Fine Artists: Leonardo da Vinci Italian Artist 1452-1519

"The first object of the painter is to make a flat plane appear as a body in relief and projecting from that plane" -Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci painting"Lady with an Ermine"Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. Leonardo da Vinci has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance man, a man whose unquenchable curiosity was equaled only by his powers of invention. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. Leonardo da Vinci's profound love of knowledge and research was the keynote of both his artistic and scientific endeavors. His innovations in the field of painting influenced the course of Italian art for more than a century after his death, and his scientific studies, particularly in the fields of anatomy, optics, and hydraulics, anticipated many of the developments of modern science.

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in the small Tuscan town of Vinci, near Florence. He was the son of a wealthy Florentine notary and a peasant woman. In the mid-1460s the family settled in Florence, where Leonardo was given the best education that Florence, the intellectual and artistic center of Italy, could offer. He rapidly advanced socially and intellectually. He was handsome, persuasive in conversation, and a fine musician and improviser. About 1466 Leonardo da Vinci was apprenticed as a garzone (studio boy) to Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading Florentine painter and sculptor of his day. In Verrocchio's workshop Leonardo da Vinci was introduced to many activities, from the painting of altarpieces and panel pictures to the creation of large sculptural projects in marble and bronze. One of Leonardo da Vinci's first big breaks was to paint an angel in Verrochio's "Baptism of Christ." Leonardo da Vinci work was so much better than his master's that Verrochio allegedly resolved never to paint again. Leonardo da Vinci stayed in the Verrocchio workshop until 1477 when he set up a shingle for himself.

A remarkable fact in the life of Leonardo da Vinci was his impeachment in 1476. At this time it was a common practice of handing out anonymous accusations in a wooden box in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. Leonardo da Vinci was charged, together with three other men, of homosexual conduct. All defendants however were acquitted because of lack of evidence. That Leonardo da Vinci was homosexual now is generally accepted though.

Leonardo da Vinci painting "The Virgin on the Rocks"From 1482 to 1499 Leonardo da Vinci worked for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan and maintained his own workshop with apprentices there. Seventy tons of bronze that had been set aside for Leonardo da Vinci's "Gran Cavallo" horse statue were cast into weapons for the Duke in an attempt to save Milan from the French under Charles VIII in 1495. The most important of Leonardo da Vinci's own paintings during the early Milan period was "The Virgin of the Rocks" (shown here) two versions of which exist. Leonardo da Vinci worked on the compositions for a long time, as was his custom, seemingly unwilling to finish what he had begun.

During this time Leonardo da Vinci produced a studies on loads of subjects, including nature, flying machines, geometry, mechanics, municipal construction, canals and architecture. His studies from this period contain designs for advanced weapons, including a tank and other war vehicles, various combat devices, and submarines. Also during this period, Leonardo da Vinci produced his first anatomical studies. His Milan workshop was a veritable hive of activity, buzzing with apprentices and students. When the French returned under Louis XII in 1498, Milan fell without a fight, overthrowing Sforza.

Leonardo da Vinci stayed in Milan for a time, until one morning he found French archers using his life-size clay model for the "Gran Cavallo" for target practice. Leonardo, with his assistant Salai and friend, the mathematician Luca Pacioli, fled Milan for Venice, where he was employed as a military architect and engineer, devising methods to defend the city from naval attack. Leonardo was left to search for a new patron.

Over the next 16 years, Leonardo da Vinci worked and traveled throughout Italy for a number of employers, including the dastardly Cesare Borgia. Leonardo da Vinci traveled for a year with Borgia's army as a military engineer and even met Niccolo Machiavelli, author of "The Prince." Leonardo da Vinci also designed a bridge to span the "golden horn" in Constantinople during this period and received a commission, with the help of Machiavelli, to paint the "Battle of Anghiari."

Leonardo da Vinci classic Renaissance painting "Mona Lisa"In 1507 Leonardo met a 15 year old aristocrat of great personal beauty, Count Francesco Melzi. Melzi became his pupil, life companion, and heir. Leonardo da Vinci returned to Florence where he rejoined the Guild of St Luke on October 18, 1503, and spent two years designing and painting a great mural of The Battle of Anghiari for the Signoria, with Michelangelo designing its companion piece, The Battle of Cascina. In Florence in 1504, Leonardo da Vinci was part of a committee formed to relocate, against the artist's will, Michelangelo's statue of David. From September 1513 to 1516, Leonardo da Vinci spent much of his time living in the Belvedere in the Vatican in Rome, where Raphael and Michelangelo were both active at the time.

On December 19, Leonardo was present at the meeting of Francis I and Pope Leo X, which took place in Bologna. It was for Francis that Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to make a mechanical lion which could walk forward, then open its chest to reveal a cluster of lilies. In 1516, Leonardo da Vinci entered François' service, being given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé near the king's residence at the royal Chateau Amboise. It was here that Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life, accompanied by Count Francesco Melzi.

Two of Leonardo da Vinci's works, the "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper", are the most famous, most reproduced and most parodied portrait and religious painting of all time, respectively, their fame approached only by Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of the Vitruvian Man is also regarded as a cultural icon, being reproduced on everything from the Euro to text books to t-shirts. Perhaps fifteen of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings survive, the small number due to his constant, and frequently disastrous, experimentation with new techniques, and his chronic procrastination. Nevertheless, these few works, together with his notebooks, which contain drawings, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting, comprise a contribution to later generations of artists only rivaled by that of his contemporary, Michelangelo.

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Leonardo da Vinci
Italian renaissance artist who did "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper"