Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an Italian painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, and scientist. He was one of the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance, and his influence on the painting of the following generations was enormous.
Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, near the village of Vinci about 25 miles west of Florence. He was the illegitimate son of Ser Piero da Vinci, a prominent notary of Florence, who had no other children until much later. Ser Piero raised his son himself, a common practice at the time, arranging for Leonardo's mother to marry a villager. When Leonardo was 15, his father apprenticed him to Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading artist of Florence and a characteristic talent of the early Renaissance.
Verrocchio, a sculptor, painter, and goldsmith, was a remarkable craftsman, and his great skill and passionate concern for quality of execution, as well as his interest in expressing the vital mobility of the human figure, were important elements in Leonardo's artistic formation. Indeed, much in Leonardo's approach to art was evolutionary from tradition rather than revolutionary against it, although the opposite is often true of his results.
Assistant in Verrocchio's Workshop
After completing his apprenticeship, Leonardo stayed on as an assistant in Verrocchio's shop, and his earliest known painting is a product of his collaboration with the master. In Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ (ca. 1475), Leonardo executed one of the two angels, a fact already recorded in the 16th century, as well as the distant landscape, and he added the final touches to the figure of Christ, determining the texture of the flesh. Collaboration on a major project by a master and his assistant was standard procedure in the Italian Renaissance. What is special is that Leonardo's work is not, as was usual, a slightly less skilled version of Verrocchio's manner of painting but an original approach altering it. It completely possesses all the fundamental qualities of Leonardo's mature style and implies a criticism of the early Renaissance. By changing hard metallic surface effects to soft yielding ones, making edges less cutting, and increasing the slight modulations of light and shade, Leonardo evoked a new flexibility within the figures. This "soft union," as Giorgio Vasari called it (1550), is also present in the special lighting and is emphatically developed in the spiral turn of the angel's head and body and the vast depth of the landscape.
Apparently Leonardo had painted one extant work, the Annunciation in Florence, before this. It is much nearer to Verrocchio in the stability of the two figures shown in profile, the clean precision of the decorative details, and the large simple shapes of the trees, but it already differs in the creamier modeling of the faces. A little later is Leonardo's portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, the young wife of a prominent Florentine merchant, in which her oily face with softly contoured lips is seen against a background of mysteriously dark trees and a pond.
Independent Master in Florence
About 1478 Leonardo set up his own studio. In 1481 he received a major church commission for an altarpiece, the Adoration of the Magi. In this unfinished painting, Leonardo's new approach is far more developed. A crowd of spectators, with odd and varied faces, flutters around and peers at the main group of the Virgin and Child, and there is a strong sense of continuing movement. In the background the three horses of the kings prance among intricate architectural ruins. However, the painting also illustrates Leonardo's strong sense of the need for a countervailing order: he placed in the center of the composition the Virgin and Child, who traditionally in paintings of this theme had appeared at one side of the picture, approached by the kings from the other side. Similarly, the picturesque ruins are rendered in sharp perspective.
The simultaneous increase in both the level of activity and the organized system which controls it will climax later in Leonardo's Last Supper, and it shows us his basically scientific temperament—one concerned with not only adding to the quantity of accurate observations of nature but also subjecting these observations to newly inferred physical or mathematical laws. In their paintings earlier Renaissance artists had applied the rules of linear perspective, by which objects appear smaller in proportion as they are farther away from the eye of the spectator. Leonardo joined this principle to two others: perspective of clarity (distant objects progressively lose their separateness and hence are not drawn with outlines) and perspective of color (distant objects progressively tend to a uniform gray tone). He wrote about both of these phenomena in his notebooks.
The Adoration of the Magi was, as noted above, left unfinished. In his later career Leonardo often failed over a period of years to finish a work, essentially because he would not accept established answers. For example, in his project for a bronze equestrian statue he began his work by delving into such matters as the anatomy of horses and the method by which the heavy monument could be transported from his studio to its permanent location. In the case of the Magi altarpiece, however, the unfinished state may merely result from the fact that Leonardo left Florence in 1482 to accept the post of court artist to the Duke of Milan. In leaving, Leonardo followed a trend set by the leading Florentine masters of the older generation, Verrocchio and Antonio Pollaiuolo, who went to Venice and Rome to execute commissions larger than any available in their native Florence.
