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Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Imageby Toby Lester
Synopses & Reviews
EVERYONE KNOWSTHE IMAGE. NO ONE KNOWS ITS STORY. This is the story of Vitruvian Man: Leonardo da Vincis famous drawing of a man in a circle and a square. Deployed today to celebrate subjects as various as the nature of genius, the beauty of the human form, and the universality of the human spirit, the figure appears on everything from coffee cups and T-shirts to book covers and corporate logos. In short, it has become the worlds most famous cultural icon, yet almost nobody knows anything about it. Leonardo didnt summon Vitruvian Man out of thin air. He was playing with the idea, set down by the Roman architect Vitruvius, that the human body could be made to fit inside a circle, long associated with the divine, and a square, related to the earthly and secular. To place a man inside those shapes was therefore to imply that the human body was the world in miniature. This idea, known as the theory of the microcosm, was the engine that had powered Western religious and scientific thought for centuries, and Leonardo hitched himself to it in no uncertain terms. Yet starting in the 1480s he set out to do something unprecedented. If the design of the body truly did reflect that of the cosmos, he reasoned, then by studying its proportions and anatomy more thoroughly than had ever been done before—by peering deep into both body and soul—he might broaden the scope of his art to include the broadest of metaphysical horizons. He might, in other words, obtain an almost godlike perspective on the makeup of the world as a whole. Vitruvian Man gives that exhilarating idea visual expression. In telling its story, Toby Lester weaves together a century-spanning saga of people and ideas. Assembled here is an eclectic cast of fascinating characters: the architect Vitruvius; the emperor Caesar Augustus and his “body of empire”; early Christian and Muslim thinkers; the visionary mystic Hildegard of Bingen; the book-hunter Poggio Bracciolini; the famous dome-builder Filippo Brunelleschi; Renaissance anatomists, architects, art theorists, doctors, and military engineers; and, of course, in the starring role, Leonardo himself—whose ghost Lester resurrects in the surprisingly unfamiliar context of his own times. Da Vincis Ghost is written with the same narrative flair and intellectual sweep as Lesters award-winning first book, the “almost unbearably thrilling” (Simon Winchester) Fourth Part of the World. Like Vitruvian Man itself, the book captures a pivotal time in the history of Western thought when the Middle Ages was giving way to the Renaissance, when art and science and philosophy all seemed to be converging as one, and when it seemed just possible, at least to Leonardo da Vinci, that a single human being might embody—and even understand—the nature of everything.
In andlt;I andgt;Da Vinci's Ghostandlt;/Iandgt;, critically acclaimed historian Toby Lester tells the story of the worldand#8217;s most iconic image, the Vitruvian Man, and sheds surprising new light on the artistry and scholarship of Leonardo da Vinci, one of historyand#8217;s most fascinating figures.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Deftly weaving together art, architecture, history, theology, and much else, andlt;Iandgt;Da Vinci's Ghost andlt;/Iandgt;is a first-rate intellectual enchantment.and#8221;andlt;Bandgt;and#8212;andlt;/Bandgt;Charles Mann, author of andlt;Iandgt;1493andlt;/Iandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Da Vinci didnand#8217;t summon Vitruvian Man out of thin air. He was inspired by the idea originally formulated by the Roman architect Vitruvius, who suggested that the human body could be made to fit inside a circle, long associated with the divine, and a square, related to the earthly and secular. To place a man inside those shapes was to imply that the human body could indeed be a blueprint for the workings of the universe. Da Vinci elevated Vitruviusand#8217; idea to exhilarating heights when he set out to do something unprecedented, if the human body truly reflected the cosmos, he reasoned, then studying its anatomy more thoroughly than had ever been attempted beforeand#8212;peering deep into body and souland#8212;might grant him an almost godlike perspective on the makeup of the world. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Written with the same narrative flair and intellectual sweep as Lesterand#8217;s award-winning first book, the and#8220;almost unbearably thrillingand#8221; (Simon Winchester) andlt;Iandgt;Fourth Part of the World, andlt;/Iandgt;and beautifully illustrated with Da Vinci's drawings, andlt;Iandgt;Da Vinciand#8217;s Ghostandlt;/Iandgt; follows Da Vinci on his journey to understanding the secrets of the Vitruvian man. It captures a pivotal time in Western history when the Middle Ages were giving way to the Renaissance, when art, science, and philosophy were rapidly converging, and when it seemed possible that a single human being might embodyand#8212;and even understandand#8212;the nature of the universe.
Everybody knows the image, but nobody knows its story. andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;In 1490, Leonardo da Vinci produced his iconic drawing of a man inscribed in a circle and a square: Vitruvian Man. Today the image appears on everything from coffee cups and T-shirts to corporate logos and spacecraft, and has become the worldand#8217;s most famous cultural icon. Yet few people know anything about it. In this remarkable book, Toby Lester, the author of the award-winning andlt;Iandgt;Fourth Part of the World, andlt;/Iandgt;tells the pictureand#8217;s story, weaving together a saga of people and ideas that sheds surprising new light on the life and work of Leonardo, one of historyand#8217;s most fascinating figures.
About the Author
Toby Lester is a contributing editor to and has written extensively for The Atlantic. A former Peace Corps volunteer and United Nations observer, he lives in the Boston area with his wife and three daughters. His previous book, The Fourth Part of the World (2009), about the map that gave America its name, was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Award and was picked as a Book of the Year by several other publications. His work has also appeared on the radio program This American Life.
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