Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

Style: High Renaissance

Lived: April 15, 1452 - May 2, 1519 (15th - 16th century)

Nationality: Italy

Leonardo da Vinci was born April 15, 1452 in a farm house in Anchiano, 3 kilometres away from Vinci. Since this was before modern naming conventions in Europe, Leonardo's full name became "Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci" which simply means "Leonardo, son of Piero, from Vinci". However Leonardo da Vinci signed most of his work with his first name, presumably because he was an illegitimate child.

Leonardo's father was a 25 year old public notary at the time Leonardo was born. Leonardo's mother, Catarina, was the daughter of a local farmer. Due to this difference in social class, Leonardo's father married another woman and Leonardo became an illegitimate child.

It was often told that Leonardo drove his teachers crazy with all his questions. When he was 14, Leonardo moved with his father to Florence where he became an apprentice to painter Andrea del Verrocchio. Verrocchio was at this time the most gifted artist in Florence. He was a sculptor, painter, goldsmith, bronze caster and more. In Verrocchio's workshop, Leonardo da Vinci also met up with other famous artists Botticelli, Perugino and Lorenzo di Credi. Leonardo da Vinci got listed in the red book of painters from Florence in 1472, which meant that at that moment his apprenticeship was finished.

A remarkable fact in the life of Leonardo 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 was charged, together with three other men, of homosexual conduct. All defendants however were acquitted because of lack of evidence. That Leonardo was homosexual now is generally accepted though.

From c. 1482 to 1499 Leonardo 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'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.

When the French returned under Louis XII in 1498, Milan fell without a fight. Leonardo 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. He left for Mantua, moving on after 2 months for Venice, and moving again to Florence at the end of April 1500.

In Florence he entered the services of Cesare Borgia as a military architect and engineer. In 1506 he returned to Milan.

In 1507 Leonardo met a 15 year old aristocrat of great personal beauty, Count Francesco Melzi. Melzi became his pupil, life companion, and heir.

From 1513 to 1516 he lived in Rome, where painters like Raphael and Michelangelo were active at the time; he did not have much contact with these artists, however.

In 1515 Francis I of France retook Milan, and Leonardo was commissioned to make a centrepiece. Leonardo then spent the last span of his life in Amboise (France), with his famous painting Mona Lisa in his baggage. Leonardo da Vinci lived in a castle next to the king, receiving a very generous pension. In France Leonardo didn't paint, but he made hydrological studies. At the age of 67, Leonardo died May 2, 1519 in Amboise.

Leonardo most famous works include "The Last Supper" (1497) and the "Mona Lisa" (1503-1506). However there are serious doubts whether da Vinci painted Mona Lisa himself or whether it was primarily the work of his students. Only seventeen of his paintings, and none of his statues survived.

Perhaps even more impressive than his artistic work are his studies in science and engineering, recorded in notebooks comprising some 13,000 pages. His approach to science was an observatory one: he tried to understand a phenomenon by describing and depicting it in utmost detail, and did not emphasize experiments or theoretical explanations. Throughout his life, he planned a grand encyclopedia based on detailed drawings of everything. Since he lacked formal education in Latin and mathematics, Leonardo the scientist was mostly ignored by contemporary scholars.

He participated in autopsies and produced many extremely detailed anatomical drawings, planning a comprehensive work of human and comparative anatomy. Around the year 1490, he produced a study in his sketchbook of the Canon of Proportions as described in recently rediscovered writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius. The study, called the Vitruvian Man, is one of his most well-known works.

Fascinated by the phenomenon of flight, Leonardo produced detailed studies of the flight of birds, and plans for several flying machines, including a helicopter powered by four men (which would not have worked since it would have rotated). In 1496 he unsuccessfully tested a flying machine he had constructed.

In astronomy, Leonardo believed that the Sun and Moon revolved around the Earth, and that the Moon reflects the sun's light due to its being covered by water.

Leonardo did not publish or otherwise distribute the contents of his notebooks. They remained obscure until the 19th century, and were not directly of value to the development of science and technology. In January 2005, researchers discovered the hidden laboratory used by Leonardo da Vinci for studies of flight and other pioneering scientific work in previously sealed rooms at a monastery in the heart of Florence.

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