Leonardo da vinci

Always carry a little book with you, and preserve it with great care, said Leonardo da Vinci

In 1299, Amatino Manucci, a Florentine helping to run a merchant’s business in Provence, kept at least seven ledgers and notebooks, each serving a specific purpose. One covered the firm’s trade in wool and cloth, another in wheat, barley and other victuals, and so on. It wasn’t just figures Manucci worked with. It was also financial concepts, quite advanced by the standards of that time: accounting entities and periods, profit and depreciation – notions that heralded the invention of accounting as we know it. ‘If you’ve ever tapped numbers into an Excel grid,’ Roland Allen writes in his engaging popular history, ‘you have Manucci and his contemporaries to thank –

Why the Royal Academy is wrong to consider selling their precious Michelangelo

How much does a Michelangelo cost? It is, as they say, a good question, meaning: nobody really knows. The reason for this odd state of affairs is that almost none of them have ever been bought and sold on the open market, which is how the prices of most things are established. It’s hard to think of many examples of his sculptures being traded in that way over the past 500 years. Strangely, the main exception is the ‘Taddei Tondo’, otherwise known as ‘Virgin and Child with the Infant St John’, which, reportedly, some members of the Royal Academy are suggesting the RA should sell. If that were to happen,

The genuine polymath is still one in a million

We live at a time of universal polymathy. We don’t know everything, but there’s not much difficulty in being able to discover any given truth. But it’s worth remembering just how hard it used to be to find things out. Thirty years ago if you wanted to research off your own bat it meant a trip to the public library — and perhaps filling out a form for an inter-library loan. Or you could try your luck in a bookshop, new or secondhand. The whole process took a long time, and most people stayed within their professional competence or enthusiasm, frankly admitting to ignorance outside those limits. It was the

The Renaissance in 50 shades of grey

The Mediterranean-centred era spanning a century or so either side of 1492 is filled to the brim with stories. There was the discovery of the Americas by a bold Genoese navigator; power struggles between wealthy Italian families, waged through conspiracies, poisonings and stabbings; a radical Dominican monk who managed to impose near-theocratic rule on a republican city before being burned at the stake; the advent of humanism and, subsequently, of a modern, power-focused theory of politics; and the maturing of the visual arts to a new level of sophistication, realism and emotional power. Such stories make up a significant part of the cultural inheritance of the West.  Histories, biographies, novels,