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Leonardo da Vinci : Flights of the Mind : A Biography (C. Nicholl)

2006-04-23 2 min read Books marco

{moszoomimglink:Verrocchio โ€“ head of David}Leonardo is quite the character. For most of his life a beautiful charmer, surrounded by pretty boys in search of a career, we remember him mostly for his old age, a bearded man with long straight hair. He is almost as iconic as his creations, who became true symbols of art and science to a degree unparalleled before and ever since.

Yet, the man is a little elusive. He is from an age too far in time to have dutifully recorded all his comings and goings, and despite his fame, many of his works have not survived. Biographies came late, mostly at the hands of people that had only a scant acquaintance with Leonardo, or even never met him.

Mr. Nicholls collects all the data and presents a portrait that is alive without descending into novelization. The Leonardo that jumps out of the pages of the book is a real human, with needs and desires and problems โ€“ yet at the same time an admired artist, scientist and philosopher.

Once in a while the lack of data and the desire to stay with biography sends the author into odd projections that reek of Freudian “interpretation”; to someone outside, they sound (and are labeled) as pure speculation. I assume the book would have been too dry without them.

The Leonardo that shines out of this book is rich. Nothing is spared: his upbringing as a bastard son of a notary in Vinci; the embarrassing investigation into his alleged perusing of a male street urchin; money worries, troubles completing pretty much all work he started; the degrading shmoozing with the rich and powerful. Leonardo is not a hero in this book, without fault or sin.

Yet, at the same time, we hear how enthused everyone is with Leonardo. He’s become good friends with the Medici, the Sforza, the Visconti, even the Kings of France and the famous Machiavelli. He is obviously not the neglected stepchild of his time, and everyone was after his paintings.

A great work for a real biographer. It looks soundly researched (I have no access to the sources, so it’s hard to check) and it is obvious that Mr. Nicholls has great respect for the great artist.