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Book review: 'The Young Leonardo' by Larry J. Feinberg

December 21, 2011 | 10:30 am

"'The Young Leonardo: Art and Life in Fifteenth-Century Florence"
'The Young Leonardo: Art and Life in Fifteenth-Century Florence'
Larry J. Feinberg
Cambridge University Press, $95

Leonardo da Vinci's triumphant years in the tough, dangerous environment of Ludovico Sforza's court in Milan is getting lots of attention right now, thanks to an unprecedented exhibition currently at London's National Gallery. If you're wondering what the Renaissance artist's life was like before he moved north, this tightly written, deeply informed recent book chronicles Leonardo's rural Tuscan birth (under less-than-ideal circumstances) through his 20s, when he worked in Verocchio's competitive workshop in Florence.

To limn a portrait of the artist as a young man, Larry J. Feinberg -- director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and a former curator of European painting at the Art Institute of Chicago -- nicely interweaves biography, the implacable social milieu in 15th-century Italy and analysis of Leonardo's rapidly evolving paintings and drawings. Among the book's best features is its keen avoidance of idealizing puffery, which makes Leonardo's accomplishments under often difficult daily circumstances all that much more impressive.


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-- Christopher Knight