Why has no one else ever tried to tell the story of the Vitruvian Man…until now?
These are a few of the dozens of passages that caught my eye:
“As an architect with plenty of hands-on experience, Vitruvius recognized that singular challenge confronted the Romans if they wanted to build a body of empire based on the natural order. It would have to be assembled piece by piece, according to a set of standard measurements that could be understood and used by engineers and construction workers all over the world.” (Page 36)
“The earliest illustrations of the human body as a microcosm, which date to he twelfth century amount to little more than adaptations of the diagrams that had long appeared in manuscripts by such writers as Isidore of Seville and the Venerable Bede (Plate 3). Soon, however, writers and illustrators began to describe a set of almost biological relationships between parts of the heavens and the human body.” (55)
“It’s impossible to say when Leonardo first embraced the idea of the artist as a kind of creator-god, but the idea was one he would carry with him throughout his life…The idea had an ancient pedigree…The Neoplatonists in Florence, who emerged as a cultural force in the Katter half of the fifteenth century, latched onto this analogy between the human and the divine…Human nature, [Marsilio Ficino] wrote, ‘possesses in itself images of the divine things upon which it depends.’” (85)
“Leonardo didn’t just model his notebooks on the sketchbooks of artists and engineers. Her also turned to another source for inspiration: the commonplace book, designed to preserve not pictures but words…notebooks, that is, in which [students] collected excerpts from their reading, organized not by author or book but by subject.” (117)
“Most of Leonardo’s notebook sketches feel hasty and unfinished, less like the result of thought that like the thought itself, captured in action. But Vitruvian Man is different. Leonardo drew the picture with uncharacteristic precision, almost as though he was carefully preparing it to be printed.” (213)
By the time Lester’s readers arrive at the book’s conclusion, they will have learned a great deal about the evolution of perspectives on an ancient drawing, to be sure, but they will also appreciate even more than perhaps they once did how important Leonardo continues to be to the evolution of thought in so many dimensions of human curiosity. Hence the appropriateness of Toby Lester’s suggestion that, when they gaze at Plate 9 that precedes Page 139, “you’ll also see Leonardo da Vinci, staring out at you from the page. The man himself died centuries ago, but his ghost – timeless, watchful, and restless – remains unmistakably, unforgettably alive.”