Leonardo da Vinci, many have heard of him as a great artist and engineer. He was considered a universal genius. His works have been studied, copied and criticized for five hundred years. Not until recently have some of his ideas been fully appreciated or understood as viable. He was one of the most versatile and greatest artists and scientific minds of the renaissance era or even of all time.
Leonardo da Vinci was born just outside of Vinci, Italy on April 15, 1452. He was the illegitimate son of Ser Pero da Vinci, a legal specialist, and a peasant named Caternia. His father's family raised him. His name da Vinci simply means from Vinci. He started school at the age of five. He in known to have studied many subjects but never stuck with any of them and quickly mastered the basics of each subject before he shifted his interests to a new field.
In 1469, his father did show a notebook filled with his works to Andrea del Verrochio, a famous Florentine artist. Verrochio loved them so much he took the young da Vinci as an apprentice. Leonardo was a popular student of Verrochio. He worked with students such as Lorenzo di Crodi and Pietro Perungine. In exchange for housing, meals, and the knowledge of the trade da Vinci had to do simple tasks around the shop for Verrochio. Verrochio forced all of his students to study anatomy, which might explain Leonardo's studies of it later in his life. After Leonardo's apprenticeship, in 1472, he was inducted into the painters guild. He stayed on with Verrochio as a paid journeyman for a number of years helping Verrochio with some of his larger commissions for a cut of the pay.
Leonardo moved from Florence to Milan in 1482-83. The duke Lodovico Sforza, also known as Il Moro because of his dark complexion, commissioned Leonardo. Lodovico had made use of Leonardo's engineering talents and occasionally asked him work on a couple of engineering projects. It was here that he started to explore human flight. In 1499 he left Milan for Venice. He only stayed there a few months. In 1500 he left Venice fore his hometown of Florence. By this time his old teacher, Verrochio, had died. It is believed that he moved around to find better paying work.
While in Florence he worked as a military engineer for Cesare Borgia. Even though Leonardo was a pacifist he still designed various war machines and made topographical maps in 1502-03. While in Florence he made some of his more famous paintings like the "Mona Lisa" and "The Battle of Anghiari". The latter of these two works was done in a competition against Michelangelo.
In 1508 da Vinci returned to Milan where he stayed for another five years. It was here that he started his independent work on anatomy. In 1513 he moved to Rome to get the patronage of the new pope Leo X. This was probably done for the commissions because Leonardo was an atheist. It was here that he was ordered to stop his human dissections by Leo X after someone had told the pope.
In 1516 Leonardo went to the court of King Francis I of France in Amboise. King Francis I was a man who liked the arts and sciences and respected Leonardo. It is said that the king frequently visited Leonardo and only asked him for his conversation. It was here that Leonardo da Vinci died on May 2, 1519. Leonardo arranged for his funeral down to the weights of the candles to be burned one week before he died.
The art of Leonardo da Vinci has been considered among the greatest ever created. His works include the "Mona Lisa", "The Last Supper", and "Virgin of the Rocks." He not only painted but also tried sculpture.
Among the best known of his paintings is the "Mona Lisa" which is also known as "La Gioconda". This portrait is among the most studied and copied paintings in history. It is sometimes used as shorthand for the art of painting itself. It currently rests in the Louvre museum in Paris, France. Another of the more famous paintings is "The Last Supper". This is a religious scene painted on the wall of the Refectory or dining hall of a convent in Milan. This painting began chipping in Leonardo's lifetime because he was sometimes adventurous with his materials. In World War II the convent was bombed to the ground but somehow the wall containing the painting was supported on the other side by sandbags and stayed up. All of these factors contribute to the bad condition of his painting.
Some of Leonardo's lesser-known paintings are the portrait of Ginevera de'Benci, and his self-portrait. In his portrait of Ginevera de'Benci he put a ginger tree behind her head the Italian name of which is Ginevero, a masculine version of her name. This work was made in 1478. Back then that kind of visual wordplay was normal. In his self-portrait he shows the only known picture of himself. He made this work near the end of his life in 1515.
One of Leonardo's harder to place works is the book Treatise on Painting in which he describes the science of art and breaks his works down to a simple set of rules. "The first intention... is to make a flat surface display a body as if modeled" (da Vinci 406). "The air between the eye and the object seen will change the colour of that object into its own" (da Vinci 406). He also goes on to say how far to stand away from any object being painted.
Leonardo da Vinci had a long history of not finishing his work. This probably started back when he first went to school at the age of five. Some of his things were abandoned simply because they were too complex for the technology of the day. An example of this is the Sforza horse, a large statue in honor of Francesco Sforza that was to be in full gallop with both front legs off of the ground. Others are unfinished because he believed that his hand could not recreate the beauty in his mind. These include a great number of paintings and cartoons. Cartoons are meant as in a full size study of what will later be painted.
Leonardo could be described as adventurous when it came to art. He would frequently try to find new ways of painting. A great number of these failed like the varnish he experimented with on "The Last Supper". He had some good techniques that did not go bad.
One of these is sfumato, the use of dark purplish shadows to bring the foreground out and give an air of mystery to the background. Another of his best techniques was the way he painted skin using many layers of nearly transparent paint. This effectively imitated the way real skin is formed.
Leonardo could be considered one of the greatest scientific minds of all time. He studied many fields that are now considered field specialties. These include anatomy, aerodynamics, hydraulics, geology, astronomy, botany, biology, engineering, and architecture. Leonardo was not considered a scientist for his day even though in the field of anatomy he had been the first to correctly identify the concept of valves in the heart but thought that the blood went to the limbs where it was used and not circulated. He had also studied the bone and muscle structure of people, which led to his paintings being lifelike and a design for the first robot. He dissected 30 male and female corpses until the pope ordered him to stop.
He was aware of how water flowed and had proposed a few ideas for canals and even a city that was completely surrounded by waterways. He had made topographical maps that were the first that had a viewpoint that modern people consider common, a view from directly above the area. He also correctly identified the existence of marine fossils on dry land. This went completely against the common views of the great flood and was labeled heresy. Leonardo was more interested in the formation of sedimentary rock and fossils than igneous rock.
Leonardo was a master of engineering of all types. He proposed designs for aircraft, the automobile, paddle wheel ships, and the tank just to name a few. Among his more famous inventions was the airscrew, a device that when cranked turned a screw like device and lifted off of the ground. He even made a device to wake him by jerking up his feet. Many of his designs were impractical to make or needed a form of power that did not exist in da Vinci's day.
Leonardo da Vinci was a remarkably complicated man with a variety of tastes. People are just now realizing that he was a man ahead of his time. His method was just close observation and detailed notes with diagrams of what he saw going on. He applied art to science and visa versa.
Article written by BIT01