Peter Conrad’s best art books of 2017

A quest for the real Leonardo da Vinci, a memorial to Leonora Carrington and the art in Proust fascinate and illuminate

The definite article in the subtitle of Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography (Simon & Schuster £25.50) says it all – but why should the bestselling biographer of Benjamin Franklin, Einstein and Steve Jobs pretend to false modesty? Isaacson is uniquely well-equipped to write the definitive account of a universal man who was a painter and a musician, a scientific theorist and an engineer, a designer of military hardware and a theatrical impresario, and he makes Leonardo’s technological contraptions – a hoist, a perpetual-motion machine, a needle-grinder – seem every bit as fantastical as the effeminate saints and enigmatic sibyls he painted.

Isaacson marvels at the infinite curiosity of a thinker who set himself to “describe the tongue of the woodpecker”, yet refuses to babble about genius ...