Leonardo’s Universe by Bulent Atalay and Keith Wamsley

Leonardo's UniverseInformation

Goodreads: Leonardo’s Universe: The Renaissance World of Leonardo DaVinci
Series: None
Published: 2009


A detailed look at Leonardo’s work in physics, anatomy, biology, and mathematics and how it influenced his art.


Leonardo’s Universe presents a detailed look at the way various disciplines influenced the art of  the quintessential Renaissance man, not merely informing readers that Leonardo da Vinci was interested in geology or noticed the effects of physics, but providing copious illustrations to demonstrate the points made.  The wealth of information combined with the stunning illustrations, many of them full-page, makes this book not only an easily accessible introduction to Leonardo’s work but also something admirers of Renaissance art may well want to have in their collection.

The book expertly balances Leonardo’s biographical information (that which we have) with details of his studies and commissions, always keeping a narrative flow and never becoming bogged down in the nitty gritty of who asked for what painting or when Leonardo may have been working on it.  This information is present, but it is integrated into the text, so that the importance of each work–what art historians have noted about certain techniques used, for example, or the ways Leonardo integrated mathematics into his paintings–remains the focus of the book and readers need not fear having to wade through a dull list of dates with no context to guide them.  Furthermore, side panels and other insets are scattered throughout the book, breaking up the main text with interesting information about other work being done at the time or important historical happenings.  These interludes help keep the book feeling fresh and, when information in the inserts repeats in the main text, it helps readers to remember that information.

The main attraction of this book, however, may well be its gorgeous illustrations.  Though Leonardo’s works obviously make up the bulk of the photographs, other important artistic works such as Michelangelo’s David feature, as well.  National Geographic also provides contemporary photographs of the places where Leonardo lived and worked, giving readers some idea of the Italy he might have known.  Other art books that I flipped through after this one disappointed me with the quality and quantity of their photos when I compared them to this book.

Leonardo’s Universe provides a valuable look not only at Leonardo’s work but also at Renaissance Italy and the progress being made in various disciplines at the time.  Readers will close the pages feeling knowledgeable not only of Leonardo’s paintings but also of other artistic works and of artistic techniques of the age.  A recommended read to any who love the Renaissance.


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