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The Shadow Drawing: How Science Taught Leonardo How to Paint Hardcover – November 17, 2020

4.4 out of 5 stars 16 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


"[Fiorani] makes [her argument] with fresh force and pitches it against the misconception that Leonardo abandoned painting for science in his later years . . . when she loses herself in looking, the book achieves fluency and power. She notes the traces of the azure paint on the throat of the “Mona Lisa” and wonders if it is responsible for giving us the sense of seeing her pulse. Or take the bravura section on “The Last Supper,” in which she explains how the painting exists in two time frames, with several characters making gestures that will mark them in the future . . . The book reorients our perspective, distills a life and brings it into focus ― the very work of revision and refining that its subject loved best." ―Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

"Through a series of close studies of paintings, Ms. Fiorani demonstrates how Leonardo explored light and shadow in a range of challenging subjects. She builds up the reader’s knowledge of what can be an abstruse and highly mathematical field through detailed and lively considerations of individual art works. Her study of the unfinished “Adoration of the Magi” (1481), is particularly compelling . . . Far from undercutting Leonardo’s achievements, Ms. Fiorani’s emphasis on the artist’s limitations offers a refreshing counterpoint to our tendency to see his every scribble as a mark of genius . . . It will take more than this book to dislodge the fixation on Leonardo as a scientist and inventor. However, a well-researched, lively book by a scholar, expert and art historian goes a long way toward correcting that misconception." ―Cammy Brothers, The Wall Street Journal

"[Francesca Fiorani] provides new insight into the work of Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci in this fresh assessment . . . This beautifully written work is underpinned by immense scholarship; art lovers and historians will not be able to put it down." Publishers Weekly

"University of Virginia art historian Fiorani’s sparkling second book explores how Leonardo’s love of science informed his art. Intimately capturing the artistic, religious, and cultural landscape of Leonardo’s world, the author traces his development as an artist from his early apprenticeship days to the lessons he learned as he painted his greatest works and up to his posthumous legacy . . . Fiorani effectively describes Leonardo’s experiments with paints that allowed him to 'achieve an astounding variety of optical effects'." Kirkus Reviews

“In this insightful and beautiful book, the great Leonardo scholar Francesca Fiorani connects his studies of optics with his painting. It’s a wonderful study of how Leonardo’s art and science were interwoven―which should be an inspiration to us all.” ―Walter Isaacson, author of Leonardo da Vinci

"Francesca Fiorani’s lively intellectual adventure gives us a new understanding and appreciation of Leonardo’s ingenious cross-fertilization of art and science. It is a perceptive biography of Leonardo exploring the frontiers of science, but also a brilliantly informative guide to his paintings―many of which I will now enjoy seeing again with Fiorani’s fresh insights in mind.” ―Ross King, author of Brunelleschi's Dome, Leonardo and the Last Supper, and Mad Enchantment

"Francesca Fiorani’s book makes an effective contribution towards demolishing the false notion of two Leonardos―one the artist , the other the scientist. Fiorani masterfully shows how science enabled the young Leonardo to take Renaissance painting to an unprecedented level of perfection. No matter how many books about Leonardo you might have read, this one is not to be missed. It will shape your understanding of his beautiful mind’s all-encompassing vision of art, nature, and man." ―Paolo Galluzzi, director, Museo Galileo, Florence

About the Author

Francesca Fiorani is a professor of art history at the University of Virginia, where she has served as associate dean for arts and humanities and chair of the art department. A leading authority on Renaissance art and the application of computer technology to the humanities, she is the creator of the Leonardo da Vinci and His Treatise on Painting digital platform and the author of The Marvel of Maps: Art, Cartography, and Politics in Renaissance Italy.

Product details

  • Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux (November 17, 2020)
  • Language : English
  • Hardcover : 384 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0374261962
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0374261962
  • Item Weight : 10.6 ounces
  • Dimensions : 6.35 x 1.24 x 9.29 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.4 out of 5 stars 16 ratings

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Reviewed in the United States on January 20, 2021