The great Leonardo embodies the artist-genius. (No wonder he and Michelangelo took a strong dislike to one another.) As if that weren't enough, he was also, Vasari tells us, a man of outstanding beauty, insatiable curiosity, extraordinary physical strength, devouring intellect, and infinite grace: Whenever he passed by caged birds for sale, he would buy them and set them free. "In return he was so favored by nature that to whatever he turned his mind or thoughts the results were always inspired and perfect."
Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings (Abrams; $85), with text by art historian and Leonardo scholar Pietro C. Marani, invites the reader to scrutinize the paintings, as Marani has done, with a magnifying glass. Each one, along with numerous drawings and sketches, is represented in often oversize, beautifully reproduced detail (as in The Annunciation). Marani calls our attention to the unusualness of Leonardo's background landscapes; to his exquisite rendering of hands; to the range and subtlety of expression of his portraits, especially those of The Last Supper, and relates it all to the master's singular touch and vision. "A good painter has two chief objects to paint," Leonardo wrote. "Man, and the intention of his soul. The first is easy, the latter hard."