The term “coffee table book” is woefully inadequate in describing The Complete Paintings and Drawings. At 700 pages, and weighing nearly 20 pounds, the book almost qualifies as a coffee table itself. The first 200 of these pages are biographical, and his life is segmented into 10 chapters. I must confess as to never having read a biography of the Master, so I found this material very interesting. I found the first five chapters, which lead up to The Last Supper, to be particularly illuminating. What makes this biographical section even more impressive is the layout. By including reproductions of his work right next to the text, the book very skillfully illustrates exactly how his life and art blended together over time.
Certainly the detailed discussions of the Mona Lisa, and The Last Supper are highlights. While each are reproduced in full, (reduced in size to fit the page), there are also close-up views of various segments of the paintings. In these parts, Zollner explains in depth what Leonardo accomplished. These are the “basics” of art, and I would guess that serious students learn about these elements early on in their education. For a layman such as myself however, this type of detailed look is highly appreciated.
“Catalogue Raissonne of the Paintings” follows the biographical section, and is a wonderfully concise discussion of Leonardo’s paintings. In this 40-page chapter, the author discusses 35 works, devoting a page to a page and a half, (depending on the piece) to each.
True to its title, The Complete Paintings and Drawings, also features in-depth analysis of the drawings of Leonardo. In fact, at 430 pages, “The Graphic Work“ occupies the majority of the book. This section is co-authored by Frank Zollner and Johannes Nathan, and contains 663 drawings in total.
“Drawings and Sketches for Surviving Paintings,” is the first of the 16 chapters in this portion. It is a fascinating opening for the segment, as it shows the preliminary drawings for such works as The Last Supper and the Adoration of the Magi, among others. Another chapter that I found to be highly intriguing is “Engineering and Machinery.” Although the name “Handles and Hinges for a Two-way-opening Door” may not sound particularly poetic, the drawing is absolutely beautiful.