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225 × 150 × 20 mm
224 pages
70 illustrations, 60 in colour
10 Jun 2019
Renaissance Lives

Leonardo da Vinci Self, Art and Nature François Quiviger

This incisive and illuminating biography follows the three themes which shaped the life of Leonardo da Vinci and for ever changed Western art and imagination: nature, art and self-fashioning.

Nature and art helped form Leonardo. He spent his first twelve years in the Tuscan countryside before entering the most reputed artistic workshop of Florence. There he bloomed as one of the most promising painters of his time, and promptly also applied his skills to explore and question the world. Leonardo was also self-fashioned: he received only a basic education and grew up around peasants and artisans. By the 1480s, he had transformed himself into a court artist and was a familiar of kings.

Following the chronology of his life, this book examines Leonardo as artist, courtier and thinker, and explores how these aspects found expression in his paintings, as well as his work in sculpture, architecture, theatre design, urban planning, engineering, anatomy, geology and cartography. It concludes with observations on Leonardo’s relevance today as a model of the multidisciplinary artist, combining imagination, art and science.

‘Within the new literature, Quiviger’s is the most compelling attempt to present a compact survey in English of Leonardo’s career as a painter. Traditional in its organisation, its chapter divisions correspond to Leonardo’s movements between the cities where he resided, with a separate chapter on Leonardo’s writings on painting.’ — Burlington Magazine

‘The 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death has naturally unleashed a tsunami of books about the Renaissance genius, few of which add anything new to what’s been written before. This one, though, stands out by offering a novel approach to an understanding of Leonardo’s character, the thirst for knowledge that drove him, and the way he navigated the rigid and often precarious society into which he was born - and how his art related to all this . . . It’s admirably written, clear and concise and assuming little background knowledge of Leonardo, his times or the practice of art . . . The book is also attractively produced on high quality paper and lavishly illustrated in colour. It serves as an ideal introduction to the great man as well as providing deeper insights into his personality and motivations than many biographies.’ — Magonia Review of Books

‘Quiviger’s book on Leonardo da Vinci is proof that very good things can come in small packages. Written as an artistic biography following Leonardo’s peregrinations chronologically, the book discusses Leonardo's studio practices, his artistic training, and his role as a courtly figure, a designer of new military new weapons and of maps for warfare, and a musician and designer of elaborate stage sets and costumes. Quiviger offers a deep appreciation of Leonardo’s stunning accomplishments in all of these areas, but he also manages to interweave questions of authorship of works attributed to Leonardo, critiques of the enormous body of scholarship and popular fancy that weighs down current understanding of Leonardo and his work – thus history and historiography wrapped into a seamless whole – all in fewer than 200 pages. It is difficult to overstate how refreshing this no-nonsense, learned, and engaged biography is – particularly in the context of all that has been written about this artist. Highly recommended.’ — Choice

‘Sheds new light on aspects of the social, cultural and intellectual environments in which Leonardo lived and worked. This is a book that will add more than many to our understanding of Leonardo as not just a painter but as a polymath.’ — Francis Ames-Lewis, Emeritus Professor of History of Renaissance Art, Birkbeck College, University of London

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François Quiviger is a fellow of the Warburg Institute, University of London, where he previously worked as a librarian, curator of digital resources, researcher and teacher. He has written on Renaissance art theories, academies, wine, banquets and sensations.


1 The Early Florentine Years: Education and Formation
2 Leonardo on Painting
3 Milan, 1483–99
4 Florence to Milan, 1500–1513
5 The Final Years: Rome and Amboise, 1513–19

Photo Acknowledgements