Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the greatest and most ingenious men that history has produced. Hiscontributions in the areas of art, science, and humanity are still among the most important that a singleman has put forth, definitely making his a life worth knowing. Da Vinci, born on April 15, 1452, is creditedwith being a master painter, sculptor, architect, musician, engineer, and scientist. He was born anillegitimate child to Catherina, a peasant girl. His father was Ser Piero da Vinci, a public notary for thecity of Florence, Italy. For the first four years of his life he lived with his mother in the small village ofVinci, directly outside of the great center of the Renaissance, Florence. Catherina was a poor woman,with possible artistic talent, the genetic basis of Leonardo’s talents.
Upon the realization of Leonardo’spotential, his father took the boy to live with him and his wife in Florence (Why did). This was the start ofthe boy’s education and his quest for knowledge. Leonardo was recognized by many to be a”Renaissance child” because of his many talents.
As a boy, Leonardo was described as being handsome,strong, and agile. He had keen powers of observation, an imagination, and the ability to detach himselffrom the world around him. At an early age Leonardo became interested in subjects such as botany,geology, animals (specifically birds), the motion of water, and shadows (About Leonardo).
At the age of17, in about 1469, Leonardo was apprenticed as a garzone (studio boy) to Andrea del Verrocchio, theleading Florentine painter and sculptor of his day. In Verrocchio’s workshop Leonardo was introduced tomany techniques, from the painting of altarpieces and panel pictures to the creation of large sculpturalprojects in marble and bronze. In 1472 he was accepted in the painter’s guild of Florence, and workedthere for about six years.
While there, Leonardo often painted portions of Verrocchio’s paintings for him,such as the background and the kneeling angel on the left in the Baptism of Christ (Encarta). Leonardo’ssections of the painting have soft shadings, with shadows concealing the edges. These areas aredistinguished easily against the sharply defined figures and objects of Verrocchio, that reflect the stylecalled Early Renaissance. Leonardo’s more graceful approach marked the beginning of the HighRenaissance.
However, this style did not become more popular in Italy for another 25 year (Gilbert 46).Leonardo actually started the popularization of this style. For this reason Leonardo could be called the”Father of the High Renaissance.” Leonardo’s leading skills emerged through his paintings and histechniques. Leonardo’s talents soon drew him away from the Guild and in 1472 Leonardo finished hisfirst complete painting, Annunciation. In 1478 Leonardo reached the title of an Independent Master. Hisfirst large painting, The Adoration of the Magi (begun in 1481), which was left unfinished, was ordered in1481 for the Monastery of San Donato a Scopeto, Florence. Other works ascribed to his youth are theBenois Madonna (1478), the portrait Ginevra de’ Benci (1474), and the unfinished Saint Jerome (1481).
Leonardo expanded his skills to other branches of interest and in 1481 Leonardo wrote an astonishingletter to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. In this letter he stated that he knew how to build portablebridges; that he knew the techniques of constructing bombardments and of making cannons; that hecould build ships as well as armored vehicles, catapults, and other war machines; and that he couldexecute sculpture in marble, bronze, and clay. Thus, he entered the service of the Duke in 1482, workingon Ludovico’s castle, organizing festivals, and he became recognized as an expert in militaryengineering and arms. Under the Duke, Leonardo served many positions.
He served as principalengineer in the Duke’s numerous military enterprises and was active as an architect (Encarta). As amilitary engineer Leonardo designed artillery and planned the diversion of rivers. He also improved manyinventions that were already in use such as the rope ladder. Leonardo also drew pictures of an armoredtank hundreds of years ahead of its time. His concept failed because the tank was too heavy to bemobile and the hand cranks he designed were not strong enough to support such a vehicle. As a civilengineer, he designed revolving stages for pageants. As a sculptor he planned a huge monument of theDuke’s father mounted up on a leaping horse. The Horse, as it was known, was the culmination of 16years of work.
Leonardo was fascinated by horses and drew them constantly. In The Horse, Leonardoexperimented with the horses’ forelegs and measurements. The severe plagues in 1484 and 1485 drewhis attention to town planning, and his drawings and plans for domed churches reflect his concern witharchitectural problems (Bookshelf). In addition he also assisted the Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli inthe work Divina Proportione (1509).
While in Milan Leonardo kept up his own work and studies with thepossible help of apprentices and pupils, for whom he probably wrote the various texts later compiled asTreatise on Painting (1651). The most important painting of those created in the early Milan age was TheVirgin of the Rocks. Leonardo worked on this piece for an extended period of time, seemingly unwilling tofinish what he had begun (Encarta). It is his earliest major painting that survives in complete form. From1495 to 1497 Leonardo labored on his masterpiece, The Last Supper, a mural in the refectory of theMonastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.
While painting The Last Supper, Leonardo rejected thefresco technique normally used for wall paintings. An artist that uses this fresco method must workquickly. Leonardo wanted to work slowly, revising his work, and use shadows-which would have beenimpossible in using fresco painting. He invented a new technique that involved coating the wall with acompound that he had created.
This compound, which was supposed to protect the paint and hold it inplace did not work, and soon after its completion the paint began to flake away. For this reason The LastSupper still exists, but in poor condition (Gilbert 46). Leonardo had at many times merged his inventiveand creative capabilities to enhance life and improve his works. Although his experiments with plasteringand painting failed, they showed his dissatisfaction with an accepted means and his creativity andcourage to experiment with a new and untried idea. Experimentation with traditional techniques isevident in his drawings as well. During Leonardo’s 18 year stay in Milan he also produced other paintingsand drawings, but most have been lost. He created stage designs for theater, architectural drawings, andmodels for the dome of Milan Cathedral.
