Although Noble always focuses on the personal life of Leonardo, she concentrates on his boyhood and on the development of his various talents rather than on his mature achievements. In a fictionlike manner, Noble details Leonardo’s initial dislike of school, his fascination with nature and machinery, and his clashes with his father and longing for the mother he never knew. Noble shows Leonardo’s excitement at being apprenticed to Verrocchio in Florence; his love for studying mathematics, engineering, and architecture at the prestigious Scuola d’ Abacco in Florence; his shyness with girls; and his popularity among the other apprentices.
Historical figures such as Paola del Pozzo Toscanelli and Lorenzo de’ Medici are characterized in relation to Leonardo. Toscanelli is shown as a wise old man who befriended Leonardo, loaned him books, and warned him of the narrow, superstitious nature of others. Lorenzo appears as rather superficial and insecure, though not unkind, in contrast to the brilliant Leonardo, whose willfulness and determination not to compromise his own integrity are explained by Noble as an essential part of Leonardo’s genius.
During his eighteen years in Milan, Leonardo contrasts strikingly with Ludovico Sforza, who is depicted as greedy for money, status, and power. Leonardo is shown as preferring a life of solitude during which he could observe nature and human anatomy, write about his scientific discoveries in his notebooks, invent new types of machines, and create masterworks such as The Last Supper. In one instance, Leonardo sculpted a magnificent equestrian statue to honor Sforza’s father. Although he supported the...
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Drawing on earlier works such as Kenneth Clark’s Leonardo da Vinci: An Account of His Development as an Artist (1939), Ludwig H. Heydenreich’s Leonardo da Vinci (1953; English translation, 1954), which defined his personality, and Ivor B. Hart’s The World of Leonardo da Vinci: Man of Science, Engineer, and Dreamer of Flight (1962), Noble created a comprehensive picture of Leonardo as a “universal genius.” By emphasizing the early years of this Renaissance figure, by presenting details concerning the daily life and the cultural and political scene of the day, and by writing her narrative in a fictionalized style, Noble made Leonardo’s life accessible and relevant to young readers.
Leonardo da Vinci: The Universal Genius, published in 1965, reflects the idealism of the time period during which it was written. It depicts Leonardo as an individual devoted to intellectual and artistic ideals, spurning the superficial goals of wealth, status, and power. By vividly contrasting him to the leading political and artistic figures of his time and by showing his struggles to be true to himself and his own genius, Noble presented this Renaissance giant as someone with whom many youths of the 1960’s could identify. Such later works as Ibi Lepscky’s Leonardo da Vinci (1984), written for preteens, reflect many of Noble’s themes: Leonardo’s diversity, his attempt to achieve self-actualization, his relationship with his father and other major male figures, and his success in contributing to many important intellectual areas.