Smithsonian Journeys Experts
Dr. Ross King is the best-selling author of books on Italian, French and Canadian art and history. Among his books are Brunelleschi’s Dome (2000), Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling (2002), and Leonardo and The Last Supper (2012). His study of the origins of French Impressionism, The Judgement of Paris, was published in 2006. He has also published a biography of Niccolò Machiavelli and edited a collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s fables, jokes, and riddles. He is the co-author with Anja Grebe of Florence: The Paintings & Frescoes, 1250-1743 (2015), the most comprehensive (and probably the heaviest) book ever undertaken on the art of Florence.
His latest book, Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies published in September 2016, marks his return to French Impressionism ten years after his award-winning The Judgement of Paris.
Ross serves on the Council of Academic Advisors for Friends of Florence, the fund-raising charity ensuring the survival of Florence’s art and architectural treasures. He has participated in numerous Friends of Florence study tours throughout Italy, including in Rome, Assisi, and Milan. He is a regular participant in the Italian Renaissance seminars at the Aspen Institute, including programmes on Giotto, St. Francis, and Dante. He has appeared in a number of television documentaries, such as The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance (PBS, 2003), Raphael: A Mortal God (BBC, 2004), The Great Cathedral Mystery (Nova, 2014), and Florence’s Invisible City (BBC, 2016).
He has lectured in many American museums, including the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Frick Collection, and the National Gallery of Art. When not traveling for work or pleasure, he lives near Oxford, in England, with his wife Melanie.
A Q&A with Expert Ross King
Q. How do you infuse your Smithsonian Journeys tours to Italy and France with your expertise?
A. I try to combine my expertise with enthusiasm. It’s one thing to know something intellectually, or to see it on the page, but quite another to experience it firsthand. I want to help give people a kind of time-travel experience, where we move in time as well as space. I want them to appreciate what it was like to live in a different culture and in a different time. In the end I want people to know and feel—if not necessarily all of my knowledge, then at least some of my passion and joy.
Q. What prompted you to move from writing novels to non-fiction works of art history and biography? A. History is far more fascinating and downright stranger than anything I can invent. In my novels I wanted to bring
history alive through storytelling, but I hope I can do that every bit as entertainingly in non-fiction. In Brunelleschi’s Dome and Mad Enchantment I try to make use of all those things that, in my opinion, make novels readable—a quick pace, intrigue, colorful characters, and interesting locations. Luckily, history is full of such things. All that said, however, I’d love to do another novel sometime.
Q. What do you feel is the best part of your role as a Smithsonian Journeys Expert?
A. Traveling through beautiful landscapes, looking at paintings and historic buildings with like-minded people, then sitting down with them in the sunshine to enjoy an espresso or gelato to discuss the experience . . . what more could a person ask for?
Q. Considering 2019 marks the 500-year anniver- sary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, what do you feel will be the most surprising aspects for Smithsonian Journeys travelers?
A. Leonardo da Vinci is always worth celebrating, but 2019 gives us one more great excuse. Leonardo is going to be everywhere. Bill Gates is loaning one of Leonardo’s notebooks, the Codex Leicester, to the Uffizi Gallery for an exhibition in Florence. The Museo Galileo, also in Florence, is planning an exhibition called Leonardo and His Books. There are also going to be major showings of his work in Paris, London, and Madrid (an exhibition on which I’ve been privileged to work). Fittingly, the Museo Leonardiano in Vinci, Leonardo’s hometown, is planning a show linking his work to the beautiful Tuscan landscape. And the house in which Leonardo died, at Amboise in the Loire Valley, will display a tapestry of The Last Supper loaned by the Vatican.