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Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image

by Toby Lester

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3091285,477 (3.69)18
Journalist and storyteller Toby Lester brings Vitruvian Man to life, resurrecting the ghost of an unknown Leonardo. Populated by a colorful cast of characters, including Brunelleschi of the famous Dome, "Da Vinci's Ghost" opens up a surprising window onto the artist and philosopher himself and the tumultuous intellectual and cultural transformations he bridged.… (more)
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» See also 18 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Way too many Italian names to try to keep straight. Author's frequent use of lists in his sentences annoyed me to no end. ( )
  MarkLacy | May 29, 2022 |
تعد «رجل فيتروفيان» أحد أشهر الرسومات في التاريخ. رسمها قبل خمسة قرون ليوناردو دا فينشي بشكل مثالي داخل مربع ودائرة، فأصبحت لعدة أسباب تحفة في الهندسة والتشريح.
إن معرفة السبب الذي دفع دا فينشي لفعل ذلك، وكيفية فعله، يمكن أن تعلمنا الكثير عن الأفكار والمعتقدات المركزية التي شكلت عصر النهضة. وهذا بالظبط ما يتناوله الكتاب. ( )
  TonyDib | Jan 28, 2022 |
There were lots of things that I didn't know about Leonardo da Vinci's iconic image of the man in the square/circle. First up, I didn't know that it had pretty much remained hidden or obscure until 1956 when Kenneth Clark reproduced it in a work entitled "The Nude: A study in ideal form". Not did I know that it really harked back to Vitruvius and his "Ten books on Architecture" ..written around 25 BC....even though I have a copy of these and read them years ago. The only thing that I recall clearly from Vitruvius's book is that he recommends ringbarking trees and leaving them in the field to dry out for a few years before cutting them down to use as construction materials. But he also gives (in words only) the ideal proportions for a man and says that the ideal man fits within both a square and a circle. When Leonardo produced his drawing he also reproduced the words of Vitruvius ...but also corrected them and added his own findings.
Lester draws attention to the fact that there was a widespread belief that man (women didn't seem to come into it) was created in God's image and was a microcosm of the earth and that all the ideal proportions for architecture, church layout etc etc could be related to the ideal human form. But he also makes it clear that Leonardo did not just think this image up. He had access to many similar images that had been produced across the years and even to one by his friends, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, that had a figure in a circle and in a square. And Leonardo himself had been collecting measurements of people to help him in his painting and design work. (I made a few measurements myself when my kids were growing to see how the ideal proportions changed. The head on kids is proportionately large than with the adult, for example).
One piece of genius by Leonardo was to move the centre of the square down so that the circle is centred on the navel and the square on the genitals. Vitruvius apparently states that the navel is the midpoint of man but it's not and this had puzzled many other artists trying to emulate the figure There is also more than a bit of evidence that the face in the drawing is of Leonardo himself.
Another thing that I hadn't realised was that Leonardo was poorly educated and was making tremendous efforts to educate himself as an adult...teaching himself latin for example. But he never spoke it or read it very well. His lack of education probably made him value his own observations rather than rely on the authority view. And, in this, I think he was rather like Aristotle: believe what you observe rather than some dogma imposed on you by previous authorities. Certainly, he was relentlessly curious and kept noting down (in his notebooks) new things to be researched. But, the book also draws attention to Leonardo's restless nature and his tendency to start things and then move on to something new before finishing what he'd started. One of the things that jumped out at me from Lester's book was the fact that many others had drawn things like the connections in the brain to the source of common sense but the drawings were really crude. Leonardo's were individual works of art.
Lester also explains why the left foot looks slightly twisted and unnatural: well it's because the foot was generally taken as the measurement reference point and it needed to be shown side-on for it to be used as a reference in this way.
Although there is a short section at the end about the various ways the image had become iconic and enjoyed widespread usage in modern times, I felt that this was maybe a bit underdone...especially in view of the publisher's notes on the back of the book that draw attention to the fact that "everybody knows the image". It's easy reading and interesting. Lester has brought a lot of information together here. Happy to give it 5 stars. ( )
  booktsunami | Jul 24, 2021 |
Most people have heard of Leonardo Da Vinci. He was a famous Artist, Engineer, Inventor, and Architect. Da Vinci had an insatiable level of curiosity for everything. He would draw lifelike figures in his notebooks, and had many other idiosyncrasies. By all accounts, Da Vinci was an unparalleled genius. I know some things about him, but I am by no means an expert.

Da Vinci’s Ghost is a book that focuses on one aspect of Da Vinci’s genius, the drawing called Vitruvian Man. Even if you don’t know it by the title, it is such an iconic image that there is almost no way you could have never seen it or a derivative work. Vitruvian Man features a naked man doing jumping jacks while touching geometric figures.

Now, initially, this book was disappointing. I did not think that this book would only cover Vitruvian Man, I thought it would go further into Da Vinci’s life and times. After I got through that initial disappointment though, I came to appreciate what went into the book and what it had to say. I have read books on Leonardo Da Vinci before, however, I had not read one that focused on one piece of art by him.

The book isn’t really that long, it is only eight chapters. It has many images and pictures that talk about Leonardo’s various works and interests. For instance, when he got interested in Human Anatomy he drew everything related to the human body.

The book was pretty good despite those issues I had with it. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
Not what I was expecting, but good. We just saw the exhibit at the Venetian and I wanted to learn more about him.

An interesting look into the history of the Vitruvian Man, Leonardo's life, and some of his methods. He had such an interesting, varied mind, and his greatness often got in the way of his successes. His journals show a glimpse into how his fascinating imagination led to designs of inventions, ideas, and great works of art.

Read this if you want to learn more about Leonardo, but don't let this be your only source about him. ( )
  GovMarley | Aug 6, 2017 |
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For Jim Lester (1927-2010) too marvelous for words
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On June 18, 1490, a small group of travelers set out from Milan for the university town of Pavia, some twenty-five miles to the south.
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Journalist and storyteller Toby Lester brings Vitruvian Man to life, resurrecting the ghost of an unknown Leonardo. Populated by a colorful cast of characters, including Brunelleschi of the famous Dome, "Da Vinci's Ghost" opens up a surprising window onto the artist and philosopher himself and the tumultuous intellectual and cultural transformations he bridged.

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