For five centuries, Leonardo da Vinci has stood alone as the quintessential Renaissance man—the incomparable artist, writer, thinker, and inventor who most powerfully transformed his world. In this dazzling new intimate biography, award-winning author Charles Nicholl creates a portrait of the artist for our time—a biography that brings Leonardo to life as a complex man living in a fascinating, dangerous, quickly changing world.
Drawing freely on his own original translations of Leonardo’s notebooks as well as newly discovered contemporary accounts, Nicholl captures the very texture of Leonardo’s mind and the pungent visceral impressions he transmuted into art. Detail by brilliant detail, Nicholl reconstructs the life and times of the artist, from his troubled childhood as the illegitimate son of an established Tuscan family to his years of apprenticeship in the burgeoning art world of Medici Florence to his unrivaled achievements in a breathtaking array of disciplines and media. Here, too, are compelling new answers to the enduring mysteries of Leonardo’s sexual orientation, the true identity of the Mona Lisa, and the early experiences that inspired his lifelong obsession with human flight.
A writer of irresistible charm and quicksilver imagination, Nicholl takes us from the backstreet artists’ studios of Florence to the glittering palazzi of the Medici, Sforza, and Borgia families as he pursues the most extravagantly talented and maddeningly elusive artist of all time. The result is a biography of rare grace and penetration.
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Charles Nicholl has won numerous awards, including the Hawthornden Prize and the James Tait Black Prize for Biography. The author of Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa and The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, among other books. Nicholl’s articles have appeared in Granta, Rolling Stone, and the London Review of Books.From Publishers Weekly:
Nicholl aims for the man behind the myth in this penetrating, highly detailed biography, which recognizes da Vinci's "mysterious greatness as an artist, scientist and philosopher" but avoids hagiography (and nearly steers clear of the word "genius"). The illegitimate child of a Tuscan peasant girl and a local notary, da Vinci (1452–1519) was apprenticed as a teen to Florence sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio. Nicholl (Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa) conjectures convincingly about Leonardo's early career, though he tends to dwell overlong on technical aspects of Renaissance art production. Leonardo established a Florentine studio in 1477, but it was not until he moved to Milan five years later that he began to produce his iconic works: the painting Virgin of the Rocks, the famous Vitruvian Man drawing. Nicholl chronicles the production of The Last Supper and makes a firm statement about the Mona Lisa's identity. Numerous questions about Leonardo's life remain, unavoidably, unanswered, but Nicholl fills in the gaps with insight into the artist's cultural milieu, offering tidbits about Leonardo's sexuality, the sordid goings-on at the Borgia court and the multifarious fruits of the artist's astonishingly fertile curiosity and imagination. Nicholl's attention to da Vinci's polymathic pursuits, as well as his own translations from the artist's numerous notebooks, are some of this dense but readable volume's most compelling aspects. Illus.
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