All-Star, Head to Head Matchup!
By Jonathan Jones
Alfred A. Knopf, 35.00, 354 pages
Jonathan Jones’ The Lost Battles tells the story of two paintings that don’t exist. A book with this premise seems difficult, if not impossible to write, but Jones does a compelling job in telling the story of one of the all time great art historical head-to-head match ups. In the early 16th century the Republic of Florence hired Leonardo da Vinci to paint a mural of the Battle of Anghari in the city hall. Shortly thereafter, they hired Michelangelo to paint the Battle of Cascina a short distance away.
Jones tells the story, not only of these two paintings, but of the men that created them, and how two opposite kinds of genius arose in the same place and at the same time. Jones illuminates not only the battles depicted in the paintings, but the personal battles between the two great art historical geniuses, who knew and disliked each other, even as they learned from an imitated one another. The greatest strength of this book is in the humanity of the historical figures portrayed. Reading, one gets a sense of who Leonardo was as a person (apparently a wild dresser), not an historical idea. Jones’ day job is writing for a newspaper, and in book length, the writing style can slow the reader down-it’s almost too descriptive to read in more than small chunks. However, this book still gets a strong recommendation-just don’t expect a quick read.
Reviewed by Katie Richards