Leonardo presented himself to the Duke of Milan as skilled in many crafts, but particularly in military engineering, asserting that he had worked out improved methods for shooting catapults and diverting rivers. Such inventions, as well as the remarkable machinery that Leonardo produced in Milan for stage pageants, point to his profound interest in the laws of motion and propulsion, a further aspect of his interest in living things and their workings. Again, this preoccupation differs from older artists only in degree.
Leonardo's first Milanese painting is the altarpiece Virgin of the Rocks. It exists in two versions: the one in Paris is earlier and was executed by Leonardo; the one in London is later, and there is controversy as to whether Leonardo participated in its execution. A religious brotherhood in Milan commissioned an altarpiece from Leonardo in 1483, and it is also a matter of argument as to which version is the one commissioned. Some scholars believe that it is the London work and that the Paris version was painted while Leonardo was still in Florence. But this view requires some remarkable coincidences, and the more usual opinion is that the picture in Paris is the original one executed for the Milanese commission and that it was taken away by Leonardo's admirer the king of France and replaced in Milan by the second painting.
Although the Virgin of the Rocks is a very original painting, it makes use of a venerable tradition in which the Holy Family is shown in a cave. This setting becomes a vehicle for Leonardo's interests in depicting nature and in dimmed light, which fuses the outlines of separate objects. The artist once commented that one should practice drawing at dusk and in courtyards with walls painted black. The figures in the painting are grouped in a pyramid.
The other surviving painting of Leonardo's Milanese years is the Last Supper (1495-1497), commissioned by the duke for the refectory of the convent of S. Maria delle Grazie. Instead of using fresco, the traditional medium for this theme, Leonardo experimented with an oil-based medium, because painting in true fresco makes areas of color appear quite distinct. Unfortunately, his experiment was unsuccessful; the paint did not adhere well to the wall, and within 50 years the scene was reduced to a confused series of spots. What we see today is largely a later reconstruction, but the design is reliable and remarkable. The scene seems at first to be one of tumultuous activity, in response to the dramatic stimulus of Christ's words "One of you will betray me," which is a contrast to the traditional static row of figures. But the 12 disciples form four equal clusters around Christ, isolated as a fifth unit in the middle. Thus, Leonardo once again enriches the empirical observation of vital activity but simultaneously develops a containing formula and emphasizes the center. This blend of the immediate reality of the situation and the underlying order of the composition is perhaps the reason the painting has always been extraordinarily popular and has remained the standard image of the subject.
In its own time, the Last Supper was perhaps less well known than the project for a bronze equestrian statue of the previous Duke of Milan, on which Leonardo worked during most of his Milanese years. He wanted to show the horse leaping, a technical problem of balance in sculpture that was solved only in the 17th century. Numerous drawings of the project exist.
Besides apparatus for pageants and artillery, architectural projects also occupied Leonardo in Milan. He and the great architect Donato Bramante, also a recent arrival at the court, clearly had a mutually stimulating effect, and it is hard to attribute certain innovative ideas to one of them rather than the other. The architectural drawings of Leonardo, very similar to the buildings of Bramante, mark the shift from the early Renaissance to the High Renaissance in architecture and show a new interest in and command of scale and grandeur within the basic harmonious geometry of Renaissance structure. No buildings can be attributed with certainty to Leonardo.
When Leonardo's patron was overthrown by the French invasion in 1499, Leonardo left Milan. He visited Venice briefly, where the Senate consulted him on military projects, and Mantua. He planned a portrait of Isabella d'Este, Duchess of Mantua, one of the most striking personalities and great art patrons of the age. The surviving drawing for this portrait suggests that the concept of the later Mona Lisa had already been formulated.
In 1500 Leonardo returned to Florence, where he was received as a great man. Florentine painters of the generation immediately following Leonardo were excited by his modern methods, with which they were familiar through the unfinished Adoration of the Magi, and he also now had a powerful effect on a still younger group of artists. Thus it was that a younger master passed on to Leonardo his own commission for the Virgin and Child with St. Anne, and the monks who had ordered it gave Leonardo a workroom. Leonardo's large preparatory drawing was inspected by crowds of viewers. This theme had traditionally been presented in a rather diagrammatic fashion to illustrate the family tree of Christ; sometimes this was done by representing Anne, the grandmother, in large scale with her daughter Mary on her knee and with Mary in turn holding the Christ Child. Leonardo sought to retain a reference to this conceptual pattern while drawing sinuous, smiling figures in a fluid organic interrelationship. Several varying designs exist, the last version being the painting of about 1510 in Paris; this variety suggests that Leonardo could not fuse the two qualities he desired: an abstract formula and the immediacy of life.
During his years in Florence (1500-1506), even though they were interrupted in 1502 by a term as military engineer for Cesare Borgia, Leonardo completed more projects than in any other period of his life. In his works of these years, the emphasis is almost exclusively on portraying human vitality, as in the Leda and the Swan (lost; known only through copies), a spiraling figure kneeling among reeds, and the Mona Lisa, the portrait of a Florentine citizen's young third wife, whose smile is mysterious because it is in the process of either appearing or disappearing.
Leonardo's great project (begun 1503) was the battle scene that the city commissioned to adorn the newly built Council Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio. In the choice of theme, the Battle of Anghiari, patriotic references and the wish to show off Leonardo's special skills were both apparently required. Leonardo depicted a cavalry battle—a small skirmish won by Florentine troops—in which horsemen leap at each other, churning up dust, in quick interlocking motion. The work today is known through some rapid rough sketches of the groups of horsemen, careful drawings of single heads of men which are extraordinarily vivid in suggesting immediate response to a stimulus, and copies of the entire composition. Leonardo began to paint the scene, experimenting with encaustic technique (the paint is fused into hot wax on the surface of the panel), but he was called back to Milan before the work was completed. A short time thereafter, the room was remodeled and the fragment was destroyed.
Both the Battle of Anghiari and the Mona Lisa contain their animation in neatly balanced designs. In the battle scene, the enemies are locked in tense symmetry; in the portrait, the crossed arms form the base of a pyramid capped by the head, which gives the lady her quality of classic rightness and prevents the less than full-length portrait from seeming incomplete and arbitrarily amputated at the lower edge.
Called to Milan in 1506 by the French governor in charge, Leonardo worked on an equestrian statue project, but he produced no new paintings. Instead he now turned more and more to scientific observation. Most of his scientific concerns were fairly direct extensions of his interests as a painter, and his research in anatomy was the most fully developed. Verrocchio and other early Renaissance painters had attempted to render the human anatomy with accuracy, but Leonardo went far beyond any of them, producing the earliest anatomical drawings which are still considered valid today, although he occasionally confused animal and human anatomy and accepted some old wives' tales.
The notebooks Leonardo was now filling with data and drawings, later piously arranged by his heirs, and the visual intensity that was always his starting point reveal his other scientific interests also: firearms, the action of water, the flight of birds (leading to designs for human flight), the growth of plants, and geology. Leonardo's interests were not universal: theology, history, and literature moved him little. All his interests had in common a concern with the processes of action, movement, pressure, and growth; it has been rightly said that his drawings of the human body are less anatomical than physiological.
In 1513 Leonardo went to Rome, where he remained until 1516. He was much honored, but he was relatively inactive and remarkably aloof from its rich social and artistic life. He continued to fill his notebooks with scientific entries.
The French king, Francis I, invited Leonardo to his court at Fontainebleau, gave him the title of first painter, architect, and mechanic to the king, and provided him with a country house at Cloux. Leonardo was revered for his knowledge more than for any work he produced in France. He died on May 2, 1519, at Cloux.
Leonardo's influence on younger artists was enormous; it is often said to have first affected his teacher, Verrocchio. By the time Leonardo left Florence in 1482, he had already begun to influence the city's most talented younger painter, Filippino Lippi, only 5 years his junior. During the 1490s Filippino and Piero di Cosimo, another admirer of Leonardo, were the leading painters in Florence. In Milan, Leonardo overwhelmingly dominated a rather weak generation of artists, who were soon turning out smiling Madonnas in imitation of his style.
Leonardo's greatest impact came in Florence just after his return in 1500, when young artists already conditioned by the master's early work were able to absorb and transmit his message rather than merely copy the superficial aspects of his style. Fra Bartolommeo soon reflected this new approach, as did Andrea del Sarto shortly afterward.
On a subtle and more significant level, Leonardo at this time transformed the two greatest young artists to come in contact with him. Raphael came to Florence in 1504 at the age of 21, eager to increase his knowledge of perspective and anatomy, and he quickly revealed Leonardo's influence in his portraits and Madonnas; his results were less intellectual, psychological, and energetic and more coolly formal, but with Leonardo's vitality. About 1503 Michelangelo changed from a sculptor of merely grand scale to one whose figures are charged with energy. This may be seen in the contrast between Michelangelo's David and St. Matthew.
From this time on Leonardo influenced, directly or indirectly, all painting, as Vasari implies. His influence on science was much less, although his drawings may have been known to the anatomist Andreas Vesalius and had an effect on his great publication of 1543. However, most of Leonardo's scientific observations remained unknown until the same questions were again investigated in later centuries.
Jean Paul Richter edited The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci (2 vols., 1883; 2d rev. ed. 1939). Two excellent books are Kenneth Clark, Leonardo da Vinci: An Account of His Development as an Artist (1939; rev. ed. 1967), which is relatively brief and emphasizes Leonardo's work as a painter, and Ludwig H. Heydenreich, Leonardo da Vinci (trans. 1954), which is more detailed and concerned with the definition of his personality. A collection of essays which shows all sides of Leonardo's genius is C. D. O'Malley, ed., Leonardo's Legacy: An International Symposium (1969). An illuminating collection of articles is Morris Philipson, ed., Leonardo da Vinci: Aspects of the Renaissance Genius (1966). Leonardo's scientific work is emphasized in Ivor Blashka Hart, The World of Leonardo da Vinci: Man of Science, Engineer and Dreamer of Flight (1962), and Richard B. McLanathan, Images of the Universe: Leonardo da Vinci, the Artist as Scientist (1966). A fine specialized study is Arthur E. Popham, ed., The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci (1945). □
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
April 15, 1452
May 2, 1519
"As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death."
Leonardo da Vinci in The Notebooks quoted on The Quotations Page. [Online] Available http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes.php3?author=Leonardo+da+Vinci, April 5, 2002.
One of the greatest figures of the Renaissance was the painter Leonardo da Vinci. Known as Leonardo, he was considered the ideal "Renaissance man," an individual whose talents spanned a variety of subjects. He was an innovator in the fields of both art and science, uniquely combining these two activities as he investigated the world around him. Although he completed relatively few paintings, he played a crucial role in creating and shaping the art of the High Renaissance (1495–1520), the period when Renaissance culture reached its height in Italy. He was also interested in architecture, sculpture, and urban planning, though he is not known to have done work in these areas. Leonardo had an enormous influence on other artists, and his achievements were admired by such great Renaissance painters as Michelangelo (1475–1564; see entry) and Raphael (1483–1520; see entry).
Perfects his own style
Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, near the village of Vinci about twenty-five miles west of Florence. He was the illegitimate (born out of wedlock) son of Piero da Vinci, a prominent notary (one who records legal documents) of Florence, and Caterina, a peasant girl. Piero had no other children until much later and he raised his son himself, a common practice at the time. He arranged for Caterina to marry a local villager. In 1467, at age fifteen, Leonardo was apprenticed (sent to learn a craft, trade, or profession) to Andrea del Verrocchio (1435–1488), the leading artist in Florence, which was then the center of the Renaissance. Verrocchio was a sculptor, painter, and goldsmith noted for his craftsmanship. Leonardo stayed on as an assistant in Verrocchio's shop after completing his apprenticeship. His earliest known painting is a product of his collaboration (working together) with the master. In 1472 Leonardo joined the Compagnia di San Luca, or painters guild, in Florence. (A guild was a professional organization that supervised the training of craftsmen.)
In Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ (c. 1475), Leonardo executed one of the two angels as well as the distant landscape. He also added the final touches to the figure of Jesus Christ (name for Jesus of Nazareth, founder of Christianity), determining the texture of the flesh. Collaboration on a major project by a master artist and his assistant was standard procedure in the Italian Renaissance. Leonardo's work was special, however, because he did not follow the usual approach and produce a slightly less skilled version of Verrocchio's style. Instead, he perfected an original technique that altered his teacher's method. For instance, Leonardo suggested a new flexibility within the figures in Baptism of Christ. He accomplished this by changing hard metallic effects to soft yielding ones and increasing the slight changes in light and shade.
Around 1478 Leonardo set up his own studio. Three years later he received a church commission for an altarpiece (a work of art that decorates the space above an altar, a table used as the center of a worship service), the Adoration of the Magi. This unfinished painting depicts the story of the three Magi (kings), also known as the Wise Men of the East, told in the book of Matthew in the Bible (the Christian holy book). The Magi traveled to Bethlehem from the East (ancient Persia; present-day Iran) to pay homage to the newborn Jesus. The Adoration of the Magi had been a popular subject in art since the Middle Ages (a period lasting from around 400 to 1400). In his painting Leonardo showed a new approach with the depiction of human drama through a sense of continuing movement. A crowd of spectators, with odd and varied faces, flutters around and peers at Mary (mother of Jesus), who is holding the baby Jesus. In the background the three Magi are mounted on horses that prance among intricate architectural ruins. The painting also illustrates a strong sense of order. Traditionally, in paintings of this story Mary and Jesus appeared at one side of the picture and the Magi approached from the other side. Leonardo departed from tradition by placing Mary and Jesus in the center of the composition. He also used linear perspective to depict the ruins in the background. Also known as one-point perspective, linear perspective was invented by the Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi (pronounced
Masaccio: Father of Renaissance Painting
The Florentine painter Masaccio (pronounced mah-ZAHT-choh; Tommaso di Giovanni di Simone Guidi; 1401–1428) is considered the father of Renaissance painting. He was the first painter to utilize linear perspective (also known as one-point perspective). Invented by the Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi, linear perspective is a system derived from mathematics in which all elements of a composition are measured and arranged from a single point of view, or perspective. Masaccio was Brunelleschi's friend and may have learned linear perspective from him. Masaccio used the technique to achieve the effect of light coming from one direction and illuminating figures. Through the interplay of light and shadow, these figures seem to have three dimensions and exist in actual space. An equally important feature of this technique is that it gives the viewer a sense of looking at a scene along with the painter.
Masaccio's most celebrated work, dated 1425 to 1427, is a series of frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Camine in Florence. (A fresco is a wall painting that is made by first spreading moist lime plaster on the wall and then applying paint. Early Renaissance painters used tempera, a water-based paint made with egg yolks and color pigments, that is, substances containing color derived from plant or animal matter.) One scene, Expulsion from Paradise, depicts Adam and Eve as they are cast out of the Garden of Eden. The painting vividly portrays their profound remorse and anguish through their body language and facial expressions. Masaccio achieved this sense of human drama in all of his works. Although he only lived until the age of twenty-seven, he had a profound impact on the art world. Every major artist of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Florence started his career by studying Masaccio's murals.
broo-nail-LAYS-kee;1377–1446). It is a system derived from mathematics in which all elements of a composition are measured and arranged from a single point of view, or perspective. The Florentine artist Masaccio, known as the father of Renaissance painting, was the first to use linear perspective extensively (see accompanying box).
Moves to Milan
Leonardo left Florence in 1482 to accept the post of court artist to Ludovico Sforza (1452–1508), duke of Milan. His first Milanese painting was the altarpiece Virgin of the Rocks. Although the Virgin of the Rocks was highly original, Leonardo used the medieval tradition of showing Mary and Jesus in a cave. This gave him the opportunity to experiment with dimmed light, which is coming from two sources, one behind the cave and the other in front of it. (Leonardo once commented that an artist should practice drawing at dusk and in courtyards with walls painted black.) The technique highlights the four figures—Mary and Jesus and another woman and infant—in a soft, shadowy atmosphere. The distinctive feature of the painting is the pyramidal (pyramid shaped) grouping of the figures, which unifies the composition and focuses the eye of the viewer on the central scene.
The other surviving painting of Leonardo's years in Milan is the Last Supper (1497). It was commissioned by the duke for a wall in the refectory (dining hall) of the convent (a house for women who are dedicated to religious life) of Santa Maria delle Grazie. For this painting Leonardo decided not to use fresco, which makes areas of color appear distinct and does not allow for shading. Instead, he experimented with oil-based paint, which is more easily blended, but his efforts were unsuccessful. The paint did not adhere well to the wall, and within fifty years the scene was reduced to a confused series of spots. When the government of Milan was overthrown by the French invasion in 1499, Leonardo left Milan and returned to Florence.
