- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The Nature of Genius
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.
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. William D. Phillips, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997, writes of the author, "Atalay is indeed a modern renaissance man, and he invites us to tap the power of synthesis that is Leonardo's model."
Late medieval and early Renaissance Italy witnessed many changes, including a revival of the mercantile economy, the emergence of a vernacular literature, and the first serious efforts to recover the classical tradition of learning. Feudalism, with the landed nobility controlling the lives and destinies of the populace, began to lose its grip. The Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church increasingly failed to provide social and political stability. National monarchies, especially those of France and England, rose in importance, and in Italy, the city-state became the preferred form of political organization. One city-state, Florence, located in north central Italy, took the lead in projecting the new indefatigable spirit of humanism, a return to the classical ideal of man being the measure of all things; it became the incontestable intellectual capital of Renaissance Europe. The city's preeminence was displayed in literature -- with Petrarch, Dante, and Boccaccio -- but most prominently in painting, sculpture, and architecture. The brilliant painter Giotto appeared early in this remarkable period. The next hundredyears gave rise to the artist Masaccio and architects Alberti and Brunelleschi; then, toward the end of the fifteenth century, the matchless trio of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael burst onto the scene.
An explosive catalyst for the change was the invention, by Johannes Gutenberg, of the printed book in 1455.1 Before the print revolution, Europe's libraries contained 30,000 volumes. Within fifty years the number of books had increased to three million. The Renaissance also saw the European voyages of discovery, resulting in dramatic expansion in the size of the known world. The Protestant Reformation ignited further intellectual commotion, with an attendant eruption of various dissident sects. Finally, the Renaissance artist, who saw the need to describe nature in the way it really presented itself and not in some idealized or ecclesiastically dictated way, was instrumental in the launching of modern science.
The changing intellectual milieu of the Renaissance spread quickly to Rome, Milan, and Venice. One ingredient for its accelerated development in Italy came with the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. A number of significant Byzantine scholars migrated to Italy at the invitation of the Italian humanists, among them, Theodore Gaza, John Argyropoulos, and the most influential of all, Demetrius Chalcondyles. These scholars brought with them the first serious efforts to recover the classical tradition of learning and afforded Italian humanists access to the classic Greek texts and manuscripts preserved in Constantinople.
Any discussion on the ascent of civilization must necessarily include the rise of the university. Toward the end of the eleventh century the first of the studia generalia, precursors of universities,2 had appeared in Bologna. In the twelfth century others began in Paris, Oxford, Modena, and Parma, and in the thirteenth century in Cambridge, Padua, Siena, Salamanca, Perugia, and Palermo. The universities did not give rise to the Renaissance, but they benefitted significantly from it. While the Italian universities were the first to be founded in Europe they were the last to be liberated from the scholastic tradition grounded in the works of Aristotle. Their doctrine was salutary for the rebirth of rigorous intellectual discourse in the manner of the ancient philosophers, but it focused mostly on theological issues in a doctrinaire way. Thus the early emergence of universities in Italy with their scholastic tradition has to be regarded as a red herring for the development of science in Italy.3
Not much is known about Leonardo da Vinci's personal life. According to his earliest biographer, Giorgio Vasari, he was an uncommonly handsome man, well-built, full of charm and grace, but he left no definitive image of himself. One reasonable candidate for a Leonardo likeness is a red chalk drawing, found in Turin in the mid-nineteenth century and believed by many to be a self-portrait of Leonardo in his old age. There is a mesmerizing quality in the eyes, simultaneously exuding wisdom, sadness, and acute intelligence that only a truly insightful psychologist-artist could capture (Plate 1). Another possible likeness, also from his mature years, is a colored chalk profile portrait thought to be by one of his pupils; David Alan Brown, of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., makes a compelling case for the subject of this work.
Leonardo lived his sixty-seven years in a time of frequent wars and political and social upheaval, but also in a period of artistic and intellectual ferment unrivaled since the Golden Age of Greece. He embodied the Renaissance spirit. In his own time he was known as II Fiorentino (the Florentine), although by the late sixteenth century Giorgio Vasari was already referring to him as "Leonardo da Vinci."
It is not known exactly where Leonardo was born, but convincing arguments have been offered by a number of biographers that he was born on April 15, 1452, in the Tuscan village of Anchiano, near the town of Vinci, on the outskirts of Florence. He was the illegitimate son of Ser Piero di Antonio da Vinci and a peasant girl named Caterina. The young couple never married, the boy living the first five years of his life with his mother, grandmother, and a peasant from Anchiano, whom the mother eventually did marry. Meanwhile, Ser Piero married Donna Albieri, a woman of his own station, and only when he found that his wife was infertile did he seek and gain guardianship of Leonardo.
During the next ten years the boy lived in his father's family home in Vinci, never gaining formal adoption or the benefit of the respected family name. There have been speculations by a number of authors -- including Sigmund Freud -- that in the home of his mother and maternal grandmother, and later in the home of his stepmother and step-grandmother, the boy perhaps received attention bordering on the worshipful. These factors have been offered as possible ingredients for his unusual psyche, his exquisite sensitivity, superhuman drive, surpassing intelligence, and probable homosexuality -- although this is all conjecture.
Excerpted from Math and the Mona Lisa by Bulent Atalay Copyright © 2006 by Bulent Atalay. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 31, 2012
Posted July 27, 2006
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 20, 2006
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 NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 15, 2006
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 NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 16, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 6, 2005
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 6, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 7, 2004
...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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 29, 2004
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, NYWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 16, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 11, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 8, 2004
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 NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 31, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 3, 2011
No text was provided for this review.