Leonardo da Vinci 1452-1519 BACK

Florentine painter, sculptor and draughtsman, a universal genius who was architect, town planner, inventor, scientist, writer and musician. Leonardo was the natural son of the notary at Vinci, then under Florentine rule. His extraordinary gifts were soon apparent and he was apprenticed to Andrea Verrocchio, a leading Florentine artist. His fellow-apprentices were Lorenzo di Credi and Botticelli. Little is known about this period except that Leonardo came under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici and in 1472 became a master, a member of the Guild of St Luke. In 1482 he entered the service of Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, where he was active as court painter, sculptor, architect and military engineer until the fall of Sforza in 1499, when the French armies occupied Milan. Leonardo fled to Mantua, then to Venice, where he was employed as a military engineer. In 1500 he went to Florence, two years later joined Cesare Borgia in his campaigns, but on Borgia's defeat returned to Florence, where he remained until 1508. The Mona Lisa was painted in Florence between 1503 and 1506. In 1508 Leonardo was recalled to Milan by the French governor of the city, Charles d'Amboise, and for five years was occupied with scientific studies and plans for the construction of a canal. With his pupil and assistant, Francesco Melzi, he travelled to the Vatican in 1513 to seek the favour of the Medici Pope Leo X, but left disappointed in 1517 to join court of the French king, Francis I. In Rome Leonardo was surrounded by intrigue; in France, however, he was greatly appreciated and admired. He lived at the royal chiteau de Cloux, near Amboise, until his death.

Leonardo left few authentic paintings. The Angel kneeling at the extreme left' in Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ is believed to be his work. He assisted Verrocchio, on a number of paintings, and this has led to a great deal of controversy over their authorship. The Annunciation (c. 1474) is attributed to Leonardo on account of the mysterious landscape and the scientific rendering of depth. During 1483 Leonardo worked on the painting the Virgin of the Rocks; the version at the Louvre is considered to be Leonardo Virgin of the Rocks before 1483 earlier and of greater artistic value. He painted a number of portraits of court ladies during his stay in Milan; the Lady with the Ermine was probably the duke's mistress. It is a masterly rendering of form and a profound psychological study. The Last Supper, painted 1495-8 for the refectory of the monastery of S. Maria delle Grazie, Milan, has, though now careffully restored, been much damaged and overpainted. In the Mona Lisa Leonardo expressed with consummate skill his feeling for the mystery of existence. The forms are precise yet melting, fused into each other with subtle tonal transitions. When Leonardo moved to France, he took with him the Mona Lisa, John the Baptist, and the Virgin and Child with St Anne. No authentic sculpture by Leonardo is known.

Numerous landscape drawings and studies of heads and nude figures survive; many form part of his notes and scientific studies. Leonardo's draughtsmanship has never been equalled. His notebooks, written backwards and unknown to his contemporaries, contained profound scientific observations on proportion, perspective, optics, anatomy, geology and such inventions as cannons, tanks, a diving-suit and flying machines. His celebrated Treatise on Painting, which has survived in a fairly accurate copy by another hand, circulated widely in the 16th century Leonardo greatly influenced his contemporaries, Correggio, Giorgione, Raphael and del Sarto, with his compositions and use of light. He influenced Rubens and foreshadowed the chiaroscuro of Rembrandt.

Da Vinci

Image List

The Baptism of Christ, 1492

The Annunciation, 1473

Ginevra de' Benci, 1474

The Virgin of the Rocks, 1483

Last Supper, 1498

Vitruvian Man, 1490

Lady with an Ermine, 1490

Madonna of the Yarnwinder, 1501

Mona Lisa,1503

The Virgin and St Anne, 1510

St John the Baptist, 1513

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