Recognized as great painter
Leonardo was received as a great man in Florence. During his years in the city (1500–06), he completed more projects than in any other period of his life. In 1503 he was invited to paint a large-scale fresco that celebrated the Battle of Anghiara, in which Florence defeated Milan in 1440. The fresco was to be painted on the walls of the newly built Council Chamber of the Republic in the Palazzo della Signoria. For the Battle of Anghiara Leonardo experimented with an oil-based paint on a primed (prepared with a sealing substance) wall surface. This process proved to be ineffective because the paint did not dry. The central section of the composition, which was destroyed during a restoration project in 1565, is now known through numerous copies made in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As indicated in a copy made by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640; see entry) in 1615, Leonardo depicted the extreme physical exertion of men and horses engaged in furious battle. The group of central figures displays faces distorted by rage or pain. Even the heads of the horses, with flaring nostrils and gnashing teeth, were treated in this expressive manner. Shortly after Leonardo began the Battle of Anghiara his younger rival, Michelangelo, was commissioned to paint Battle of Cascina, another celebrated Florentine victory, for the same room in the Palazzo della Signoria.
In 1503, while working on the Battle of Anghiara Leonardo started painting the Mona Lisa. It is a portrait of Lisa di Anton Giocondo, the young wife of the prominent Florentine citizen Francesco del Giocondo. The Mona Lisa became one of the most famous portraits in the Western world because of Lisa's mysterious smile, which is in the process of either appearing or disappearing. Leonardo had abandoned the Anghiara project by 1508, when he was called back to Milan by Charles d'Amboise, the French governor. Leonardo worked on an equestrian (rider mounted on a horse) statue, but he produced no new paintings. Instead he turned more and more to scientific observation (see accompanying box). In 1513 the French were temporarily driven out of Milan and Leonardo moved to Rome. He received no other commissions, however, and at the end of 1516 he left Italy forever. He spent the last three years of his life at Amboise, France, in the small residence of Cloux (later called Clos-Lucé), near the summer palace of the king of France, Francis I (1494–1547; see entry). Given the title of Premier peintre, architecte et méchanicien du Roi (first painter, architect, and mechanic of the King), Leonardo lived as an honored guest of Francis I. Leonardo did no other major work, and he spent his time on his notebooks, in which he wrote about science and art theory (general ideas and criteria concerning the making of artworks).
Pursues interest in science
For Leonardo art theory was closely related to scientific investigation. Throughout most of his life he was immersed in the study of science. He was especially interested in studying anatomy (structure of the body) in order to understand the human form. In fact, he dissected cadavers (human corpses) so he could examine the function of muscles and to determine how the vocal cords produce sound. From the 1490s until 1515 Leonardo made extensive notes on his observations, including analytical drawings for illustrations in a treatise on anatomy, which he never completed.
Leonardo designed many mechanical devises, including a submarine. He refused to share his ideas for this underwater mode of transportation—except to say that it involved a tube and wine skins or pieces of cork—because he feared it would be used for destructive purposes. Here is what Leonardo wrote about his submarine in his notebook:
How by an appliance many are able to remain for some time under water. How and why I do not describe my method of remaining under water for as long a time as I can remain without food; and this I do not publish or divulge on account of the evil nature of men who would practise assassinations at the bottom of the seas by breaking the ships in their lowest parts and sinking them together with the crews who are in them; although I will furnish particulars of others which are not dangerous, for above the surface of the water emerges the mouth of a tube by which they draw breath, supported upon wine skins or pieces of cork.
Leonardo also worked on several inventions. He designed many mechanical devises, such as a screw jack, a two-wheeled hoist, an "armored car," a gun with three racks of barrels, and even a submarine. He refused to share his ideas for a submarine, however, because he feared it would be used for destructive purposes. Leonardo's best-known invention was a flying machine, which he designed by observing birds in flight and the motions of air. He also mastered mathematics. For instance, he applied geometry and proportion to create a new sense of order in his drawings and paintings. He translated his study of optics and many of his theories of vision into mathematical terms. Leonardo used his knowledge of physical geography to investigate the origin of fossils and the utilization of water power.
