WHO WAS LEONARDO DA VINCI?

davinciMusart is grateful to showcase the talents and skill of Leonardo da Vinci , for who else has accomplished so much in their lifetime?  In addition to his artistic achievements, of which the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper are considerable, immortal accomplishments, he also was a polymath who dabbled extensively in inventing, engineering, astronomy, botany, writing, history, cartography and much more. He is exemplified as the “Universal Genius” or “Renaissance Man,” and his influence resounds within our society to this day.  The influence of da Vinci cannot be overstated, and we will be studying his immortal techniques for ages to come.

Da Vinci’s Biography

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in the Tuscan village of Vinci and was considered an illegitimate son, because his father, Ser Pierro da Vinci, and mother, a peasant girl named Caterina, were not married. While most of the details of da Vinci’s early life are shrouded in mystery, we know his father’s family raised him, and that, after several marriages, da Vinci’s father sired many children, leaving Leonardo with twelve half-siblings.

Da Vinci’s genius manifested at an early age, with him becoming a natural student with many subjects, including mathematics and music. Eventually, he apprenticed under a painter named Andrea del Verrocchio, who taught him many skills. The two even collaborated on a painting, titled, The Baptism of Christ which apparently birthed the tale of Leonardo painting the young angel in the piece so well that Andrea, “put down his brush and never painted again.”  By the age of twenty, da Vinci qualified as a Master in the Guild of Saint Luke.

Leonardo Da Vinci continued as a kind of ‘freelance artist’ for some decades after, taking on commissions to paint an altar piece for the Chapel of St. Bernard in the Palazzo Vecchio and to paint The Adoration of the Magi for monks of San Donato a Scopeto (although neither were completed). Leonardo da Vinci worked in Milan from 1482 until 1499 where he was commissioned to paint Virgin of the Rocks and The Last Supper.

Toward the end of his life in 1508, he accompanied King Louis XII of France to Milan where he stayed to practice anatomy and other scientific fields until 1512.  When the French lost Milan, he moved to Rome, where he remained until his death in 1519.

After his death, his close friend Francis I said of him, “there had never been another man born in the world who knew as much as Leonardo da Vinci, not so much about painting, sculpture, and architecture, as that, he was a very great philosopher.”

Career Highlights

Leonardo’s artistic works are considerable and have had a monumental influence on not only the artistic scene of the day but are still studied and analyzed to date.  Two of his pieces, The Last Supper and Mona Lisa are not only his most famous but rank as some of the most famous pieces of art of all time.

The Last Supper was painted for the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria Della Grazie in Milan.  It is the final meal that Jesus and his disciples ate before the crucifixion and the piece specifically showcases the moment where Jesus has just told his followers, “one of you will betray me.” The time after uttering these words is the moment the painting encapsulates – which we can see by the expressions of the disciples. The work showcases Da Vinci’s total mastery of form, characterization and setting in a blazing fire of talent.

The painting itself is massive – it stretches 180 in x 350 in and covers an entire end wall of the dining hall in Santa Maria Delle Grazie. It, unfortunately, has been damaged and, despite restoration efforts, very little of the painting remains today.

Mona Lisa or La Gioconda, is arguably one of the most famous paintings in the world, to this day. The elusive smile on the face of the woman, front, and center, has brought a mystery to the world that remains unsolved after more than five hundred years. The shadows hint at so much and offer so little, and indeed, the shadowy quality the piece is known for came to be called, “sfumato,” or “Leonardo’s smoke.”

The Mona Lisa also plays on the religious culture of the time; the woman pictured bearing a strong resemblance to depictions of the Virgin Mary herself, who was seen as the ideal of womanhood for the time. This, combined with the fact that the painting was one of the first paintings to feature a subject in front of an imaginary landscape, further attests to the mystery and almost divine qualities of the woman – who is this? Why is she smiling?  This smile, it is reported, took around ten years by itself to paint.

This piece has gathered much acclaim and praise, and is, according to John Lichfield, “the best known, most visited, the most written about the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.”

Fun Facts about Leonardo da Vinci

  • He was quite talented musically and had, “an incredible singing voice.”
  • He was an accomplished mathematician and used math to augment his art.
  • Leonardo da Vinci translates to “Leonard from the town of Vinci.”
  • He had a predilection for creeping into graves in the middle of the night to steal corpses and study the human anatomy. He was also trying to find, “where the soul was.”
  • He drew the plans for the first armored car in 1485.

Concluding Thoughts

Leonardo da Vinci was a consummate genius, and his influence has reached well beyond the five centuries after his death. He was the perfect example of the all-encompassing intellect, which probed and examined the physical world while also exalting it in the artistic world.  His contributions to society, whether they be analytical or aesthetical resound to this very day.  His paintings alone will grant him immortality for our culture, and it will always be impossible to deny him the multiplicity of interests that he mastered fully.  Musart is proud to feature such a person as Leonardo da Vinci.

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