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Virtual History – The Last Supper

Also known as: Virtual History – Ultima Cena outside the US.

  • Publisher: Mondadori It
  • Genre: interactive book, art book, education, travel
  • Platform: iPad Only
  • Price: $9.99
  • SAHGeekMom Rating: 5 Stars
  • Recommended Age: All Ages (not aimed at young children)

CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED– winners were notified privately by email and DM.

Mondadori’s new series of educational book-apps are changing the face of digital publishing on iOS. One of the primary inspirations for my blog was the January publication of A Virtual History – Roma (released as Rome – A Virtual History, I believe) by the European publishing giant.

Mondadori HQ

Apple was featuring it prominently on the App Store, but I couldn’t find any reviews. I bought it and my jaw almost hit the floor. Stay at Home GeekMom was born a few days later, in part to fill that void. I don’t mind paying $10 for a good book, but it’s a lot to risk blind.

So I wrote about it, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that a public company the size and with the reputation of Mondadori would care.

I wrote it for you. I didn’t contact them or even send them a link (rookie mistake), but it became my most popular post and the one most often referred here by major search engines, so I keep it up to date. You can read it here.

Last week, when I saw that they had a second offering in the same vein, Virtual History – The Last Supper, about Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, from multiple thematic, historical and artistic perspectives, I didn’t think about the cost. I dropped the $9.99 and sat back to enjoy.

If you happen to have a passion for art, books, and apps, you’ve stumbled onto the trifecta.

I was pleased with the prose and equally impressed with the perfect balance of information and interactivity, a tightrope act for anyone on a foray into this market.

I was going to review, and rave about it; I didn’t need anything, but wrote Mondadori as a fan, even if I did use the press link. And, since I am heir to the chutzpah throne, I dared to pitch a giveaway.

I am thrilled; the folks at Mondadori are open and generous. I’m sure they will appreciate the publicity on appadvice.com, but someone like me is not going to impact the bottom line for a company that is the third largest magazine publisher in France. They own a 27 percent market share of all print books in Italy and they team up with Hearst to publish “Cosmo.” They really don’t need help from ‘lil ol’ me.

Seriously, I am so flattered to have received a reply much less codes to share with you.

But, aside from showing that Mondadori people are good people, it let me know the company is fully invested in iOS development, no matter how small a percentage of their overall endeavours it currently is.

From your perspective, it means that if there are glitches, I didn’t find a single one, but if there are, they will be fixed and if Mondadori can enhance the experience, they will.

And, it bodes well for more of this sort of app-fare to follow. That’s my ulterior motive; I want this app to sell big, so Mondadori and other world-class publishers flood the app store with more, more, and more.

To say you could not get this much for less in print is an understatement. If there is such a thing as a dollar-to-feature ratio, this app is a steal.

Mondadori teamed up with and uses Applix’s- patent pending technology for the standout feature: a 360 degree panoramic 3D immersion into images based on many of the most interesting areas of discussion. It’s called a “Bubble Viewer.” which, if you look at the pic on the right up there, you’ll see is apt. You feel like you are in the painting (or room, or courtyard,) not just looking up close.

Their first title, Rome, had the same viewer, but it was a bit clunky on my iPad. An update improved it, but I tested this new offering on my iPad 2 and it’s spectacular.

Here’s a short promotional video:

You can lift your iPad and turn it to view, for example, Milan’s Santa Maria Delle Grazie Refectory, and explore it as you would in real life, by looking (holding the pad) up, down, and all around.

I thought I’d seen this before, but wow! It’s so fluid and the environments are so graphic and detail rich. I reacted with the same excitement and wonder as I did before writing about apps became my trade, not just my passion.

It is worth the $10 even if you have absolutely no interest in the subject matter, just to see how it all works.

Other interactive features include progressive timelines, overlays, three-dimensional objects to rotate and more. They are extremely polished and hiccup free.

The written content is solid. It’s not dense, you can get through it quickly, but the breadth is outstanding.

The prose, I am assuming a translation from Italian, is neither pedantic nor patronizing. They don’t dumb it down. It’s not a scholarly work, you can read the text in an hour, but the writing is very good, and they don’t shy away from polysyllabic words when appropriate.

