We’re fortunate to have Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. Thank God they weren’t destroyed by fire or flood in the 500 some years ago. However, we don’t have a diary or narrative of da Vinci (1452 – 1519) so biographer Walter Isaacson can’t be expected to provide with certainty the details he presented to readers of his Steve Jobs or Einstein books.
It’s not that we don’t learn about Leonardo’s status as an illegitimate birth, his relationships with older painter Verrocchio, patrons de Medici and Borgia, rival Michelangelo, and assistant cum lover Salaì. But the experiences and information are presented more or less chronologically, but it’s something of a patchwork rather than a woven tapestry akin to a narrative.
The real facts of Leonardo’s life experiences are foggy at best so Isaacson focusses on the notebooks, which contain his plans for inventions, his musings, his expenses, and his musings. Isaacson also includes long descriptions of Leonardo’s artwork with comments from art historians from long ago and today. I listened to this book on CD from the library. There is a PDF that the narrator refers to throughout the
I would have preferred a narrative, but I did find the book fascinating; I did learn more about this fascinating man, who was a great artist who hated painting, who was an engineer whose inventions more often than not didn’t work, who procrastinated, daydreamed and dabbled.
I learned how fathers could acknowledge the lineage of children born out of wedlock, though Leonardo’s father didn’t acknowledge him. It was interesting that in that culture people illegitimacy wasn’t so harsh. Leonardo’s father did support him and had a relationship with Leonardo, albeit a challenging one. I did learn that Leonardo’s mother did marry and had children.
I enjoyed learning a little about how the Renaissance art workshops worked, how apprentices learned, how different painters sometimes worked on a painting. I wonder what modern art would be like if we had that.
I did sometimes tire of the long descriptions of the paintings from Isaacson’s point of view. I would rather get more from Leonardo, but there just aren’t many primary sources available.
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