Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

248 × 164 × 22 mm
232 pages
65 illustrations, 40 in colour
11 Feb 2019

Leonardo’s Paradox Word and Image in the Making of Renaissance Culture Joost Keizer

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was one of the pre-eminent figures of the Italian Renaissance – he was also one of the most paradoxical. He spent an incredible amount of time writing notebooks, perhaps even more time than he ever held a brush, yet at the same time Leonardo was Renaissance culture’s most fanatical critic of the word. When Leonardo criticized writing he criticized it as an expert on words; when he was painting, writing remained in the back of his mind.

In this book, Joost Keizer argues that the comparison between word and image fuelled Leonardo’s thought. The paradoxes at the heart of Leonardo’s ideas and practice also defined some of Renaissance culture’s central assumptions about culture and nature: that there is a look to script, that painting offered a path out of culture and back to nature, that the meaning of images emerged in comparison with words, and that the difference between image-making and writing also amounted to a difference in the experience of time.

‘As a critical approach that also addresses Leonardo’s way of thinking, Joost Keizer’s Leonardo’s Paradox: Word and Image in the Making of Renaissance Culture, examines the interplay of word and image in Leonardo’s work. He sees paradoxes as central: for example, a painting can lead to a better understanding of nature, or the meaning of an image can depend on its association with certain words. Though not necessarily part of Leonardo’s vocabulary for inventive processes, paradoxes are part of his work.’ — The Art Newspaper

‘Keizer’s rewarding book is, in essence, an extended investigation of – and meditation on – the interrelation of words and images in Leonardo’s notebooks and paintings. Keizer discusses how words, the tools of the art historian, ultimately fail to convey what the images can, and how seemingly explanatory texts can constrain reading of images (Leonardo’s included). Basing his discussion on the thousands of pages of writings – with their attendant drawings – in Leonardo’s various notebooks, Keizer emphasizes the artist’s concern with the "relationship between image and text" not only as an attempt to record accurately what he is depicting (nature in all of its manifestations), but also as something more – an implied motion in the visual forms that expands the limited moment of time stopped in the image but that has a history and a future. Keizer’s unfolding of time in Leonardo’s work is perhaps the most important part of his discussion, not just for Leonardo, but for the development of Renaissance painting after Leonardo. This is a book to be studied for its revealing insights. Highly recommended.’ — Choice

‘Keizer’s visual investigation of Leonardo’s writings – which illustrates that the artist enjoyed using multiple hands, and continuously scratched out, rewrote, and annotated his thoughts – is strong evidence for his case that the artist’s dislike of the unalterable and invariable nature of printed text manifested itself in his notebooks . . . Keizer’s richly illustrated work does very well to lay bare an artist’s attempt to straddle the spheres of originality and artificiality in a world that praised invention and novelty, as modelled on past cultures.’ — Renaissance and Reformation

‘This is an intelligent and thought-provoking study of Leonardo’s thoughts. Informed by his deep immersion in Leonardo's notebooks, and in the intellectual debates of the late 15th century–early 16th century, the author presents an original, highly personal, and often convincing interpretation of Leonardo’s idiosyncratic views on the relationships between word and image, and between Nature and Culture. The text is always learned but never pedantic, and written in an engaging style. If you want insight into what made Leonardo tick, his interests, points of reference, stated views, and thought processes, I would recommend this handsome volume.’ — Jonathan K. Nelson, Syracuse University, Florence.

Show all

Joost Keizer is Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Groningen. His previous books include The Realism of Piero della Francesca (2017), The Transformation of Vernacular Expression in Early Modern Arts (co-edited with Todd Richardson, 2011), and a book for young adults, This Is Leonardo da Vinci, with the illustrator Christina Christoforou (2016).


1 The Look of Script
2 Nature’s Imprint
3 Invention
4 Time

Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements