Thursday, August 9, 2018

DA VINCI'S GHOST By Toby Lester New York: Free Press, 2012 ISBN # 978-1-4391-8923-8 258 pages

This work is a simply fascinating read. It is scholarly, detailed, fascinating, telling of a story that most people would not know of the drawing by Leonard da Vinci’s version of the Vitruvian Man. Da Vinci’s version is a quite small drawing, just a bit larger that a piece of typing paper, that presents the figure of a human man inside a circle which is inside a square. It is the MEANING of this drawing and its influence on the world that is the focus of this exciting book, and, as the title suggests, the book is centered more on Da Vinci’s version of the Vitruvian Man than on the original drawing of Vitruvius some 1500 years before Da Vinci lived.

While indeed fascinating, at the same time it is a bit frustrating reading at times as well. The author begins with the story of Vitruvius and his drawing, and the point of the book is to show the relationship between Vitruvius’ original drawing and Da Vinci’s upgraded version of it done some 1500 years later. However, it is not very clear that Da Vinci was as concerned with Vitruvius’ drawing as he was on “upgrading” the vision as seen by Da Vinci.

Nonetheless, the main line of the story is so gripping and fascinating, that I eventually put aside my occasional frustrations, gave into the author’s choice of how to present his tale, and just soldiered on.

The book is somewhat demanding, but quite worth a read.

I learned a great deal, yet in the end I had to keep in mind that the fundamental thesis that the Vitruvian Man notion embodies is one that I find rather hilariously impossible, even though it was clearly a powerful influence on western minds for at least 15 centuries: that is, that the proportions of the human body are in some way the ideal proportions of all existence, and related somehow to God.

Nearly everyone has most likely seen the famous drawing of Leonardo da Vinci’s version of the Vitruvian man, yet most probably would not recognize the name of that drawing as being the Vitruvian version of the human being, nor know the significance of this famous work and Da Vinci’s even more famous “up-grading” of it.

This book does a fine job of making the place of both Vitruvius and Da Vinci clear and useful.

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