Book Review: Leonardo da Vinci (2004)

All too frequently, when you think about a 500+ page biography, your eyelids automatically start getting heavy. Charles Nicholl, though, does a wonderful job with his exhaustive (by way of detail, not wear on the reader) biography, Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind. Nicholl details da Vinci’s life and work with a writing style that never induces stupor or disinterest.

Granted, it took me quite a bit of time to read this book. It was not because of the style or author, though. Instead, there was frustration as the book demonstrated my lack of knowledge of art and perhaps of da Vinci himself.

I viewed Leonardo as an inventor and thinker who happened to be an artist. While Nicholl makes clear da Vinci may epitomize the term “Renaissance man,” his analysis of Leonardo’s art would make this an excellent work for art study. Combining description and analysis with black and white detail and color plates, Nicholl clearly examines the exquisite nature of Leonardo’s art. Nicholl also details da Vinci’s exploration of many other areas, such as flight and anatomy, relying heavily upon da Vinci’s own note-books and manuscripts. And he seeks explanations, psychological and otherwise, in da Vinci’s private life for his work and his failure to complete works.

This may well come to be regarded as the definitive da Vinci biography.

The Common Sense is the seat of the soul.

Leonardo da Vinci

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