The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior by Paul Strathern

Title: The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior by Paul Strathern
Genre: Narrative History /Adventure
Published by Bantam Books. Copyright 2009 by Random House, Inc.
Number of Pages: 412

“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgia’s they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace — and what did they produce? The Cuckoo Clock.” ~ Orson Welles in The Third Man.

My take on THE Plot:

Italy was under Borgia dominion back in the 1500’s. It was the Era in which powerful families fought for supremacy by means of extortion, invasion, murder and theft. The streets were rife with violence, rumors and fear, but —in the midst of it all— emerged the Renaissance and, with it, unparalleled talents such as Leonardo Da Vinci’s.

Paul Strathern’s narrative revolves around three iconic figures: Cesare Borgia, Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo Da Vinci. He manages to interwind the lives of the Philosopher and the Warrior effortlessly, not so the Artist’s.

The interaction between Machiavelli and Borgia is extensively documented. He came to admire and respect Cesare up to the point of writing “The Prince” —A book inspired by Borgia’s manipulations, cunningness and (above all) the sharpness of his acumen.

His portrayal of Leonardo, although carefully crafted as well, is sprinkled with suppositions, speculations and what-ifs. Incredibly so, he didn’t write about Leonardo Da Vinci fabricating poisons for Lucrezia Borgia as well. It’s an interesting “tale” written by Miguel Krebs and found in Spanish.

Although Strathern’s theories might be plausible, that doesn’t make them true. To flat out affirm that (this prolific artist and mathematician in his own right) was greatly influenced by a brief encounter with Cesare Borgia is absurd. According to him, Leonardo was traumatized not only by his stepmother (Freud, anyone?), but by Borgia’s inhumane practices “depriving humanity of his military and weaponry advances.”

Da Vinci was, is and always will be an enigmatic and elusive individual. Thus, in spite of his extraordinary legacy (notebooks included), his life stays veiled as if by his own sfumato technique. In other words, either this author let his imagination fly —a little too much— or he knows something the rest of the world doesn’t.

 Negatives:

  • In my opinion, this is not a historical narrative “per se”. Though thoroughly researched, the author indulges himself and takes liberties that undermine its historical value. Therefore, if you’re looking for facts, you might want to reconsider the source.
  • Slow paced.
  • Battles and war strategies are interesting, but not memorable.

 Positives:

  • His depiction of the ever-convulsive-Renaissance is accurate.
  • The portrayal of his main characters is splendidly vivid.
  • Recommended for those who do not know this period in depth.
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