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Main page » Non-Fiction » Science literature » Maths » Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art and Science of Leonardo da Vinci

Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art and Science of Leonardo da Vinci


Leonardo da Vinci will be long remembered after every copy of The Da Vinci Code has turned to dust, so it’s a shame that Blent Atalay’s elegant book has a whiff of opportunism about it. Blame it on the cover art, because what lies within is a devoted work where the relationship between science and art is investigated, and it’s not until halfway that da Vinci becomes the primary focus.

Atalay, a professor of physics, starts with the golden ratio ‘phi’, an irrational number derived from the Fibonacci sequence.

Suddenly we see it everywhere, in the pyramids, the Parthenon and in art from all ages. But is it used consciously or instinctively? Atalay can’t answer that question; he just reveals patterns. When he points to the golden ratio’s ubiquity in nature, however, it is the perfect time to introduce da Vinci, who instructed others — scientists and artists — to “learn from nature, not from each other”.

It was the famous Italian’s capacity to observe, conduct experiments and collected data that made him the first scientist, the author claims. It was also this curiosity and diligence that informed da Vinci’s art: the curls in hair became a reference to the way water moves; a subject’s gaze revealed his intimate knowledge of the human eye, having dissected so many of them.

Leonardo produced maybe 14,000 pages of notes, but we are left with less than a third that amount. In his work he anticipated inventions that were realised hundreds of years later.

Atalay himself is a Renaissance man: appearing within the book are etchings by the author and he casts wide for references, including quotes from Milton on Galileo and Tom Wolfe on sculptor Frederick Hart.

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