Book Review of “The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior” by Paul Strathern

Posted: November 20, 2016 in Book Reviews
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The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They ShapedThe Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped by Paul Strathern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was very interesting for several reasons. It caught my attention because the idea of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia’s lives being intertwined with each other seemed far-fetched because of the vast differences in these three people as individuals.

And yet, for several months in 1502 and 1503, the artist (serving as military engineer), the philosopher (officially representing Florence, imperiled economically and militarily, yet paralyzingly indecisive over political allegiances), and the warrior indeed were together as Borgia made his eventually-doomed move, with his corrupt and debauched father, Pope Alexander VI, pulling the political strings in the background from the Vatican, to begin the quest to rule a united Italy.

Borgia, it turns out, was Machiavelli’s inspiration for his best known work, The Prince. I came away from this book with a better understanding of Machiavelli the man as opposed to Machiavelli the author. He was a skilled diplomat and was a keen observer of human nature, with a desire to understand why people do what they do.

Machiavelli and Da Vinci, surprisingly, were very good friends and their lives intersected continually before, during, and after Borgia’s quest to create a country out of the provinces that composed what is now known as Italy.

Strathern’s portrait of Da Vinci is incisive. He was a complicated man, a troubled man, and suffered a lot of trauma in his life.

Although Da Vinci is now seen as a great artist of the Renaissance, the reality is that he rarely finished any of the great art projects he was paid to do, and even when he did, he made egregious errors in their composition and they did not hold up over time (most of what we see and know are copies from other artists).

Only the Mona Lisa, which took Da Vinci years to complete, survives as an original Da Vinci painting. His notebooks, which Strathern dissects in great detail, reveal the great internal conflicts within Da Vinci and they also reveal a man unable to stay focused on any task for very long.

An interesting description of the young Michelangelo is also included in this book and it’s wholly unflattering to see what he was really like as a person.

The bigger picture of this book shows the absolute decadence within the Catholic Church and the papacy. If you want to see the opposite of any kind of godliness (not that, IMHO, it’s much different today, no matter what things look like on the surface), you need to look no further than this book as it unveils the whole sordid mess.

There is a lot of crudeness in some of the language in the letters and conversations among the people described in this book, but it accurately portrays just how debauched and immoral the society was. Sadly, it doesn’t look much different, in many ways, than the society we lived in now.

But it’s on, the whole, an interesting and close-up view, from an angle I haven’t seen before in my reading, of a slice in time during the infancy of the Renaissance, which is often touted in glittering and glitzy tones as a great time, when in fact it was, behind the scenes, anything but, with the heart of darkness in humans still calling the shots, as it does today.

View all my reviews

Comments
  1. Martha Peeples says:

    Wow, I had no idea. I’ll definitely check this book out!

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