Leonardo da Vinci has long been celebrated for his consummate genius. He was the painter who gave us the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, and the inventor who anticipated the advent of airplanes, hot air balloons, and other technological marvels. But what was the connection between Leonardo the painter and Leonardo the scientist? In this new interpretation, the art historian Francesca Fiorani offers a different view.
In The Shadow Drawing: How Science Taught Leonardo How to Paint, Francesca Fiorani, a professor of art history at the University of Virginia, offers a different interpretation of the relation between Leonardo’s various activities ... Ms. Fiorani offers two great virtues as a guide to Leonardo. Having spent years studying the artist’s writings, she is able to deftly weave her knowledge of them into her text. She also knows her way around a painting, so she can clearly explain each of Leonardo’s ideas through aspects of his art. The heart of her research and contribution lies in the field of optics, fascinating but also potentially arcane ... A professor with a string of scholarly publications behind her, Ms. Fiorani could have written a specialized book for a specialized audience. Instead, she has opened up the topic for the general reader. It will take more than this book to dislodge the fixation on Leonardo as a scientist and inventor. However, a well-researched, lively book by a scholar, expert and art historian goes a long way toward correcting that misconception.
By no means is Fiorani the first to make this case...but she makes it with fresh force and pitches it against the misconception that Leonardo abandoned painting for science in his later years ... One wishes only that Fiorani felt freer to think alongside this work. Her approach is admiring but oddly withdrawn. She is prone to parroting her thesis and lapsing into somnolent praise .. The patness of this description is striking; its laziness borders on indifference. Does it bespeak the challenges of writing about Leonardo — how to make a fresh case for his obvious genius? How to write in the wake of so many others? ... Dimmi, I wanted to say to the writer, tell me not what has been seen before but what you have seen. Sometimes Fiorani does exactly that, and in such passages, when she loses herself in looking, the book achieves fluency and power ... Its focus may feel narrow at times, and yet its pleasures often prove surprisingly wide. The book reorients our perspective, distills a life and brings it into focus.
Fiorani (The Marvel of Maps), an art historian at the University of Virginia, provides new insight into the work of Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci in this fresh assessment ... Using information gleaned from infrared reflectography and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy done on Leonardo’s paintings, Fiorani leads readers through the artist’s tortuous re-working of his art ... This beautifully written work is underpinned by immense scholarship; art lovers and historians will not be able to put it down.