinci mural at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan.
A masterful blend of intrigue and suspense, it well reflects the 30 years that, according to interviews I read about the author, he spent researching Leonardo. It gives the reader a fabulous account of everyday life in Italy at the time, and a good idea what the real Leonardo da Vinci was like; very little like he’s described in biographies and history books. In fact, in the novel the “great” Leonardo has only three things in mind – which I will not mention here – and let’s just say none of them had to do with the brush.
One of the amazing features of Cenacolo is that unless you are a historian you will, most likely, be unable to tell where history ends and fiction begins.
The novel, published by I. O. Twomey, Ltd. is not about how da Vinci created the “Supper” (although the author gives a good idea what went wrong), but how things in life can get very complicated and dangerous regardless of good intentions. The book also includes drawings by the famous artist and one by his “student,” a boy Leonardo called Salai (according to the publisher, some of the drawings were retouched for dramatic effect).
The main characters are some of the giants of the Renaissance; Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan; and Çesare Borgia. Orbi depicts them “not like the mythical figures they became, but as they were, men driven by passion; working, loving, striving and simply trying to survive...”
Like a virtuoso orchestra conductor, Joseph Orbi directs the action of the novel and allows for events to provoke the imagination. One chapter leads to another with increasing suspense and you may spend a few sleepless night because there is a good chance you won’t put the book down until you find out how Leonardo “gets even,” and that doesn’t happen until the word just before “The end.”