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Book review: Claire Farago on The Lives of Leonardo, ed. Thomas Frangenberg and Rodney Palmer, Warburg Institute Colloquia

2 February 2015

The Absolute Leonardo

Review of:

The Lives of Leonardo, ed. Thomas Frangenberg and Rodney Palmer, Warburg Institute Colloquia, ed. Charles Burnett and Jill Kraye, London: The Warburg Institute and Turin: Nino Aragno Editore, 2013. 266 pp. + b&w illustrations. £50.00. ISBN 978-1-908590-044-2.

Claire Farago 13/CF1


The central theme of the book, as argued in Thomas Frangenberg’s Introduction, is that the legacy of Vasari’s Lives is complex and ambivalent because, on the one hand, it is composed of fictional anecdotes; but on the other hand, it is based on a highly reliable source almost contemporary with Leonardo’s lifetime. This review considers that the main interpretive challenge of the genre of biography has always been where and how to define the terrain in which fact and fiction co-exist. One of the strengths of The Lives of Leonardo is that it includes study of the factually verifiable, the philologically trackable, the mythical, and the psychological biography within the covers of the same book. This review locates the twelve case studies spanning 400 years of Leonardo biographies within the history of scholarship on artist’s biographies. It considers questions of authorship, intertextuality, cultural capital, and poetics and provides summaries of the individual chapters.

Keywords: authorship, intertextuality, biography, Leonardo da Vinci, Giorgio Vasari

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