Leonardo da Vinci (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
Plagued by the paradigmatic fault of perfectionists, the inability to complete projects, Leonardo left to posterity fewer than twenty paintings, many of them in unfinished or in badly deteriorated condition, and not an entire statue, machine, building, or book. Despite the fragmentary nature of his legacy, his influence on succeeding generations has been surprisingly strong. Although his public creations did not match in quantity or quality those of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian, many critics have ranked him with these masters because of such works as The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. Giorgio Vasari, his first important critic, pointed to Leonardo’s restless heart, which propelled him to multiply his nonartistic activities, as the source of his poor record of bringing his ventures to completion. Leonardo tried to do too many things too well, and after making propitious beginnings on many of these projects, he abandoned most of them. His notebooks reveal an imagination bubbling over with many brilliant ideas and a mind eager and able to develop these ideas in inspired ways, but unfortunately, his will seemed unable to resist the temptation to stray from one seductive idea to another. This muddy picture of Leonardo’s accomplishments has not prevented artists, historians, and critics from constructing an image of him as the universal man. He certainly sampled much of the knowledge then accessible to Renaissance scholars, and he even probed,...
(The entire section is 3476 words.)
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