Leonardo also began to produce scientific drawings, especiallyof the human body. He studied anatomy by dissecting human corpses and the bodies of animals.Leonardo’s drawings did not only clarify the appearance of bones, tendons, and other body parts but theirfunction in addition. These drawings are considered to be the first accurate representations of humananatomy. Leonardo is also credited with the first use of the cross section, a popular technique fordiagramming the human body. Leonardo wrote, “The painter who has acquired a knowledge of the natureof the sinews, muscles, and tendons will know exactly in the movement of any limb how many and whichof the sinews are the cause of it, and which muscle by its swelling is the cause of this sinew’scontracting” (Wallace 131). In December, 1499, the Sforza family was driven out of Milan by Frenchforces and Leonardo was forced to leave Milan and his unfinished statue of Ludovico Sforza’s father,which was destroyed by French archers that used it for target practice.
Leonardo then returned toFlorence in 1500 (Bookshelf). When Leonardo returned to Florence the citizens welcomed him with openarms because of the fame he acquired while in Milan. The work he did there strongly influenced otherartists such as Sandro Botticelli and Piero di Cosimo. The work he was to produce would influence othermasters such as Michelangelo and Raphael. In 1502 Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia,Duke of Romagna and son and Chief General of Pope Alexander VI.
For this post he supervised work onthe fortress of the papal territories in central Italy. In 1503 he was a member of a commission of artists todecide on the proper location for the David by Michelangelo (Encarta). Towards the end of the yearLeonardo began to design a decoration for the Great Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio. Leonardo chose theBattle of Anghiari as the subject of the mural, a victory for Florence in a war against Pisa. He mademany drawings and sketches of a cavalry battle, with tense soldiers, leaping horses and clouds of dust.In painting The Battle of Anghiari Leonardo again rejected fresco and tried an experimental techniquecalled encaustic. Once again the experiment was unsuccessful. Leonardo went on a trip and left thepainting unfinished.
When he returned he found that the paint had run and he never finished the painting.The paintings general appearance is known from Leonardo’s sketches and other artists’ copies of it(Creighton 45). During the period of time that Leonardo spent painting the Palazzo Vecchio he alsopainted several other works, including the most famous portrait ever, the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa, alsoknown as La Gioconda, (after the presumed name of the model’s husband) became famous because ofthe unique expression on Lisa del Gioconda’s face. She appears to have just started to or finishedsmiling. This painting was one of Leonardo’s favorites and he carried it with him on all of his subsequenttravels (Clark 133).
In 1506, Leonardo returned to Milan to finished up some of his projects that he had toabandon during his hasty departure. He stayed there until 1516 when he moved to Cloux, France, wherehe stayed with his pupil Melzi. While in Milan he was named Court Painter to King Louis XII of France,who was then residing in Milan.
For the next six years he traveled from Milan to Florence repeatedly tolook after his inheritance. In 1514 he traveled to Rome under the patronage of Pope Leo X. During thistime Leonardo’s energy was focused mainly on his scientific experiments. He then moved to France toserve King Francis I. It is here in Chateau de Cloux that he died on May 2,1519 (Wallace 127). Leonardoconstantly reworked his drawings, studies and mechanical theories. His observations of the motion ofwater are amazingly accurate.
In Leonardo’s Studies of Water Formation, the flow patterns observed areswirling around , then below as it forms a pool. Using modern slow motion cameras’ scientists now studythe same effects that Leonardo wrote about and observed with his naked eye (Encarta). Another study ofwater and wind is his Apocalyptic Visions. This is a collected study of hurricanes and storms. In thesehighly detailed drawings the pen lines so carefully marked explode into action similar to the stormsthemselves. Leonardo’s mathematical drawings are also highly skilled. In a math formula Leonardoproved the theory of perpetual motion false but it still intrigued him.
Among his vast notes were smallideas for a perpetual motion machine. His ideas for completing this task involved an unbalanced wheelthat would revolve forever, conserving its energy. However these machines were never constructed.Another mathematical drawing was the Polyhedron.
This three dimensional figure representedproportions to him “not only in numbers and measurements but also in sounds, weights, positions and inwhatsoever power there may be” (Wallace 59). The notebooks of Leonardo contain sketches and plansfor inventions that came into existence almost five-hundred years after the Renaissance. Leonardopracticed a technique of writing backwards. It has been postulated that he did this, being left-handed, sothat he wouldn’t smear the ink by his left hand running across newly-written words. Moreover, theindividual words are spelled backwards. In order to read the Notebooks one must hold the pages up to amirror and it is believed by some that Leonardo did this to keep his writing and theories secret. In anyevent, contained in the Notebooks are plans and drawings for what we recognize today as the firstworking propeller, a submarine, a helicopter, a tank, parachutes, the cannon, perpetual motion machines,and the rope ladder. There are perfectly executed drawings of the human body, from the proportions ofthe full figure to dissections in the most minute detail.
It was observed, however, that Leonardo’s interestin the human body and his ability to invent mechanical things were actually not as paramount to him aswas his fascination and awe of the natural world (Clark 133). Leonardo lived to be 67 years old. He is notknown to have ever married or had children. In fact, it was said of him that he only saw women as”reproductive mechanisms” (Clark 134). If there is one quality that characterizes the life of Leonardo daVinci it would be his curiosity for life and the world around him. Curiosity is the force that motivated himto observe, dissect and document every particle of matter that warranted his attention. From babies inthe womb to seashells on the beach, nothing escaped his relentless intellect. The mind of Leonardotranscends the period of the Renaissance and every epoch thereafter.
It is universally acknowledged thathis imagination, his powers of reason, and his sheer energy surpass that of any person in history. Thestudy of Leonardo is limited only by the inadequacy of the student.Bibliography: