Incredibly, or so it seems to me, it is a quarter of a century since The Marvellous Works … first saw the light of day. Re-reading it is a strange experience, revising it even stranger.
When I was asked to revise Kenneth Clark's Leonardo da Vinci: An Account of His Development as an Artist, almost 50 years after the first edition, I decided to leave the text strictly alone, apart from necessary factual updating and the provision of a richer suite of illustrations. If a piece of writing is any good – a test more than amply met by his elegant and magisterial text – it possesses a certain organic integrity, which the insertion of alien passages can unhappily violate. I limited my written additions to an introduction, setting Clark's work in context, within his own career and within the development of Leonardo scholarship more generally. The present introduction performs something of the contextual role of that I provided for Clark – looking at what the original book did in the light of new information and fresh perspectives – but, faced with my own text, I do not feel bound by the scruples that deterred me from intervening in his stylish prose.
Any work is of its time and place, as I sharply realized reading mine. I was struck by how more orthodoxly art-historical are the visual analyses than they would have been had I written it now. This is particularly true of the excursuses on iconography, explaining, for example, the symbolism of the Virgin's rocky lair in the Virgin of the Rocks. I am not saying that the more elaborate analyses are wrong, and they can provide a real insight into how meaning was conveyed, but I am now less easily persuaded that they can be consistently tested to see if they are right. However, they are an integral part of what the book was about, so they stay, largely unmodified.
It was an interesting exercise switching back into a somewhat different mode of writing to minimize the incongruity of the changes I was planning to make. I also found that each revision, apart from the most minor, tended to have knock-on consequences for surrounding passages and often beyond. For this and all the above reasons, I have limited my interventions to where they were most glaringly necessary. Resisting the temptation to tinker more extensively was difficult. I did think of excising the whole section on his Florentine ancestors, but decided against it, since the disruption would have been too severe and necessitated complete recasting of the first chapter.