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“The marvellous works of nature and man.” Indeed, this book describes them in relation to a marvellous man. It is not a biography, although biographical detail is, of necessity, interspersed throughout and in a way that is a skeletal framework for the whole. But for a life of Leonardo the reader must turn elsewhere. So, what is this book, then? We are told, in the preface to the first (1981) edition, that it “… is intended to be a book about Leonardo’s intellectual and artistic life as a whole”. It is written against the backdrop of the loss of most of Leonardo’s work, probably more than three-quarters. The author is professor of the history of art at the University of Oxford, and was, by his own description, a “poor student of the natural sciences” but “a somewhat better [one] of art history”, both clearly useful in this work. How has he set about his task? He has tried to “capture the unity of [Leonardo’s] creative intellect … not at the expense of his variousness”, and to “illustrate the main trunk from which the ramifications of his work grew”. Kemp is a Leonardo scholar of stature.
The book has an attractive appearance, with …