Leonardo da Vinci: The Universal Genius Critical Context - Essay

Iris Noble

Critical Context

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.