The features, however, make the app accessible to all. Even my energizer-bunny of a kid stopped and stared for a few minutes although he is more into Roma, because of the 3D gladiators.

There is an introduction and five chapters with various subcategories:

  • Inside the Last Supper
  • History and Studies
  • A Brilliant Project
  • The Mysteries of the Code (which will appeal to fans and haters of Dan Brown’s bestseller and the major motion picture, The Da Vinci Code)
  • From Da Vinci to Today

The introduction includes a tutorial worth checking out, but the GUI is intuitive; you’ll find everything if you tap around.

“Inside the Last Supper” is the biggest section, filled with information about the artistic innovations, the “protagonists” of the work,  (le mot juste) and details like what is (and isn’t) on the table.

Most pages are accompanied by one of the features discussed above.

The other chapters are smaller, but go into greater detail on specific areas. And the special effects are present, but not excessive. If the text says it all, they let it do so.

The digital elements are chosen carefully to enhance the reader’s understanding of the subject matter, and, it seems, the areas of focus were chosen to show off the features. It’s a perfect blend and makes the reading experience pleasurable.

The app is not about the controversies surrounding the art. Its primary focus is on the fresco, as it should be.

Where they do address Brown’s book, however, they politely, but cheerfully, debunk his theories one by one with brief, scholarly facts.

I’m no expert on Renaissance art or politics, nor do I know much about conspiracies, so I’m not going to editorialize.

But, the book doesn’t seem to have an agenda, just an interest in pointing out that there are simple and viable explanations for the mysteries. Call it an Occam’s razor approach.

The developers must have done research on the comments about other pricier App Store offerings that are image-rich.

One of the most common complaints is deftly avoided; you can minimize the text box on any page, to fully explore the image below. It’s the type of small touch that makes the app shine.

I would have used a bookmark feature, had there been one, for review purposes. And, these old eyes would love scalable fonts or a pinch-to-zoom feature for the smallish text. But, these are small matters, as this is still hands down the best book-app I’ve seen.

I poked around on Mondadori’s website and found their mission statement:

The company’s mission has always been to encourage the broadest possible dissemination of culture and ideas, with a product range that covers all genres and reaches all readers, combining a love of culture and editorial quality with market rules and a capacity to identify and anticipate change while respecting and protecting the values that underlie the publisher’s role in civil society

To that end, Virtual History – The Last Supper (Ultima Cena in some App Stores) is a complete success.

If you want to peek at the future of digital publishing you have to get Virtual History – The Last Supper. It’s a must-have for iPad and iPad 2 owners; few apps will make your device look this good.

Want to win a copy? You can enter a draw for two codes on my review on appadvice.com, but I have one saved just for my loyal readers.

Leave a comment about why you want this, how you would use it, what you think of their other title, Virtual History – Rome, or anything relevant, and frankly for this one I’m going to pick the reply I like the best. This is not just a freebie, it’s gift I hope you will treasure, and I want it in loving hands.

Added 5/28/11: You can earn an entry into a separate RANDOM draw. Just use the share button below or the Tweet link on top to share this review on Twitter. tweet and retweet it yourself and you’re in. Remember to include @sahgeekmom so I can find you!

Contest Closes Tuesday, June 1, 2011, 9:00pm PDT. Good Luck!

Happy Memorial Day Weekend to my US friends and family. I’ll be back with a complete list of the best interactive books for iPad here and on appadvice.com. And, mark your calendars and add @apptudes to your twitter feed to be the first to know about an exciting new venture in app reviews! http://www.apptudes.com,  launching 19 June, 2011!

In the meantime, don’t forget to enter the Scrap It Contest for a chance to win one of three iTunes gift Cards, up to $50 value, click here. And here are some of my recent and most popular reviews and lists to keep you busy.

Happy App Hunting



Comments on: "Virtual History – The Last Supper: A New Bar In Interactive iPad Books." (20)

  1. […] broad-base appeal than it’s equally mesmerizing sibling,Virtual History – The Last Supper, (full review here.) Both set the bar in digital publishing for […]

  2. Ruth Hart said:

    Wow, sounds amazing. Can’t wait to check it out!

  3. nwilderton said:

    I would love it for myself and my kids please.

