You know the picture. Everybody does. It's Leonardo da Vinci's iconic man in a circle and the
square, the figure known as Vitruvian Man--or, as Tim Howard, a producer at Radiolab once aptly put it to me, "the naked guy doing jumping jacks."
But if everybody knows the picture, almost nobody knows anything about its story. When I began looking into it, a couple of years ago, I discovered, to my great surprise, that nobody had even ever written a book on the picture.
So I decided I'd write one myself--and the (nonfiction) result, out this week, is Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in his Own Image [Free Press, $26.99]
Writing the book took me on a rich and fascinating ride: a romp through Leonardo's remarkable
life and times and through the larger, and often abidingly strange, history of the ideas he played with in his work. Leonardo was not just a visual artist but also a visual thinker, so the story demands period illustrations. I ended up unearthing and reproducing more than sixty in the book.
Here are five that help put Leonardo's own picture in perspective--along with, at the end, Vitruvian Man himself.