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Hardcover, 286 pages
Oxford University Press, 2004
First Edition, First Printing

This fascinating exploration of Leonardo da Vinci's life and work identifies what it was that made him so unique, and explains the phenomenon of the world's most celebrated artistic genius who, 500 years on, still grips and inspires us.

Martin Kemp offers us exceptional insights into what it was that made this Renaissance man so special, and the "real" meaning behind such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. Tracing Leonardo's career in all its variety, we learn of his unfulfilled dreams, relationships with powerful patrons, and the truth about his views on God, humanity, and nature.

The famous notebooks are the key to understanding the secret of Leonardo's success and genius, Kemp shows, as they clearly reveal the workings of his mind and display the truly innovative and investigative nature of his creative vision. In these notebooks, over 20,000 pages of drawings and notes detail his incredible discoveries and inventions--from the workings of the human eye to designs for flying machines and giant crossbows. Bringing the story up to the present day, Martin Kemp considers what he means to us today, investigates the "Leonardo industry," and speculates about what he would be doing if he were alive today.

Editorial Reviews

"A serious book filled with fresh thought.... Kemp has succeeded at something that is possible only after years of reflection."--A. Richard Turner, Los Angeles Times

"Leonardo seen from the inside out.... A series of intense, learned meditations on Leonardesque themes.... Kemp tries to define what Leonardo thought he was doing, and why. He argues, convincingly, that Leonardo was constantly searching for a universal system of proportion--not merely a system of aesthetic proportion, like the famous Golden Mean, but a system of proportion that would explain, as Newton's inverse-square rule of gravity did, two centuries later, the fundamental workings of forces."--Adam Gopnick, The New Yorker

"A leading authority on Leonardo da Vinci, Kemp attempts to set forth a succinct, understandable, unified account of da Vinci's creative and intellectual life.... Fascinating, enlightening, well written, and easy to read."--Library Journal

"Excites the reader's admiration for the restless vitality of the man and his ideas.... Kemp is at his best when elucidating Leonardo's scientific investigations.... The heart of his book introduces us to some of the investigations that kept Leonardo from finishing paintings, ranging from optics, anatomy and engineering to geology and hydraulics."--Washington Post Book World

"Kemp, an eminent Oxford art historian and Leonardo scholar, has condensed what he calls Leonardo's 'strange career' as an artist, engineer, and musician into a series of key moments."--The Economist

About the Author

Martin Kemp is Emeritus Professor in the History of Art at Trinity College, Oxford University. The author of The Oxford History of Western Art and Leonardo, he appears frequently in the media.