What is the book “Leonardo da Vinci” about?
Da Vinci listed his numerous talents in a letter to the Governor of Milan. He mentioned engineering of bridges, fortifications, cannons, armored vehicles and ships, architecture and construction of public buildings.
Besides that, Leonardo briefly mentions that he is also a painter. At the time he was only 30 years old and his most famous paintings («Mona Lisa», «Last Supper») have not yet existed.
He perceived painting, anatomy, flying machines, zoology, botany and many other things as interconnected parts of a whole and beautiful world, that’s why he did not limit himself to one specific field of research. For him, science and art were parts of the same whole, and he translated this idea into his famous drawing «Vitruvian Man» that illustrates the concept of a golden ratio.
One of the first biographists of da Vinci, his devoted admirer, and painter Giorgio Vasari, believed that Leonardo was blessed by the gods. He couldn’t think of another explanation for his outstanding talents. However, Isaacson has his own opinion on this matter. Leonardo didn’t have a decent systematic education, he hardly attended any educational institution. Nevertheless, every time he gained a certain skill, he did his best to hone it to perfection. He was a curious and imaginative observer who was interested in anything from flying machines to the reasons why the sky is blue.
According to Isaacson, his main source of inspiration was Leonardo’s records rather than paintings. Da Vinci has left a lot of sketches, schemes, botany drawings, blueprints of aerial and underwater vehicles, fables, riddles, etc. These records explicitly demonstrate Leonardo’s endless curiosity about pretty much everything in the world. When he couldn’t get a good grasp on the subject of study, he made a lot of remarks, such as «ask the master about bridge construction», «ask the physician about muscle structure», etc. He sets goals that he will pursue for the rest of his life. Sometimes his curiosity went beyond the ordinary: for example, he was interested in the language of woodpeckers, how the pig lungs expand in length and breadth during breathing, and so on.
Isaacson has studied many statements of da Vinci’s contemporaries that described him as a handsome and charismatic man. At the same time, many aspects of his life are shrouded in mystery, including places of birth and death. Da Vinci had his weaknesses, shortcomings, unfinished pieces of work. However, as Isaacson said, without them the portrait of a genius would be incomplete.
The 15th century was a golden era for geniuses such as Gutenberg, Columbus, and Leonardo. It was an age of discoveries, inventions, and new technologies. Da Vinci’s curiosity, craving for research, and fearlessness in the face of possible failure should be used as a role model for us and for future generations.
Summary and 10 Ideas of “Leonardo da Vinci”
Idea #1: Things that seem difficult at first can be a way to achieve something better.
Idea #2: Leonardo’s talent has developed in many directions, and he did not limit himself to one sphere of activity.
Idea #3: Leonardo never stopped working thanks to his striving for excellence.
Idea #4: Acquiring a skill often leads to an interest in another skill.
Idea #5: The microcosm of man contains all the properties of the macrocosm of the universe.
Idea #6: Progress is born from a combination of theory and experiment.
Idea #7: Every event has its equivalent, all we need to do is to recognize them.
Idea #8: Everything in the universe works in accordance with the general rules.
Idea #9: There are no strict boundaries both in nature and art.
Idea #10: The true visionary has no fear of failure. Sooner or later people will understand and appreciate his work.
Review “Leonardo da Vinci”
Isaacson has put a lot effort in this book. He meticulously studied every drawing and every note in the da Vinci’s records. The writer bends the narrative around these records. To describe the life of such a multifaceted figure (even by Renaissance standards) is not an easy task by any measure.
The life of Leonardo da Vinci, as it’s shown by Isaacson, is as plain and as mysterious as the Mona Lisa’s smile. Its shine is mixed with shadows, with some untold stories and obscure facts. Although he died in honor, in the palace of Francis I of France, the exact location of his grave remains unknown. Some famous paintings, such as «La Bella Principessa», are often attributed to Leonardo, however, there is no evidence to support his authorship.
He was a vegetarian and adored animals, although he had an interest in cookery and he came up with some meat dishes for the court of the Borgia. Freud called him an asexual genius whose libido was sublimated in art. Some modern researchers actually believe that he was homosexual. This assumption is substantiated by the image of his favorite servant and apprentice Giacomo Salai whom Leonardo always painted with particular fondness.
Giacomo’s smile can be seen in many Leonardo’s paintings and sketches and is somewhat similar to Mona Lisa’s smile. However, now it’s impossible to say whether Leonardo had a romantic relationship with Salai or his second apprentice Francesco Melzi. Many aspects of his life are shrouded in mystery, and they will always arouse our curiosity and imagination.
Pros and Cons:
- A fascinating story, a beautiful book design, in-depth study on da Vinci’s life.
- Some readers may not appreciate the overly detailed description of da Vinci’s interests.
About Author Walter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson (born Walter Isaacson, born May 20, 1952, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA) is an American journalist, writer, and biographer. Isaacson is best known for writing biographies of outstanding people. He is a creator of best-selling hits about Benjamin Frankin, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Henry Kissinger. This time he decided to explore a life and work of Leonardo da Vinci. As Isaacson admits, he is mostly drawn to multitalented personalities working on the verge of science and art, technology and creativity. Such geniuses are present in any era, but Leonardo da Vinci was undoubtedly the brightest of them.