Presented as a story within a story, the graphic novel begins with a tale of one of the greatest art thefts of all time, the stealing of the Mona Lisa in 1911. The graphic novel explains how the thief, posing as a Louvre employee, walked right out the doors with the valuable painting. What is even more amazing is that no one realized the painting had been stolen until days later. As the tale of the theft and eventual recovery unfolds, the history of the painting’s creator is interspersed with snippets of his life, from his early boyhood as an illegitimate only son, to a man of many interests and talents, to his eventual death.
The graphic novel’s artwork fits the story and time period while also seamlessly blending actual pieces created by Da Vinci into the scenes. For example, sketches from DaVinci’s many notebooks can be seen in many frames to support the descriptions of the projects Da Vinci was working on at that time in his life. The copy that I had to review also included a fold out poster of Da Vinci’s self portrait and many of his other famous sketches.
True to a publication by Campfire and their mission to educate while also entertaining, the back of the graphic novel includes a section explaining the Renaissance and detailing who Da Vinci’s patrons, or sponsors, were as well as their positions in society. This is followed by an explanation of perspective and some of the techniques Da Vinci used in his art, like Chiaroscuro, the technique of using contracting light and dark to create 3-D like images. Readers are also invited to try deciphering a mirror message similar to those Da Vinci used in his own journals. While there is a full page at the beginning of the graphic novel about the author, there is no information on the illustrator which is disappointing.
This graphic novel was interesting because it didn’t just side with one belief about the artist or undisputed dry scholarly facts. It also mentioned notes in regards to other artist possibly being credited with creating some of Da Vinci’s work and the conspiracy theories that Da Vinci may have included codes and secrets into his artwork. As someone who is not a big fan of non-fiction or biographies, I was very pleased with the presentation of this graphic novel. The story-within-a-story kept me engrossed and reading, but what really peaked my interest was the bits of information that was never covered in my Art History classes. For example, I never knew that the Michelangelo’s David was almost Da Vinci’s The Giant or that the Mona Lisa took thirteen years to complete. This is a definite win to add to collections to support not only reaching reluctant readers, but also for supporting arts education and understanding. I would also include this title in reading lists for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) because of the advances in anatomy, astronomy, and engineering that can be attributed to Da Vinci. Leonardo Da Vinci: the Renaissance Man is a good cross curriculum example of why and how the arts are connected to the sciences.
Leonardo Da Vinci: The Renaissance Man
by Dan Danko
Art by Lalit Kumar Sharma