Saturday, December 25, 2010

Book Review: Leonardo The Artist and the Man

Leonardo da Vinci is a magnetic figure in the history of art and Europe. He is like a modern man sent back in time to live amidst the 15th century simpletons. Da Vinci is not just a genius artist in the middle of the Renaissance, but a figure in the intrigues of Medici/Borgia/city-state Italy. Serge Bramly's biography (buy here) is nice attempt to make sense of his life.

His contributions to art, study of the body, engineering and mechanics are peerless. Reading this book, you will discover something new he figured out or added to our collective library of intelligence. Da Vinci was not a prolific artist. He has very few finished works, and even fewer paintings and sculptures that survived. This built will get you acquainted with what he created and why his creations were so amazing.

That is not why I bought this book. I was looking for a biography that was not a psychbiography, but a biography that talked about what made Leonardo think and how he fit into his era. Bramly does not shirk from going after Da Vinci for his inability to follow through with works, his almost ADD nature in skipping across subjects, and the torment he put himself through because of his birth and childhood. Because Leonardo kept extensive notebooks, we can look into a small, limited opening into his mind. They are not diaries, but they can reveal his fears, concerns or joys in those moments. His focus on creators and inventing is wonderful to read about. His spirit of creation and natural inquisitiveness are well documented here. There is good discussion of his sexual persuasion and likes, and reading this, you get a feel for why his paintings depitcing humans look the way they do. You can read about the man behind the myth.

Bramly's book does a great job of celebrating Da Vinci's genius while tackling the myth of "Da Vinci". It is a touch over 400 pages, but the book has illustrations which probably takes up 20+ pages. It is a quick read, and I could run through 50 pages in a clip. I would have enjoyed a longer book with even more detail. I wonder if Bramly himself was actively trying to keep this a book for curious minds rather than a textbook type biography. Whatever his motivations, I would recommend this book if you do have a fascination for Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.

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