Architects Artists People

Leonardo da Vinci

da vinci statue

Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian polymath.  He is most famous for his notebooks and paintings.  He was born on April 15, 1452 as Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci in Vinci, a town near Florence.  The boy was born out of wedlock.  His parents married apart a year later.  Little is known about Leonardo’s childhood.  His favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle was Michelangelo.

The family moved to Florence.  Leonardo became a studio boy in Andrea del Verrocchio’s workshop at the age of fourteen.  Verrocchio was the top sculptor and painter in Florence and the apprentice of Donatello.  Leonardo became an official pupil on his seventeenth birthday and studied for seven years.  Several painters apprenticed alongside him.  The exposure increased both his technical and theoretical skills.  The artwork of Florence sharpened his brushstrokes.

He qualified as a master in the Guild of Saint Luke in 1472.  Leonardo was twenty.  His father opened a workshop for his son.  The young artist was too attached to Verrocchio and decided to continue his collaboration.  His first ink and pen drawings were of the Arno valley in 1473.  Time passed.  The artist received his first commission to paint in the Palazzo Vecchio in 1478.  Three years later the monks of San Donato in Scopeto presented his second.  Both projects remained unfinished.  The Adoration of the Magi (1481) is on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence today.

leonardo davinci
Leonardo da Vinci – Photo Credit: MAMJODH


Da Vinci moved to Milan in 1482.  He was contracted to paint the Virgin of the Rocks (1486) a year later.  King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary hired him to paint a Madonna in 1485.  The projects continued.  His proficiencies matured.  Leonardo was hired as a consultant with his colleague Francesco di Giorgio Martini.  They worked together.  The infamous painting of The Last Supper was completed for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in 1498.  Historical records reveal that the Duke of Millan brought in Leonardo and his team to paint the Sala delle Asse in the Sforza Castle soon after.

In 1500 Ludovico Sforza was dethroned by France.  Leonardo da Vinci fled to Venice with his assistant Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno (Salaì) and the mathematician Luca Pacioli.  Leonardo worked as an engineer and architect to defend the city from invasion.  He returned to Florence.  A charcoal drawing titled The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist was completed in the workshop of a monastery.  The image generated significant tourism.  The artist worked for Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI in 1502.

He returned to Florence the following year and rejoined the Guild of Saint Luke.  In October Leonardo started a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo who was the model for the Mona Lisa (1503-1506).  The piece would take over a decade to complete.  Time passed as he worked on a mural of The Battle of Anghiari.  It was commissioned by the Signoria.  A companion painting of The Battle of Cascina was assigned to Michelangelo.  Both of the frescos remain unfinished today.

Ginevra de Benci
Ginevra de Benci (1478) – Photo Credit: Sharon Mollerus

Late Career

The artist moved to Milan under the orders of the governor Charles II d’Amboise.  He tutored Count Francesco Melzi.  The boy would become his favorite pupil.  The Council of Florence requested his return to complete the mural, but Leonardo was granted leave by Louis XII.  He returned to Florence in 1507 to settle a dispute with his brothers over their father’s estate.  Milan was his home from 1508 – 1513.

The brother of Pope Leo X invited him to Rome in 1513.  The following three years were spent in Vatican City alongside Raphael and Michelangelo.  Leonardo was given a commission to paint and the freedom to experiment.  He dissected cadavers and documented the human anatomy.  He contracted an illness that worsened with age.  His right hand was unusable in 1517.  A friend Francesco Melzi completed the only surviving contemporary portrait of the artist in 1518.  On May 2, 1519 Leonardo da Vinci died of stroke at Clos Lucé in Amboise, France.  He was sixty-seven.

mona lisa
Mona Lisa – Photo Credit: Marcus Meissner

Leonardo never received a formal education.  His innate Universal Genius was unprecedented and enigmatic.  The vast scope of his interests and output made him famous throughout his life.  The crest of the wave has never subsided.  A vacant trough rusts as the masses continue to enjoy his artwork today.  The Louvre held a 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death in November 2019 to February 2020.  The event showcased over one hundred paintings, notebooks and drawings from the master.  The Mona Lisa was not included.  The perpetual and rabid demand of the general visitors prevented its inclusion.  The four hundred and fifty million dollar Salvator Mundi (1510) was also absent.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

Leonardo da Vinci
da vinci statue
Leonardo Statue – Photo Credit: Wikibusters

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