Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
(1452-1519), was one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance,
and the greatest experimental scientist of his age.
He displayed genius in
almost all the arts and sciences. Leonardo was a painter, sculptor,
architect, musician, and art critic. He studied the sciences as an
inventor, a civil and military engineer, a botanist, an astronomer, and
a geologist. He became the leading student of anatomy of his time. Da
Vinci also pioneered studies of flying. He sketched flying machines
based on the way birds fly. Leonardo's many designs show that he had a
knowledge of aviation far beyond his own time.
Leonardo was born in the
little village of Vinci. His father, Piero da Vinci, may have served as
the village notary and lawyer. His mother was peasant girl named
Caterina. Piero's parents took Leonardo into their home and raised him.
The boy showed one side of his genius by working out difficult problems
in mathematics and engineering. But he showed greatest promise in
drawing and painting. As a result, his father took him to Florence to
study with Andrea del Verrocchio. Da Vinci studied painting, sculpture,
and engineering under Verrocchio. He painted the figure of an angel in
Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ while he was still a student. Many people
thought that the angel was the best part of the painting. The angel was
Leonardo's first completed work, as far as art historians know. Da Vinci
soon painted better than his teacher, and the painter's guild in
Florence admitted him in 1472. He went on working with Verrocchio until
about 1476, but he developed a different style. In his Adoration if the
Magi, an unfinished panel, he showed that he preferred more idealistic
painting than did Verrocchio.
Work in Milan
the early 1480's, Leonardo entered the service of Ludovico Sforza, who
later became Duke of Milan. Leonardo may have gone to Milan to design
and cast an immense bronze statue in memory of Francesco Sforza.
Leonardo never finished this work, but he did complete a painting, The
Madonna of the Rocks, in his early years in Milan. This painting, was
the first to show completely the style for which Leonardo is best known.
He arranged his figures formally, making a triangular composition, and
filled the foreground with detailed studies of plants. During this
period, Leonardo also painted a mural, The Last Supper in the dining
hall of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Many persons consider
this mural one of the greatest paintings in the world, even though its
colors have faded badly. It still shows Leonardo's amazing knowledge of
anatomy and perspective. Most noteworthy is the masterful way in which he
shows the complex emotions in the hearts of Christ's disciples. Leonardo
worked on projects for the diversion of rivers while he served the duke,
and developed a canal system with locks that are still in operation. He
designed court pageants and new fortifications for Milan. He delighted
the duke with his great ability as a musician and singer. He
performed on his lute and on many mechanical instruments he had
invented, making up both words and music as he went along.
Work in Florence
French troops seized
Milan in 1499 and forced he duke to flee. Leonardo returned to Florence,
where he painted a portrait of the wife of a merchant named Giocondo.
The mysterious smile Leonardo painted in the Mona Lisa or La Gioconda
has been the subject of endless discussion. People especially like the
simplicity and dignity of his painting, which appears in color in this
article. The mountain landscape in the background is in perfect
atmospheric perspective, and seems to lead the viewer into infinity. Da
Vinci resumed his studies of theoretical mathematics while in Florence.
He also made many drawings of the anatomy of the human body. He began
work on The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne at this time, but did not
complete the painting for several years, possibly in Francy. In 1502 and
1503, Leonardo took some time from his studies in Florence to work for
the general Cesare Borgia. Da Vinci studied provincial fortifications in
Italy for him, and drew some excellent maps of important military areas.
Later, the maps were used to plan a peacetime system of canals for his
own city of Florence. he also designed a breech-loading cannon and an
armored vehicle like a tank. Back in Florence, Leonardo started a series
of frescoes, and they have since been completely destroyed. His clay
models, sketches, and parts of the finished cartoon, as well as copies
of the finished central panel by other artists, enable us to reconstruct
The most famous portrait
Da Vinci's Mona Lisa
is probably the most famous portrait ever painted. The mysterious smile of
the subjects, a young Italian woman named Lisa del giocondo, has fascinated
countless viewers. But such smiles were a feature of many portraits of women
painted during the Renaissance.
Leonardo Da Vinci drew his
self-portrait, above, in about 1512. He filled thousands of notebook pages
with comments and drawings on many subjects, including anatomy, below,
mathematics, and naval warfare.
Leonardo returned to Milan
in 1506, this time in the service of Louis XII of France. He went on
studying anatomy, and concentrated his engineering on research on hydraulics
and aeronautics. Six years later, he joined Bramante, Raphael, and
Michelangelo in Rome to work for Pope Leo X. The four great artists worked
on designs and construction of the new Church of St. Peter. Some of them
also worked on other new or enlarged buildings and rooms in the Vatican.
Several French kings admired Leonardo's work and invited him to live in
France. Da Vinci finally accepted Francis Is invitation in 1516, and
settled in the small castle of Cloux, near Amboise. He lived there in a
princely fashion until he died, on May 2, 1519.
Leonardo dealt with all
kinds of problems. His paintings reveal a sensitive approach to color and
keen sense of detail. Unfortunately, his many other activities prevented him
from completing many paintings. Scholars often read Leonardo's Treatise on
Painting to see what he thought about his own compositions and about the
works of others.. People interpositions and about the works of others.
People interested in the many sides of Leonardo's genius study other pages
of his many notebooks. Leonardo was ambidextrous, and he wrote his notes
backwards with his left hand. He then read them with a mirror. Nearly 7,000
pages from his notebooks exist today. He sketched ideas and inventions on
them, along with his notes. His comments ranged over such fields as
painting, anatomy and the philosophy of living.
Da Vinci studied landscapes,
rock formations, and the movement of water. In a famous drawing, above, he
tried to show the action of water in a whirlpool, indicating currents below
the surface as well as the surface pattern he could see. He wrote his notes
backwards, and read them with a mirror.
Da Vinci used the principles
of geometry in his sketches for buildings. One of the problems he studied
involved supporting a dome above a round building, as sketched above. He
later spent several years in Rome, working on plans for Saint Peter's Church
and other buildings in the Vatican.
Designer and Inventor
Da Vinci understood
principles about machines and processes that were not put to use until long
after his death. The International Business Machines Corp. built many models
from his drawings. He sketched a flying machine, above, and a "machine gun",
opposite page. he worked on metal projectiles, right, that heavy stone
balls. His ideas for an aerial screw, far right, forecast the development of
the propeller and the helicopter.
Florence - Uffizi:
§ "The Baptism of Christ"
Oil on wood, Uffizi Florence;
oil on wood, 1472-75;
§ "The Adoration of the Magi" 1481-82; Yellow ochre and brown ink on panel, 246 x 243 cm (8 x 8 ft); Uffizi, Florence.
Paris - Musee du Louvre:
§ "Annunciation" tempera on wood, 1478;
§ First version of "The virgin of the Rocks."
primarily an oil on canvas, then transported on canvas, 1483-86;
§ "La Gioconda" olio
on wood del 1503-06;
§ "Virgin and Child with St. Anne" oil on wood,
Turin - Real Library:
§ "Head of angel" Pen and ink on paper, 1473;
could represent just himself but not if it has an effective certainty, 1512.
§ Second version of "The Virgin of the Rocks."
oil on wood,
§ "Burlington House Cartoon"
(Mary, Christ, St. Anne and the Infant St. John). 1507-13. Chalk on
paper. National Gallery, London, UK.
§ "Portrait of Cecilia Galleran" c.1490. Oil on wood. Czartorychi Muzeum, Cracow, Poland.
§ "The Last Supper" c.1495-1498. Oil and tempera on plaster. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Refectory, Milan, Italy.
§ "Madonna with the Carnation" c.1478-80. Oil on wood. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
§ "Head of a young woman (dishevelled)" 1506-1508 (?) shaded earth and amber turned green on a board prepared with biacca, 24,7 x 21 cm. Parma, National Art Gallery.
§ "Madonna Benois" c. 1475-1478. Oil on canvas, transferred from panel. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.
§ " Portrait of Ginevra de'Benci" c.1478-1480. Oil and tempera on wood. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA.
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