Strictly from just looking at the main manga character designs, issue 3 of the 50 Famous People series is one of the best of the collection. There aren’t that many pictures of the young Leonardo da Vinci to work from, so the artist this time (Kamui Fujiwara, character designer on a couple of the Dragon Quest games) has a certain amount of leeway. However, Leonardo doesn’t look overly cartoony or stylized, either.
The intro manga starts with Merrino attempting to paint Mami’s and Youichi’s mother, Mao, and failing miserably. Mami suggests that he try copying da Vinci, and the sheep prince attempts to read a book on him before giving up. Merrino claims to be forced to break out the terrifying robot, Study Bell, to help him. Study Bell looks cute and harmless, and happily projects the subsequent main manga. When it’s done, Mami asks why Merrino had it locked in a chest, and Study Bell grows a pair of large arms for spanking Merrino in “punishment mode” for having done poorly on his last test.
The main manga starts with Leonardo turning 14 and setting out from his home to the nearby big city of Milan where he entered Verrocchio’s studio as an assistant. At age 30, he approached iL Moro with the plans for building a large statue of a rider on horseback. In the conversation, Leonardo says that he can work as a strategist, defense planner, scientist or artist, but his real motivation is finding the financial backing for proving that his approach to making the statue look realistic is feasible. iL Moro takes him on, and some years later, the statue is completed. Time passes and il Moro talks to a lackey, who describes Leonardo as an eccentric unwilling to listen to the demands of his clients.
While the Milanese Renaissance was at full-bloom at this point, much of the art produced was still under the thumb of the Church, and certain rules had to be respected. Leonardo was commissioned for a painting, and his Virgin of the Rocks offended the church on several levels. First, none of the holy figures had halos, and the angels didn’t have wings. Leonardo’s reply was that just because an angel doesn’t have wings doesn’t mean that it’s not an angel. The lackey can’t understand why a painter on commission can’t follow the orders of his clients. iL Moro shrugs this off and just asks if the painting looked beautiful. The lackey also mentions da Vinci’s habit of studying corpses, and Kamui takes this opportunity to throw in examples of human anatomy in the panel. Finally, when looking at “the Last Supper”, iL Moro asks why no one else can paint this well. Leonardo says that he doesn’t see God the same way as everyone else. He doesn’t need things like halos and wings to evidence God’s miracles. He can find those things everywhere around him in nature. Thus, to understand reality, you must study and learn from nature, which wasn’t really happening up to that point. The scene jumps to when da Vinci was living in France and is now on his deathbed. A student is looking at the last three paintings still somewhat unfinished, and complaining that he can’t understand how Leonardo was able to get those effects of light, life and perspective.
The textbook section describes da Vinci’s growing up (his father had an affair with a peasant woman, and he was raised without a mother and unable to go to school). A lot of what he learned as an adult came from personal study and observation of the world around him, and most of his inventions were drawn from nature. He was a true jack of all trades, studying medicine, astronomy, warfare, and art. His inventions were often predictive and well ahead of their time, including the helicopter, water meters, gliders and crayons. There’s an examination of The Last Supper, particularly from the point of view of perspective, and how certain visual cues point to one specific person at the table as being Judas. With the Mona Lisa, the mook describes da Vinci’s use of his fingers to get certain smoothing effects, and how atmospheric scattering causes the mountains in the distance to blur and turn bluish. Naturally, there’s a brief mention of his notebooks and his tendency to mirror-write.
Overall, the focus in this issue is on da Vinci as an artist, but there are some scientific highlights as well. The manga is interesting, and there’s some good photos and paintings at the back. Recommended. Interestingly, the “further reading” section suggests the “da Vinci inventions” kits, one of which (the catapult) I actually bought 2 years ago. They’re fun to build, and some of them have moving parts.