A Rest­less Ge­nius

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An­to­nio For­cellino, Lucinda By­att (Trans­la­tor) Polity (MAY) Hard­cover $35 (344pp), 978-1-5095-1852-4

Ge­nius is as ge­nius does. With for­tu­itous cir­cum­stances, ge­nius can do more. Take Leonardo. The il­le­git­i­mate son of a no­tary in the 1450s, he was blessed with pa­per and ink for play­things, and it be­came the ma­te­rial he used to ex­press his thoughts—a habit con­tin­ued all his life. He was also born just a few miles from Florence, with the Re­nais­sance in full blos­som, of­fer­ing end­less artis­tic and cre­ative in­spi­ra­tion. Those de­tails surely gave him a lift, but let’s not quib­ble—along with the likes of Plato, Archimedes, and New­ton, Leonardo is a titan of western cul­ture.

As a lead­ing restorer of, and ex­pert on, Re­nais­sance art, An­to­nio For­cellino is uniquely po­si­tioned to val­i­date Leonardo’s tal­ent and an ul­ti­mate chron­i­cler of his life. And what a life. From met­al­lurgy to anatomy, op­tics, me­chan­ics, and ge­ol­ogy, Leonardo’s in­ter­ests knew few bounds. For­cellino also makes it clear that Leonardo was in­no­va­tive on the can­vas. His skills of ob­ser­va­tion and will­ing­ness to show chubby in­fants in all their un­gain­li­ness, for ex­am­ple, was ex­tra­or­di­nary for the time. In ref­er­ence to Leonardo’s Madonna of the Car­na­tion, For­cellino writes, “We are look­ing at one of the first ‘real-life’ paint­ings of the Re­nais­sance and at one of Leonardo’s first suc­cess­ful at­tempts to cap­ture and re­pro­duce the nat­u­ral world.”

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