A biographical and critical essay of a style that would be considered unacceptably impressionistic and rhapsodic today, but which retains the ‘air of truth’ despite all the intervening scholarship.
Pater takes Vasari as his starting point and Leonardo’s ‘genius’ as a given. He is particularly good on Leonardo’s relationship to his teacher Verrocchio, on the painter’s scientific ‘sorcerer’ side, and on what was characteristic of both the man and his times. Pater’s description of the Mona Lisa is famously extreme. It is a piece that makes one want to see the pictures, for which there is a Phaidon illustrated edition.
Related recommendation: Paul Valéry’s ‘Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci’ (1919)
Themes: Artistic Method, Vocation and Celebrity, The role of Art or Artists
Genres: Biographical, Critical, Lyrical or Poetic