Leonardo died at Cloux and was buried in the palace church of Saint-Florentin. But the church was devastated during the French Revolution (1789–99) and completely torn down at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Hence, his grave can no longer be located. Leonardo's assistant, Francesco Melzi, inherited his estate.
Influences other artists
Leonardo had considerable influence on artists of his own day and later times. Some of his views on art, which had been circulating since the sixteenth century, were published in 1651 in Trattato della pittura (Treatise on painting). This is a collection of his writings taken from numerous manuscripts. The small number of Leonardo's surviving paintings show his achievements as an artist. He made contributions to every artistic form, from portraits to religious narratives. He gave new insights into figure grouping, space, individual characterization, and light and shade. Many of his works inspired copies, especially by Milanese artists such as Andrea Solari (after 1495–1514) and Bernardo Luini (died 1532). In Florence his compositions were carefully studied by Raphael. Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari and Michelangelo's design for Battle of Cascina, were the "school for the world," in the words of Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571). Even in the nineteenth century, long after the Battle of Anghiari had disappeared, aspects of its design continued to intrigue artists throughout Europe.
For More Information
Gelb, Michael. How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. New York: Delacorte Press, 1998.
Lafferty, Peter. Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Bookwright, 1990.
Nuland, Sheriwn B. Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Viking, 2000.
Masterpieces of Italian Art. Volume: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. New York: VPI-AC Video Inc., 1990.
"da Vinci, Leonardo." Artcyclopedia. [Online] Available http://artcyclopedia.com/artists/leonardo_da_vinci.html, April 5, 2002.
"da Vinci, Leonardo." National Museum of Science and Technology. [Online] Available http://www.museoscienza.org/english/leonardo/leonardo.html, April 5, 2002.
"da, Vinci, Leonard." The Quotations Page. [Online] Available http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes.php3?author=Leonardo+da+Vinci, April 5, 2002.
"da Vinci, Leonardo." WebMuseum. [Online] Available http://mexplaza.udg.mx/wm/paint/auth/vinci/, April 5, 2002.
"Leonardo da Vinci." MSN Encarta. [Online] Available http://encarta.msn.com/find/Concise.asp?z=1&pg=2&ti=761561520, April 5, 2002.
Leonardo Da Vinci (1452–1519)
LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452–1519)
LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452–1519), Italian painter, sculptor, architect, and inventor. The illegitimate son of a young notary and a farm girl, both of whom married other people of their own social station shortly after his birth, Leonardo was adopted into his father's household when his stepmother remained childless. Unlike his father, Ser Pietro, who had learned Latin in connection with his profession, Leonardo, for all his evident intelligence, proved a poor and distracted student; he received the arithmetical training known as "abacus school" (scuola di abbaco) and then seems to have quit his formal schooling to be apprenticed to the famous Florentine sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio (1435–1488).
Leonardo's first biographer, Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), tells how the young apprentice painted so ethereal an angel for Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ that the master threw up his hands and admitted defeat. But Verrocchio also helped to create Leonardo's famous sfumato or "smudged" shading technique, and encouraged his reliance on drawing as the chief medium for artistic composition, whether in painting, sculpture, architecture, or mechanics. Leonardo's first independent commission, an altarpiece for the Chapel of Saint Bernard in Palazzo della Signoria, contracted in 1478, was never completed, and this unfinished business set a pattern for the rest of his life. When his father procured for him the assignment of an altarpiece with the Adoration of the Magi for the Augustinian Canons Regular at San Donato in 1481, he put in several months of hard work on the ambitious painting, then abruptly left Florence for Milan in September, where he joined the court of Ludovico Sforza (duke of Milan 1481–1499).
This move represented more than a change of place; it also brought on a change in Leonardo's whole way of life. Florence, despite the heavy hand of the Medici clan in every government office and public commission, was nominally a republic, a large city-state with an elaborate set of public institutions. Ludovico, on the other hand, was a professional soldier who had seized Milan by force and aimed to keep control of the city by maintaining an efficient system of government and an active cultural life.
Leonardo seems to have applied to Ludovico Sforza with an offer to serve as a military architect. He spent much of his time with Donato Bramante (1444–1514) and the mathematician Luca Pacioli, providing the illustrations for Pacioli's popular book On Divine Proportion (1509), some of them originally pillaged from Piero della Francesca
Sometime between 1493 and 1495, Leonardo obtained the commission to decorate the refectory of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie with a Last Supper. The fresco was widely influential despite the failure of Leonardo's experimental formula for its paint, which began to deteriorate almost immediately.
