Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Leonardo Da Vinci Vitruvian Man

Leonardo Da Vinci Vitruvian Man circa 1492 photograph credits Luc Viatour

Leonardo Da Vinci left 7200 pages of notebooks after his death, filled with anatomical and scientific drawings, detailed designs for new machines and weapons, military strategies, maps, sketches, and observations, as well as 15 paintings.  He was interested in art, engineering, biology, medicine and geology amongst many other subjects.  Walter Isaacson’s book is an interpretation and analysis of those notebooks and paintings.  If you have ever wondered about the life and mind of a voracious creative genius, then this is undoubtedly a satisfying read.  The six hundreds pages of the book, ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’ by Walter Isaacson it is an immensely impressive undertaking.
Author Walter Isaacson was born in 1952; he is an American writer and journalist.  One of the main focal points of his career is not only the critically acclaimed biographies he has written about Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci but also that Isaacson was the chairman and CEO of CNN during the 9/11 attacks.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Watler Isaacson "Leonardo Da Vinci - Youtube
Isaacson is a very experienced wordsmith.  He has the skill and experience to carefully draw out the life of the gay and ostentatiously dressed artists life. The book is a story of a truly gifted artist who often failed to complete his projects and commissions.  Leonardo’s uncompleted work can sometimes be incorrectly misunderstood making him seem penurious, both artistically and financially.  However, Isaacson proposes that Leonardo’s wide-ranging curiosities gave his work more substance.  That meandering is precisely what made him distinguished and extraordinary in what he achieved.
The book is balanced by the author’s artistic licence to analysis and understand how Leonardo thought by interpreting the footnotes of Leonardo drawings.  Leonardo had an intensely, inquisitive nature about all areas of life, which is highlighted by his to-do list. With items such as; why is the sky blue? Describe the tongue of the woodpecker; get the measurements of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni; and get a master of hydraulics to explain how to repair a lock, a canal and a mill. Leonardo’s inquisitive nature was insatiable, unsurpassed and beyond compare.  Although he lacked formal education, Leonardo achieved so much in his lifetime. It took hundreds of years for the rest of the world to catch him up.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Leonardo Da Vinci - Amazon book link
Leonardo was aware of his contemporaries like the young Michelangelo, but Isaacson’s book shows that he never tried to compete with his peers.  He always seemed to know he was on a different path.  Leonardo was interested in knowledge about life and how things work for its own sake.  He turned down many lucrative commissions, clearly showing self-gain wasn’t necessary to him.  Leonardo had no interest in trying to prove things to people he didn’t know or respect.
Leonardo knew what he didn’t want.  His ego and his legacy weren’t important to him.  For Leonardo following such a path would feel restrained, like being in prison, captive to someone else’s demands.  Instead, Leonardo developed a hunch and followed his intuition.  He pursued whatever made him happy at that moment, getting lost in whatever took his fancy.  He wanted complete, unconditional creative freedom that was free from interference.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Breakfast with Lucian, book review
Leonardo doesn’t stop after the endless uncompleted projects and paintings.  Instead, he was too interested in being an unpretentious student of life.  When he paints, it is as if to prove the point that they are no precise lines, boundaries or borders in nature.  Leonardo believed that lines are mathematical constructs without physical presence.  Leonardo said;
“Do not edge contours with a definite outline, because the contours are lines and they are invisible, not only from a distance but also closer to hand.  If the line and the mathematical point are invisible, the outline of things also being lines are invisible even when they are nearer. Instead, an artist needs to represent the shape and volume of objects, rely on light and shadow. The line forming the boundary of a surface is of invisible thickness; therefore, O painter do not surround your bodies with lines.”
Leonardo Da Vinci Mona Lisa 1503-1507 The Louvre

Leonardo Da Vinci Mona Lisa 1503-1507 The Louvre

Instead, he became the pioneer of a technique, taken from the Italian word for smoke, ‘sfumato’. Leonardo’s technique helps to soften the transition between colour and makes line irrelevant.  This is very noticeable in the Mona Lisa.
I enjoyed this extensive attention-holding book.  It asked profound questions about who we want to be in life.  Although it is possible to pull the historical contexts from 15th-century Italian culture at times, Isaacson acknowledges that he lacked “intimate personal revelations.” However, he makes up for it by trying to process the 7200 notebooks and paintings.  On the whole, it was a delightful read.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Breakfast with Lucian, book review

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