Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art and Science of Leonardo Da Vinci

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Overview

   Leonardo da Vinci was one of history's true geniuses, equally brilliant as an artist, scientist, and mathematician. Readers of The Da Vinci Code were given a glimpse of the mysterious connections between math, science, and Leonardo's art. Math and the Mona Lisa picks up where The Da Vinci Code left off, illuminating Leonardo's life and work to uncover connections that, until now, have been known only to scholars.

   Bülent Atalay, a distinguished scientist and artist, examines the science and mathematics that underlie Leonardo's work, paying special attention to the proportions, patterns, shapes, and symmetries that scientists and mathematicians have also identified in nature. Following Leonardo's own unique model, Atalay searches for the internal dynamics of art and science, revealing to us the deep unity of the two cultures. He provides a broad overview of the development of science from the dawn of civilization to today's quantum mechanics. From this base of information, Atalay offers a fascinating view into Leonardo's restless intellect and modus operandi, allowing us to see the source of his ideas and to appreciate his art from a new perspective.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The broad sweep of Professor Atalay's brilliant mind brings us an approach to understanding the Vincian genius that is so insightful, so original, and so well-reasoned that it immediately becomes an essential volume in the canon of Leonardiana. I read this monumental achievement in awe of the author's perceptions.”—Sherwin Nuland, author of Leonardo da Vinci and winner of the 1994 National Book Award for How We Die.

“A masterful examination of the differences and similarities in the sciences and the arts, as embodied by that genius of both fields: Leonardo da Vinci. Professor Bülent Atalay has penetrated Leonardo's mind, in a way that is both highly readable and very informative.”—Jamie Wyeth

“Bülent Atalay takes us on a delightful romp through millenia and across continents, bringing together art, architecture, science, and mathematics under the umbrella of Leonardo's genius. His writing is informed by his artist's eye for beauty, his historian's appreciation of context, and his scientist's love of order and symmetry. I read Atalay's description of Leonardo's The Last Supper not long after having visited the masterpiece in Milan, for the first time since its restoration. His words added an unexpected poignancy to that sublime experience. Leonardo is the prototype for the renaissance man—artist, architect, philosopher, scientist, writer. There are few like him today, but Atalay is indeed a modern renaissance man, and he invites us to tap the power of synthesis that is Leonardo's model.”—William D. Phillips, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Publishers Weekly
In this readable, if less than compelling, disquisition on the close relationship of art and science, physics professor Atalay uses as his touchstone Leonardo da Vinci, of whom he says in his prologue: "Had [da Vinci] been able to publish the scientific ruminations found in his manuscripts in his own time, our present level of sophistication in science and technology might have been reached one or two centuries earlier." This assertion sets the buoyant tone for the rest of the book. The author marvels at the symmetries to be found in art and the natural world, discussing the Fibonacci series (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8...) and the golden ratio related to it designated by the Greek letter phi (1.618...) with illustrated examples ranging from da Vinci's three portraits of women to the Great Pyramid and the Parthenon. He concedes the existence of asymmetry and dissonance, but chooses not to get into such subjects as chaos theory and fractals that don't fit his harmonious view of the universe. While Atalay makes an agreeable guide, he covers too much ground that will already be familiar to his likely audience. (Apr.) Foreword: Blurbs from Jamie Wyeth and Sherwin Nuland, not to mention the current rage for all things da Vinci thanks to Dan Brown, should give a boost. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588341716
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Publication date: 3/19/2004
  • Pages: 314
  • Sales rank: 786,865
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Bülent Atalay, a professor of physics at Mary Washington College, an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia, and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, is also an accomplished artist whose lithographs have been published in Lands of Washington and Oxford and the English Countryside. He lives in Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue
1 Leonardo Fiorentino : a life well spent 1
2 The confluence of science and art 13
3 Painting by numbers 26
4 The nature of science 53
5 The nature of art 58
6 The art of nature 89
7 The science of art 112
8 The eye of the beholder and the eye of the beheld 151
9 Leonardo, part-time artist 163
10 The manuscripts of the consummate scientist 185
11 Unifying the physics of heaven and earth 213
12 The greatest collective piece of art of the twentieth century 245
13 Bridging the cultural divide 269
Bibliographical essay 281
Notes 283
Index 303
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2012

    ?¿¿¿¿¿_<>¿¿¿?¿``~¿¿??¿|`~}[=_^¿¿¿¿¿?¿¿¿\<>]

    Not What I Was Exactly Expecting Out of This Buk>>???

