Renaissance Man: Leonardo da Vinci, August 2012

Ames-Lewis, Francis. Isabella and Leonardo: The Artistic Relationship Between Isabella d’Este and Leonardo da Vinci. Yale Univ. 2012. c.240p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300121247. $50. FINE ARTS

A cultural icon of the Italian Renaissance, Isabella d’Este (1474–1539), the marchesa of Mantua, was a major patron of the arts in 16th-century Italy. Here Ames-Lewis (art history, emeritus, Birbeck, Univ. of London; The Intellectual Life of the Early Renaissance Artist ) details her pursuit of a work by Leonardo da Vinci to decorate her famous studiolo, a room full of art by Renaissance masters. She sought to commission a color portrait of herself or a small devotional painting by the master, but Leonardo, who spent a mere 25 days in Mantua, was distant and unresponsive, though ever courteous. His well-known chalk drawing of her profile (now in the Louvre) and a similar one in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, are the only known likenesses of her by the artist. VERDICT Ames-Lewis well describes d’Este’s studiolo and the Renaissance portraits and sculpture that furnished it as well as her pursuit of the work of other great artists such as Andrea Mantegna. This book is best for academic readers interested in d’Este’s role as patron of the arts.—Ellen Bates, New York

starred review star King, Ross. Leonardo and The Last Supper. Walker. Nov. 2012. c.320p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780802717054. $28. FINE ARTS

King (Brunelleschi’s Dome ) celebrates Leonardo da Vinci in this engaging biography centered on the artist’s creation of one of his masterpieces, The Last Supper , in Santa Maria della Grazia in Milan. He touches upon some of the major forces of Leonardo’s time: Lodovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, who commissioned the painting to glorify the Sforza dynasty; Charles XIII of France, whose troops invaded and, for a time, ruled parts of Italy; as well as the ecclesiastic fabric of Renaissance life, which supported the creation of many great works of art. King explores Leonardo’s painting techniques and explores many factors that may have figured into its creation such as the divinely inspired proportion of the golden section (knowledge derived from Leonardo’s relationship with the mathematician Luca Pacioli) as well as an explication of the various poses of the figures in the painting itself, which King speculates might be based on gestures commonly used by 15th-century Italians. VERDICT A fascinating and in-depth story of one of the world’s most famous works of art that will appeal to general readers as well as academics. Highly recommended.—Ellen Bates, New York

Silverman, Peter & Catherine Whitney. Leonardo’s Lost Princess: One Man’s Quest To Authenticate an Unknown Portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. Wiley. 2012. 280p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780470936405. $25.95. FINE ARTS

Art collector Silverman fell in love with a small portrait of a beautiful young woman, which he came to call La Bella Principessa . He became convinced it was by Leonardo da Vinci, and began a struggle to authenticate the portrait, inciting doubt and excitement in the art world. He carefully details his steps to discover the portrait’s true origins: one, multispectral imaging, magnified and detected key elements unique to Leonardo’s hand, including his fingerprint and palm impression. Silverman also determined the likely identity of the young lady as noblewoman Bianca Sforza. VERDICT A fascinating look at the inner workings of art attribution, the book takes a subject that could be dry and makes it breathe. Not only does Silverman make a convincing case; he may be pioneering the process for future authentications of works of art with the latest scientific equipment. Specialists will be interested because of the controversy La Bella Principessa has caused, and general readers will be interested because the possibility of finding a new Leonardo is a public event. Recommended.—Ellen Bates, New York