User:Jodon1971/Leonardo Fame and Reputation (addition)

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Fame and reputation[edit]

Francis I of France receiving the last breath of Leonardo da Vinci, by Ingres, 1818

Within Leonardo's own lifetime his fame was such that the King of France carried him away like a trophy and was claimed to have supported him in his old age and held him in his arms as he died. Interest in Leonardo has never diminished. The crowds still queue to see his most famous artworks, T-shirts bear his most famous drawing, and writers continue to marvel at his genius and speculate about his private life and, particularly, about what one so intelligent actually believed in.[1]

Giorgio Vasari, in the enlarged edition of Lives of the Artists, 1568,[2] introduced his chapter on Leonardo da Vinci with the following words:

In the normal course of events many men and women are born with remarkable talents; but occasionally, in a way that transcends nature, a single person is marvellously endowed by Heaven with beauty, grace and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind, all his actions seem inspired and indeed everything he does clearly comes from God rather than from human skill. Everyone acknowledged that this was true of Leonardo da Vinci, an artist of outstanding physical beauty, who displayed infinite grace in everything that he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied he solved with ease.

The continued admiration that Leonardo commanded from painters, critics and historians is reflected in many other written tributes. Baldassare Castiglione, author of Il Cortegiano ("The Courtier"), wrote in 1528: "... Another of the greatest painters in this world looks down on this art in which he is unequalled ..."[3] while the biographer known as "Anonimo Gaddiano" wrote, c. 1540: "His genius was so rare and universal that it can be said that nature worked a miracle on his behalf ...".[4]

Statue of Leonardo in Amboise

The 19th century brought a particular admiration for Leonardo's genius, causing Henry Fuseli to write in 1801: "Such was the dawn of modern art, when Leonardo da Vinci broke forth with a splendour that distanced former excellence: made up of all the elements that constitute the essence of genius ..."[5] This is echoed by A. E. Rio who wrote in 1861: "He towered above all other artists through the strength and the nobility of his talents."[6]

Leonardo’s fame continued to spread in the 18th and 19th century thanks to the Romantic Movement,[7] with writers such as Goethe and Houston Stewart Chamberlain assessing Leonardo the scientist in the context of his own time.[8][9] By the 19th century, the scope of Leonardo's notebooks was known, as well as his paintings. Hippolyte Taine wrote in 1866: "There may not be in the world an example of another genius so universal, so incapable of fulfilment, so full of yearning for the infinite, so naturally refined, so far ahead of his own century and the following centuries."[10] Art historian Bernard Berenson wrote in 1896: "Leonardo is the one artist of whom it may be said with perfect literalness: Nothing that he touched but turned into a thing of eternal beauty. Whether it be the cross section of a skull, the structure of a weed, or a study of muscles, he, with his feeling for line and for light and shade, forever transmuted it into life-communicating values."[11]

While Vasari may have contributed to the early mythologicalization of Leonardo, 20th Century writers such as Kenneth Clark and Martin Kemp subsequently attempted to to demystify the legend and present him as a man, without diminishing his extraordinariness.[8] The discovery in 1964 of another of Leonardo's notebooks helped to cement the idea of Leonardo as both artist and scientist in the public mind.[12] By the end of the 20th Century interest in Leonardo’s status as an historical icon continued with an ever increasing number of reference books and biographies being published about him., as of March 2013, has an estimated 21,336 publications on, or relating to Leonardo.[13] In his book Leonardo, Martin Kemp equates the current popularity of Leonardo to an "industry".[14]

