Book #19

Leonardo da Vinci by Giorgio Vasari

Often called "the first art historian", Vasari writes with delight on the lives of Leonardo and other celebrated Renaissance artists.

Vasari describes the lives and works of three Florentine painters, all alive at roughly the same time in the 15th century, spanning into the 16th century for two of the three. I am no art aficionado, and tiptoed into this addition to the range with strong assumptions of tedium.

The tedium was there slightly. Countless works are noted and described, and surely there are only so many saints which can be painted on walls between three men. I appreciate, however, this work is more for the art-lover, and will respectfully hold criticism to myself, aware of the gaps in my intelligence.

I much preferred reading of the painters’ lives than their works. Each of them surprised me with their quirks and behaviours; da Vinci dissecting a bull’s intestines and filling them up with air to force people into the corner of a room, Lippi becoming abducted by pirates and set free after surprising them with a charcoal drawing of the master, and Botticelli tormenting his friends and neighbours with pranks, malicious or otherwise, and escaping from his room to chase women.

One interesting point I noted was the difference between Vasari’s words on da Vinci in comparison to those on the other two – he was a total da Vinci fanboy. His style, tone, and word choice throughout the da Vinci segment was utterly glorious. He compares him to god, he fawns over his work, he tells us the man is gorgeous, but also has a completely charming personality, and he delights in telling us of this complete Florentine genius. Crush, much? Moving on to Lippi and Botticelli, the style changes markedly to one far more factual and objective. It’s fascinating to feel that comparison.

Although not something I’d actively choose to pick up, I’m glad to have read this. To learn of the lifestyles of these three painters, of their personalities, and the making of the Mona Lisa, has been valuable to me. This is also well worth picking up for the section where da Vinci inflates the bull’s intestines; I still can’t stop rolling that one through my mind.