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Searching for Leonardo da Vinci in ‘Leonardo’ - The New York Times

Searching for Leonardo da Vinci in ‘Leonardo’ - The New York Times

Aug 17, 2022 1 min, 48 secs

Our critic finds that a new biopic series on the CW prefers contemporary clichés to exploring what actually made the artist fascinating.

As the artist (played by Aidan Turner) is interrogated by a Renaissance cop named Stefano Giraldi (Freddie Highmore, who, I’m glad to say, was permitted to wash his hair), flashbacks reveal how the artist ended up in such straits.

The series will most likely get away with the platitudes of its invented plot, since most viewers will probably be watching “Leonardo” less for its storytelling than for a glimpse of a certain Renaissance genius who, though dead for half a millennium, has become one of our current art stars.

What I can’t forgive is the false picture “Leonardo” paints of Leonardo.

Giorgio Vasari, the great Renaissance biographer, described Leonardo as a charming conversationalist, a deeply courtly being “whose personal beauty could not be exaggerated, whose every movement was grace itself” — a man “filled with a lofty and delicate spirit.” In “Leonardo,” he comes closer to Kurt Cobain.

This biopic series could have moved in that direction when it came to the artist’s sexuality.

About halfway through the series, I took off my art critic’s hat, abandoned my interest in seeing yesterdays that are different from now, and tried pretending the show wasn’t about any real artist at all, let alone a gay one from the Renaissance.

Since the plot of “Tony” — sorry, “Leonardo” — is just an excuse for telling the story of a great artist’s life, the writers, Frank Spotnitz, Steve Thompson and Gabbie Asher, never bother giving it any real momentum or patching its holes.

And since this is, again, the story of a great artist’s life, they make sure to stuff it full of every “great artist” cliché they can find: “A man like Leonardo — his genius is forged by pain,” says one typical line of dialogue.

“And that pain can drive a man to commit terrible acts.” Leonardo van Gogh, you might call him — a hybrid creature that doesn’t even reflect how real artists think and act today, let alone how they did in the Renaissance.


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