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2006

    Not what I had expected

    While he does write about Leonardo, the Rennaissance, etc., the title assumes the book is solely based on the works of the artist. Instead, what you get is redundancy and egotism on the part of the author. This guy just enjoyed listening to himself talk. This book is best for Math students, not Art History students.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2006

    A Beautiful Marriage of Science and Art

    Finally, finally as though waiting to open a treasure, Bulent Atalay brings to the world through his genius, the beautiful marriage of science and art in his book, Math and the Mona Lisa. He achieves his purpose of introducing the reader to the fundamental principles of symmetries and shapes inherent in the nature of the universe and as seen through science and viewed in art.  The reader travels this journey of understanding with Leonardo da Vinci as the guide teaching us the exquisite aesthetics of mathematical principles. As these principles are innate in all human consciousness this book is a must read for all. The world can be grateful for Math and the Mona Lisa as it inspires all of humanity to see the wisdom and perfection that underlies the structure of the universe, especially at this juncture in history when there appears to be chaos everywhere. As an artist who uses these universal principles in the structure of my work, I am especially grateful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2006

    A Beautiful Marriage of Science and Art

    Finally, finally as though waiting to open a treasure, Bulent Atalay brings to the world through his genius, the beautiful marriage of science and art in his book, 'Math and the Mona Lisa.' He achieves his purpose of introducing the reader to the fundamental principles of symmetries and shapes inherent in the nature of the universe and as seen through science and viewed in art. The reader travels this journey of understanding with Leonardo da Vinci as the guide teaching us the exquisite aesthetics of mathematical principles. As these principles are innate in all human consciousness this book is a must read for all. The world can be grateful for 'Math and the Mona Lisa' as it inspires all of humanity to see the wisdom and perfection that underlies the structure of the universe, especially at this juncture in history when there appears to be chaos everywhere. As an artist who uses these universal principles in the structure of my work, I am especially grateful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2004

    Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art and Science of Leonardo Da Vinci

    This is to express how much I enjoyed reading Math and the Mona Lisa. I have long been interested in that wonderful area where art and physics meet, and Professor Atalay¿s book was another big step in my education. A few years ago I had a memorable lunch with Dr. Leonard Schlain [author of Art and Physics] in San Francisco and can recall a fine remark about surgery: ¿If an operation doesn¿t look elegant, it probably isn¿t much good. If it looks well, it will probably succeed.¿ A most interesting man, and ever since visiting the Leonardo Museum in Vinci, I have been fascinated by the possibilities of making models of his devices. Interestingly, one of the few fields where he was not on the cutting edge of the technology of his time (or mostly well beyond it) was architecture. Of the famous designs in his notebooks, all were possible with the technology of the time. One, in fact was built at Todi and finished after his death: S. Maria della Consolazione. The foregoing in no way lessens my profound admiration for [Atalay¿s] work. I was especially delighted with the distinction between the old and new quantum mechanics.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2005

    Leonardo Would Have Approved

    For me reading Bulent Atalay's book was nothing short of a sublime experience that transported me back to my undergraduate physics classroom twenty odd years ago. I was as an aspiring scientist enrolled in Professor Atalay's 'University Physics' class. I had initially walked into the room expecting two semesters of obscure and interminable formulas of physics. Instead of just the material of that arcane subject, I found myself immersed in a holistic education - along with the physics and math there were also frequent references to art, music, literature and the classics, and all interrelated. I left with an appreciation of the humanities, as well as with stronger mathematical skills, and yes, physics as well!!! I had experienced the 'Atalay magic.' Everyone cannot take a course from Atalay. But 'Math and the Mona Lisa' echoes the style of his classroom. His book revolves around Leonardo's passions, but most importantly it presents a way to think beyond the box. He serves as a gifted guide for an extraordinary intellectual journey. In some ways it surpasses many of the inventions of others portrayed in the book by creating a vehicle through which the lay reader can penetrate the mind of the creative genius. The book can inspire all of us to continue questioning, to continue discovering, to continue seeking connections between seemingly unrelated disciplines in a way that adds more beauty to all of them. Leonardo would have approved.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2004

    An Ancient and Modern Parallel.

