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Author’s Unusual Biography of da Vinci Fills in Historic Gaps

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Mike Lankford, author of Becoming Leonardo, writes about de Vinci as an aspiring artist.

Leonardo da Vinci was a certifiable genius, but historical evidence suggests that he was something of a late bloomer. Mike Lankford, author of the biography Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci,  uses archival details and a lot of imagination to bring the legend to life.

Lankford, a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, says that there are about 12 verifiable facts about Leonardo's past. The rest of what we think we know he says, can only be speculation, though informed by research. Lankford’s unconventional biography follows Leonardo and invites readers to think about what was on the artist's mind as he moved from his childhood in Anchiano, to his apprenticeship in Florence, to his time as a musician in Milan.

As a young man, Leonardo was illiterate and taught himself to examine and draw the world’s phenomena.

“To a young person aspiring to artistic quality, you look at Leonardo as an icon and as a model but he’s too forbidden. He’s a Superman. No one can be that good again,” Lankford told us. “But the reality was that he wasn’t a Superman. He has been turned into one over the centuries. So to make Leonardo accessible means that for the student who maybe writes in the wrong direction (he wrote from right to left) or is a late starter, [art is] a very human and doable ambition.”

On this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks to Lankford about his depiction of Leonardo as a “ferociously dedicated loner.”

Editor's Note: This program originally aired in September 2018.