Diane Stanley is a noted award-winning author of biographies. LEONARDO DA VINCI begins with the jacket cover telling
the reader of her credentials and the verso of the title page telling us of her sources and fact-checking. We are assured
of accuracy by learning that a Harvard
University professor of fine arts as read the text prior to publication. There
is a Pronunciation Guide of the unfamiliar Italian names so that the book may be read with greater accuracy. The eleven books
listed in the Bibliography show that Stanley did her research; and, from reading
the jacket cover, we learn that she did much of her research during a trip to Italy.
All of these add credence to what is about to be read.
This book is sure to be enjoyed by all ages but is written with a young audience in mind. The narrative is on the left
page; and rich, colorful illustrations, created by Diane Stanley (which increases our admiration for this author), is on the
right-hand page. Da Vinci lived in the Middle Ages; and the book’s artistic style reflects that time period. The narrative
is on the left page. Reproductions of drawings done by Da Vinci are on the narrative pages, lending more authenticity as well
as beauty. Even the knotted borders on these pages are from a design made by Da Vinci, himself.
The book begins with a description of the Middle Ages, the time when Da Vinci lived, and an overview of his contributions
to it. The reader is then treated to an interesting fact about his grandfather. She quotes an entry in this elderly man’s
Bible which records facts about Leonardo’s birth, his father, and his name, but fails to mention his mother. We learn
that she was a peasant, that Leonardo was illegitimate, and that his grandfather never approved of his mother.
The story logically continues with Da Vinci’s early life and how he became an artist and inventor. She not only
describes his accomplishments (or lack thereof, since we learn that he had difficulty finishing projects which he started),
but we also learn of his failures. For example, Da Vinci worked for sixteen years on a statue of a horse which would be four
times life-size. The statue would be cast in bronze, but there was a problem in getting the enormous amount of bronze into
the mold without it cracking as it cooled; so he invented a new way by using four furnaces. He gathered over seventy tons
of bronze. But, the man who commissioned the piece ended up using the bronze for cannons, and the horse was never completed.
Interestingly, there was also a “battle of the artists” when Michelangelo and Da Vinci were painting different
walls of the same room. Da Vinci had developed a way to paint with oils; he tested his method in his workroom. But it did
not work on the larger scale on his project, so he abandoned it.
The story ends with the discrepancy of who was with Da Vinci at his death. Some historians say that his friend, the
king of France held him when he died; others say that the
king was not even in the same town at that time. The “Postscript” describes what happened to his remains and his
notebooks with thousands of pages of notes and drawings. These drawings were virtually lost for three hundred years after
which they were sold and given away. “Soon they were scattered all over Europe. Some collectors
cut them up and pasted them into albums. At least a third of the sheets were lost. Perhaps someone used the priceless pages
to line a drawer.”
The reader’s imagination is captured in the last paragraph when Stanley
fantasizes that “There is still a chance that some of the lost sheets will eventually turn up . . . How tantalizing
it is to think that six thousand pages of Leonardo’s notes might still be out there, waiting to reveal their secrets.”
Diane.1996. LEONARDO DA VINCI. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN: 068810438X.