Leonardo's genius has been the subject of much debate, for both experts and non-experts alike. Efforts to rank the world's greatest geniuses have often placed Leonardo among "the greatest". In 1926 American psychologist Catherine Cox published Early Mental Traits of 300 Geniuses, and Leonardo was ranked 27th with an estimated IQ of 180.[15] [16] In 1994, a study was conducted by Tony Buzan and Raymond Keene and the results were published in their book – Buzan's Book of Genius.[17] Of 100 geniuses studied, Leonardo scored highest in IQ (scoring 220) and GS (Genius Score - on an 835-point scale, scoring 822). Michael Gelb's book How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps To Genius Every Day claims Leonardo is the greatest genius of all time.[18] On Rankopedia, an online poll, Leonardo was voted by non-experts as being the greatest genius who ever lived.[19] A 2010 common street poll ranked Leonardo as the second smartest person of all time.[20] On the other hand some critics argue that his genius is overestimated and that his IQ could not have been any more than 160, since many of his inventions were failures, and that he had only a rudimentary grasp of Latin and Mathematics.[21] Defenders of Leonardo's genius however claim that such critics are taking their assessments out of context and neglecting other aspects.[21]

The interest in Leonardo's genius has continued unabated; experts study and translate his writings, analyse his paintings using scientific techniques, argue over attributions and search for works which have been recorded but never found.[22] Liana Bortolon, writing in 1967, said: "Because of the multiplicity of interests that spurred him to pursue every field of knowledge ... Leonardo can be considered, quite rightly, to have been the universal genius par excellence, and with all the disquieting overtones inherent in that term. Man is as uncomfortable today, faced with a genius, as he was in the 16th century. Five centuries have passed, yet we still view Leonardo with awe."[23]


  1. ^ Arasse, Daniel (1998). Leonardo da Vinci.
  2. ^ Vasari, p.255
  3. ^ Castiglione, Baldassare (1528). "Il Cortegiano". 
  4. ^ "Anonimo Gaddiani", elaborating on Libro di Antonio Billi, 1537–1542
  5. ^ Fuseli, Henry (1801). "Lectures". II. 
  6. ^ Rio, A.E. (1861). "L'art chrétien". 
  7. ^ "Leonardo Tour Operator In Milan". - Article "The Genius of Leonardo: Myth or Reality?"
  8. ^ a b "University of Colorado Journal '". - "Fact or Fiction? The Myth of Leonardo da Vinci"
  9. ^ Chamberlain, Houston Stewart. (1914) Immanuel Kant : a study and a comparison with Goethe, Leonardo da Vinci, Bruno, Plato and Descartes. London : John Lane, The Bodley Head. ISBN 1443793302, 9781443793308
  10. ^ Taine, Hippolyte (1866). "Voyage en Italie". 
  11. ^ Berenson, Bernard (1896). "The Italian Painters of the Renaissance". 
  12. ^ "The Unmuseum of Natural History".  Article - "Leonardo's Notebooks"
  13. ^ "Amazon search result for Leonardo da Vinci". 
  14. ^ Kemp, Martin. (2011) Leonardo. Oxford University Press, USA; Revised edition (November 1, 2011) ISBN-10: 0199583358 ISBN-13: 978-0199583355
  15. ^ "Cox IQ". 
  16. ^ Cox, Catherine. Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses. ISBN-10: 0804700109
  17. ^ Buzan, Tony and Keene, Raymond. (1994). Buzan's Book of Genius. Stanley Paul. ISBN 0-09-178551-0
  18. ^ Gelb, Michael J. (1998) How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci - Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. Thorson's. ISBN 0-7225-3718-2. "All great geniuses are unique, and Leonardo was, perhaps, the greatest of all geniuses", Preface p.XIII
  19. ^ "Greatest Genius of All Time". 
  20. ^ "The Encyclopedia of Human Thermodynamics".  - Article "IQ: 200 (±) candidates"
  21. ^ a b "The Top 10 Most Overrated Geniuses". 
  22. ^ Henneberger, Melinda. "ArtNews article about current studies into Leonardo's life and works". Art News Online. Archived from the original on 2006-05-05. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  23. ^ Bortolon, Liana (1967). The Life and Times of Leonardo. London: Paul Hamlyn