cover image Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo Da Vinci

Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo Da Vinci

Mike Lankford. Melville House, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61219-595-7

This nontraditional biography—or “exploded view”—of one of the most famous figures of the Italian Renaissance, artist Leonardo Da Vinci, is a fun and enlightening exercise in imagination. Lankford (Life in Double Time: Confessions of an American Drummer) assembles evidence and then speculates about the many gaps in the artist’s documented life. He often infers details that many historians and biographers would be reluctant to ponder. This chronological journey follows Da Vinci’s illegitimate birth, his apprenticeship with the artist Verrocchio, his arrest for sodomy, and the highlights of his peripatetic later years, when the artist truly flourished. Lankford dutifully describes Da Vinci’s development as a painter and sculptor, but his larger goal is to show the artist “simply as a man sitting across the table covered in ordinary sunlight, absent the halo.” Lankford relies heavily on prefaces like “probably,” “perhaps,” and “I think” throughout his writing, but his curiosity and passion and for trying to understand Da Vinci’s functioning world sparks plenty of life into the book. Where traditional biographies might downplay Da Vinci’s love of music or possible homosexuality, Lankford’s book takes time to consider these angles. The circumstances that produce such a figure are infinitely fascinating in their own right and Lankford’s unconventional approach provides for a deeper appreciation of a genius. (Apr.)