  4. Catriona said:

    Okay, I went ahead and bought the app, it is everything you promised!! Absolutely incredible, and I cannot wait to spend more time with it. I’m going to get the Rome one as well now, I am so delighted with it!

    I really enjoyed Gary’s commentary about the Art Institute of Chicago, the security guard attitude sums up what I found at the Art Gallery of Ontario, when I was there with my kids; they were behaving, but couldn’t look at anything close up without being shooed off, and they weren’t even attempting to touch anything! Not an enjoyable experience for us.

    • you should try the ROM, no art, but as a museum, it’s killer esp for kids, and I hear they have some really nice people working behind the scenes. 😀 Glad you liked the book, it blows my mind!

  5. Hi, Lisa, I left you an earlier comment on appadvice about the Art Institute of Chicago and how it rekindled an interest in art for me, but here is a more detailed description of one of my experiences there. I have been to Chicago twice, both times on business (I was attending and speaking at conferences, respectively). I live in a small town in northern Alberta, so Chicago is not exactly a convenient distance away. The first time I went I was in a rush – long story but through my own stupidity I had only left myself with about an hour to explore the Institute – so virtually running through the various rooms in the impressionist wing I passed into a room with more “realistic” paintings and was staggered by a very large Francisco de Zurbarán painting of the Cruxifiction – there was natural light falling onto it from a window above, it was painted in the 17th century (I think), and it brought me to a complete standstill, unable to fully comprehend the artistic skill and obviously profound belief that went into the art. It was right at closing time and so simultaneously a guard was coming around telling people to leave – as she came up behind me (I dimly sensed her approach) I started to turn to express wonderment at the work of art in front of us both but as as soon as I saw her face the words died on my lips – her face was a mask of boredom and routine, she no more saw the painting than she saw the wall it was hanging on. I quickly left, thinking that art is perhaps only in the eye of the beholder, but still wondering how one could become so dulled to art. Five years later, I returned to the Institute with a whole day to spend – this is the experience related in my other post on appadvice. Good luck with your blog – we need more people who are not dulled to art…

  6. oops!! saw your! not saw you! 😉

  7. saw you appadvice.com contest and came here for another chance to get this incredible app. as a parent to 3 this would be wonderful. thanks 🙂

  8. AcesHigher said:

    This app looks super-cool and education. I would love to win and check it out. Thanks!

  9. Entering for another chance to win this beautiful app ! Thank you so much for your generosity ! This was my comment from your other review:
    “The Last Supper App is a Great Leonardo Da Vinci Masterpiece. I love the 3D multidirectional function on the iPad. It makes me feel like I am in the gallery itself gazing at the fresco, but better because you are able to view this in 3D. I don’t know a lot about art, but I would love to learn more about it. The app helps you learn more about history. I very much would love to receive a promo code for the Last Supper App!”

  10. SparkysPhun said:

    trying again hope i win

  11. looks really cool I’d love one thanks

  12. MeryAnne said:

    I am a Christian and this book would help me study my faith. God bless you for doing this.

  13. This App is truly amazing. After reading this review I went out and bought it. Not only is this beautiful but it educational.

    Thank you for the great review and pointing me in the right direction – as always – to great ipad apps.

  14. catriona said:

    omg omg omg, wow!!! This looks like an absolutely amazing book to read, share, re-read, peruse, drool over and spend hours on to really see everything there is to see. I would be thrilled to win a copy for our iPad2, not only for myself, but my four kids (#2 is particularly interested in art).
    Thanks for the opportunity!

  15. Lauren A said:

    that look AMAZING!!!! I am a 6th grade teacher and would love to share this with my students. Thanks!! 🙂

  16. Terrific, this information is exactly what I was searching for. I am well thankful to this topic because it absolutely gives useful information. Very well written blog. I look forward to seeing more. This blog is bookmarked! I well love the stuff you have put here.

  17. MacJack said:

    I missed out on your last contest Lisa. How do you get so many? I want this one more anyway. I don’t have a great reason but I have 2 great kids.


  18. Elaine Turchyn said:

    Still going through Rome, such a cool concept and interactive book!! Will have to check this one out too!!

  19. guess its time i got an ipad and such

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