The best books about Leonardo da Vinci (from an art lover)

Who am I?

I fell in love with art when I was 14 on a trip to Florence with my parents. From that moment on there was hardly an exhibition in London I didn’t go and see. Over the last 20 years, I have made scores of documentaries (Art Safari) and podcasts (Art Bust) about art and written books that explore how the arts and culture intersect with economics, society, and politics. I love to research and tell stories about art: behind the most beautiful objects there often lie the most intriguing of tales, where intellect and imagination collide with ambition, greed, and vanity.


I wrote...

The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World's Most Expensive Painting

By Ben Lewis,

Book cover of The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World's Most Expensive Painting

What is my book about?

In 2017 the Salvator Mundi was sold at auction for $450m. That dazzling price made it the world’s most expensive painting. But is it a real Leonardo? "Forensically detailed and gripping investigation into the history, discovery and sales of the painting … the Salvator Mundi … sits in 'a pool of theories, surrounded by a tangle of conjecture, suspended from a geometry of clues'." Sunday Times


"It’s a story populated by characters straight out of a thriller: the soft-spoken but ambitious art dealer, the Russian oligarch in the middle of a messy divorce, the shadowy Swiss storage king who sidelines as a dealer, the Saudi prince eager to polish his reputation with a cleansing spritz of high art." Wall Street Journal

The books I picked & why

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Leonardo. the Complete Paintings and Drawings

By Frank Zöllner, Johannes Nathan,

Book cover of Leonardo. the Complete Paintings and Drawings

Why this book?

The definitive account of Leonardo’s life and work by one of the world’s greatest Leonardo scholars, magnificently illustrated, clearly written, admirably objective. Frank was very generous in his advice to me, as I wrote my own book about Leonardo, though he generally takes a more favourable view of the Saudi Salvator Mundi than I do. It’s a big book but easy to dip in and out of with its Catalogue Raisonée structure of an account of the artist's life followed by essays on each painting.

Leonardo. the Complete Paintings and Drawings

By Frank Zöllner, Johannes Nathan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leonardo. the Complete Paintings and Drawings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Unmatched in his ingenuity, technical prowess, and curiosity, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) epitomizes the humanistic ideal of the Renaissance man: a peerless master of painting, sculpture, cartography, anatomy, architecture-and more. Simultaneously captivating art historians, collectors, and the millions who flock yearly to admire his works, Leonardo's appeal is as diffuse as were his preoccupations. His images permeate nearly every facet of Western culture-The Vitruvian Man is engraved into millions of Euro coins, The Last Supper is considered the single most reproduced religious painting in history, and the Mona Lisa has entranced countless artists and observers for centuries.

On the occasion…


Leonardo Da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson,

Book cover of Leonardo Da Vinci

Why this book?

There are no new scholarly discoveries about Leonardo in Walter Isaacson’s biography, but he writes in such an easy, lucid, and memorable way that this book is really the only place to start if you don’t know much about Leonardo. Books on Leonardo can feel quite dense, and leave the reader with the sensation of floating in a galaxy of disconnected facts without knowing what journey they are on. Not so, Isaacson’s book, which is the airplane read of the Leonardo lexicon.

Leonardo Da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Leonardo Da Vinci as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller from Walter Isaacson brings Leonardo da Vinci to life in this exciting new biography that is "a study in creativity: how to define it, how to achieve it...Most important, it is a powerful story of an exhilarating mind and life" (The New Yorker).

Based on thousands of pages from Leonardo da Vinci's astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, Walter Isaacson "deftly reveals an intimate Leonardo" (San Francisco Chronicle) in a narrative that connects his art to his science. He shows how Leonardo's genius was based on skills we can improve…


Living with Leonardo: Fifty Years of Sanity and Insanity in the Art World and Beyond

By Martin Kemp,

Book cover of Living with Leonardo: Fifty Years of Sanity and Insanity in the Art World and Beyond

Why this book?

Here we shift the focus to what it’s like being a Leonardist. Yes, that is a word! Oxford professor Martin Kemp is one of the world’s most in-demand Leonardo scholars. His inbox is full of emails from strangers who think they have an undiscovered Leonardo in their attic. He rebuilds Leonardo’s flying machines for museum exhibitions. And when a stolen Leonardo da Vinci painting is recovered, he gets a call from the police. Somehow Kemp manages to be self-regarding and self-deprecating, accessible and a little superior at the same time, as he whisks you along on his adventures in Leonardoland.

Living with Leonardo: Fifty Years of Sanity and Insanity in the Art World and Beyond

By Martin Kemp,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Living with Leonardo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Living with Leonardo is a set of highly focused memoirs, a personal journey interwoven with historical research that encapsulates the author's relationship with Leonardo da Vinci over more than half a century.

We learn of his encounters with the vast population that surrounds Leonardo: great and lesser academics, collectors and curators, devious dealers and unctuous auctioneers, major scholars and authors and pseudohistorians and fantasists; but also how he has grappled with swelling legions of 'Leonardo loonies', walked on the eggshells of vested interests in academia and museums, and fended off fusillades of non-Leonardos, sometimes more than one a week. Kemp…


Leonardo Da Vinci: Under the Skin

By Michael Farthing, Stephen Farthing,

Book cover of Leonardo Da Vinci: Under the Skin

Why this book?

This is a slim volume, which stands out amidst the thousands of books on aspects of Leonardo, for its focus and unusual team of authors. Written by two brothers, one a professor of drawing, the other of medicine, it walks the reader through Leonardo’s anatomical drawings and their far-reaching influence on both science and art. The authors are particularly good at sorting out what Leonardo got from previous students of anatomy, from the Greeks onwards, and what was new that he brought to, or took away from the dissection table, where he claims to have examined over thirty corpses.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Under the Skin

By Michael Farthing, Stephen Farthing,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leonardo Da Vinci as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) created many of the most beautiful and important drawings in the history of Western art. Many of these were anatomical and became the yardstick for the early study of the human body.

From their unique perspectives as artist and scientist, brothers Stephen and Michael Farthing analyse Leonardo's drawings - which are concerned chiefly with the skeletal, cardiovascular, muscular and nervous systems - and discuss the impact they had on both art and medical understanding.

Stephen Farthing has created a series of drawings in response to Leonardo, which are reproduced with commentary by Michael, who also provides…


Leonardo Da Vinci: Extraordinary Machines

By David Hawcock,

Book cover of Leonardo Da Vinci: Extraordinary Machines

Why this book?

Here’s the one to get to introduce your children to Leonardo da Vinci – a pop-up book with gloriously beautiful drawings and 3D models of Leonardo’s inventions, which included airplanes, a submarine, a parachute, helicopter, armoured vehicle, and a crossbow-machine gun. Aside from the renovation of the sewers and plumbing of a Florentine church, none of Leonardo’s technological designs are ever known to have been built and tested, which leaves us with the question of whether he was more of a dreamer than a doer. I think this would work for 6-12-year-olds.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Extraordinary Machines

By David Hawcock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leonardo Da Vinci as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most significant creations of Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci come to life in the pages of this lavishly illustrated pop-up book. Published to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo's death, this elaborate collectible reveals the intricacy and importance of his designs for robots, flying machines, and other timeless inventions. The 3-D models are based on the master's actual drawings and accompanied by his notes.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Leonardo da Vinci, technology, and anatomy?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Leonardo da Vinci, technology, and anatomy.

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