Freud once observed that the great Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci was “like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep.” His visionary anatomical illustrations changed the course of modern medicine, and he knew how to play the long game of the creative life.
British cartoonist Ralph Steadman, famously known for his collaborations with Hunter S Thompson developed a great obsession with Leonardo da Vinci in the early 1980s. He began to paint Leonardo’s inventions, as well as countless drawings of Leonardo himself, and eventually even traveled to Italy to stand where Leonardo stood, seeking to envision what it was like to inhabit that endlessly imaginative mind and boundless spirit.
Funny, poignant, sometimes gory, sometimes optimistic, always intensely intelligent, Steadman’s story stretches from Leonardo’s boyhood experiments to his dying words, granting equal dignity to his triumphs as a genius and his doubts and disappointments as a human being.
The eyes … are the chief means whereby the understanding may most fully and abundantly appreciate the infinite works of nature.
The eye counsels all the arts of mankind … it is the prince of mathematics … it has given birth to architecture and to perspective and to the divine art of painting. Painting encompasses all the ten functions of the eye, that is, darkness, light, body, color, shape, location, remoteness, nearness, motion and rest.
Because of the eye the soul is content to stay in its bodily prison, for without it such imprisonment is torture. Who would believe that so small a space could confirm the image of all the universe?
– Much of Steadman’s narrative is woven from Leonardo’s own musings, collected in his Thoughts on Art and Life (which is available as a free download).