    In his marvelously written book on Leonardo da Vinci, Bulent Atalay, who is both physicist and artist, has drawn an intriguing parallel between Raphael's wondrous painting, 'The School of Athens', and the equally famous photograph (within the physics community) of participants (including Einstein sitting front-and-center) at the 1927 Solvay Conference on Physics that focused on the revolutionary formulation of Quantum Mechanics that had been accomplished by Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Born, and Dirac between 1925 and 1927. Just as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander represented the 'High Renaissance' of Athens, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael the same for 15th century Italy, 1925-1927 were truly heroic years for physics. Atalay writes extremely well, and is an exceptional expositor of difficult material, especially in mathematics and physics.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2004

    I don't have a Nobel in Physics like Dr. Phillips, but,

    ...maybe that makes me a better, more an 'Average Joe', reviewer. Mr. Atalay has written a wonderful book. It isn't just about math and the Mona Lisa but marries the history of art with the history of science in a delightful and insightful way. His digressions and endnotes are copious,entertaining and enlightening. I rank it with Margaret Livingstone's 'Vision and Art, the Biology of Seeing', as must reads for painters and those interested in painting. But, this is not an easy read or a book to speed read. To wring the greatest benefit from your $16 investment, plan to take time to reflect on the contents and their implications.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2004

    Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art and Science of Leonardo Da Vinci

         Atalay's book just keeps unpacking as you read. He starts by describing C.P. Snow's two cultures and then provides a brief, but full, biography of Leonardo. Each chapter begins with a Leonardo quote that is unfolded within the chapter. In the end I felt a lot more intelligent about art and science and thought his use of Leonardo to make his case was quite smart indeed. ¿ Joseph Richardson, Rochester, NY

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2004

    A Gem for Leo

    Although ¿Math and the Mona Lisa¿ addresses art and science in general, at its heart the book is a paean to Leonardo, and a celebration of his works from a unique perspective. The author, Bulent Atalay, a remarkable scientist and artist who has been called a modern Renaissance man, clearly identifies with Leonardo, another scientist, artist, and engineer who was the definitive Renaissance man. This special affinity makes the book more than an ordinary biography, and gives exceptional credibility to the author¿s views on the ways in which the concatenation and synthesis of art and science informed Leonardo¿s productions. It is not coincidental that both Atalay and his hero, Leonardo, have produced art that is representationalist, because such work, like science, requires creativity constrained by reality. ¿Math and the Mona Lisa¿ is not a lavish coffee-table tome. Instead, it is a compact gem that covers its main theme clearly, concisely, and comprehensively. It is small enough to fit into purse or coat pocket, and light enough to be easily portable. Rather than killing time in queues, waiting rooms, and aircraft, a reader can find, throughout the book, a wide range of thought-provoking statements and allusions, some central and many peripheral to the principal topic of the book. Even readers who are familiar with much of the content of the book may be pleased to see so many disparate ideas brought into meaningful association. Yet the best things, such as this book, do not contain and provide all that we need, but inspire us to think and seek on our own. Good things sometimes do come in small packages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2004

    Modern Day Renaissance Man Writing About the Ultimate Renaissance Man

    According to 'Math and the Mona Lisa,' Leonardo da Vinci was as skilled as a scientist and engineer as he was an artist, and his works reflect the total integration of all of his interests. The author, Bulent Atalay, is evidently a modern scientist-artist, and accordingly may just be one of the most qualified individuals to peer into Leonardo's amazing mind. This is a powerful book at the same time, illuminating, entertaining and inspiring.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2004

    Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art and Science of Leonardo Da Vinci

    Bulent Atalay takes us on a delightful romp through millennia and across continents, bringing together art, architecture, science and mathematics under the umbrella of Leonardo's genius.  His writing is informed by his artist's eye for beauty, his historian's appreciation of context and his scientist's love of order and symmetry.  I read Atalay's description of Leonardo's 'The Last Supper' not long after having visited the masterpiece in Milan, for the first time since its restoration.  His words added an unexpected poignancy to that sublime experience.  Leonardo is the prototype for the renaissance man-artist, architect, philosopher, scientist, writer.  There are few like him today, but Atalay is indeed a modern renaissance man, and he invites us to tap the power of synthesis that is Leonardo's model.        

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2004

    Art and Science Synthesized in Leonardo's Mind and Method

    This is a genuinely astonishing book. Its essential idea is that the dichotomy between art and science is a relatively modern idea, that the distinction is not present in Leonardo's method of looking at the world. I've read a lot of good histories of art, and even a good history of science or two, but I've never seen an organic history of both, and that's Atalay's achievement. The illustrations alone -- showing the art in science and the science in art -- are a wonder, and well worth the price of the book. A very elegant entertainment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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