Living With Leonardo || Martin Kemp

Leonardo Da Vinci has captured the public imagination like almost no other artist. Why else would they queue in their thousands for hours just to shuffle past the Mona Lisa without ever getting a proper view? Why else would Salvator Mundi, having been “restored” almost to destruction, sell for unimaginable millions, even though its attribution has been questioned at the highest level? Maybe it’s the enigma, maybe it’s the writings – the intriguing idea that, even if he didn’t invent the helicopter, he at least invented the idea of it.

This is an account of a lifetime of study. There is no shortage of Leonardo experts (Kemp is one of the best), pundits, collectors, dealers and fantasists. Precisely because the man himself is such an enigma, stories can be told about him, the truth bent into shapes that themselves could count as works of plastic art. If you want to sell a thriller, The Da Vinci Code is probably the most eye-catching title you could give it – after that, who cares how much hokum it contains?

This is a serious but accessible study of Leonardo’s work, but also an account of the industry that feeds on it, and of the process of untangling fact from myth and fantasy. A focus merely on the art would be one for the specialists (though, when it comes to Leonardo, everyone is arguably a specialist). This, while being authoritative in that respect, is also an account of the chase and very much accessible for the more general reader.

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