In 1494, Charles VIII, the king of France, invaded Italy. By 1499, Milan had fallen to French troops, who imprisoned Ludovico. Leonardo, in the company of Luca Pacioli, returned to Florence, but not before he had seen the huge clay model for his never-completed statue of Francesco Sforza used for target practice by Gascon bowmen.
In 1502 Leonardo worked briefly as a military engineer in central Italy for Cesare Borgia. When Borgia's military campaigns began to be reined in by his father, Rodrigo (later Pope Alexander VI; reigned 1492–1503), Leonardo again returned to the Florentine republic, where an extensive remodeling of the great city hall, the Palazzo della Signoria, was under way. Here, in a monumental room designed to hold the republic's new representative council, Leonardo was asked to paint scenes from the battle of Anghiari, a skirmish in which Florence had gotten the best of her inveterate rival (and sometime port) Pisa. On the opposite wall, the city council had engaged Michelangelo Buonarroti, whose newly completed David still provides the most eloquent testimony to the indomitable spirit of this early-sixteenth-century Florentine republic.
Leonardo worked up at least part of his design for the Battle of Anghiari (begun 1503) to full size and transferred it to the wall of the council hall, but he decided to paint it in a medium that would lend the chalky plaster surface of the fresco something of the sheen of oil paint. The experiment failed miserably, and Leonardo never finished the work. It was finally covered by another fresco executed by Giorgio Vasari. Also in Florence, Leonardo became preoccupied with water and its motions. Another side of nature shows forth in Leonardo's sketches for his lost painting of Leda and the Swan.
From 1506 to 1513, Leonardo moved between Milan and Florence, evading the irate city councilmen who clamored for the rest of their Battle of Anghiari and also evading the violent skirmishes that plagued the area around Milan. He filled a series of notebooks with his writings, sketches, and anatomical studies. In 1512, the Florentine republic fell to a restored Medici dynasty; in 1513, Medici rule was reinforced by the election in Rome of a Medici pope, Leo X (reigned 1513–1521), son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. When the pope invested his brother, Giuliano de' Medici, with honorary Roman citizenship, Leonardo traveled with Giuliano's entourage and continued to study and write from his own special apartment in the Vatican Palace. In a city dominated by the imposing influence of Raphael, who had transformed himself from a painter to a designer (disegnatore) of international fame, Leonardo began to compile his own notes on painting, which would eventually be gathered together by his pupil Francesco Melzi and published in 1651 as Treatise on Painting.
In 1516, the aging artist accepted an invitation to become peintre du roi by Francis I of France and moved north with Melzi and his servant Salai. He died there in 1519 at the age of sixty-seven.
See also Art: Artistic Patronage ; Florence, Art in ; Medici Family ; Vasari, Giorgio .
Bramly, Serge. Leonardo: The Artist and the Man. Translated by Sian Reynolds. New York, 1994.
Clark, Kenneth. Leonardo da Vinci. Revised edition with an introduction by Martin Kemp. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1988.
Pedretti, Carlo, ed. The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci. Berkeley, 1977.
Turner, A. Richard. Inventing Leonardo. Berkeley, 1993.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Excerpts from Notebooks (c.1490–1515)
Reprinted in Selections from the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci
Edited by Irma A. Richter
Published in 1977
The Italian Renaissance was a time of experimentation in painting, sculpture, and architecture. During the Middle Ages (c. 400–1400; also known as the medieval period) the artist was an anonymous vehicle for glorifying God. In the Renaissance, however, human beings became the central focus of artistic expression. This development was the result of the humanist movement, a revival of the culture of ancient Greece and Rome (called the classical period) initiated by scholars in Florence, Italy, in the mid-1300s. Humanists believed that a body of learning called studia humanitatis (humanistic studies), which was based on the literary masterpieces from the classical period, could bring about a cultural rebirth, or renaissance. Humanists were committed to the revival of ancient works, which emphasized human achievement, as a way to end the "barbarism" (lack of refinement or culture) of the Middle Ages.
The Renaissance art movement began in the early fifteenth century when humanist ideas were put into practice by painters, sculptors, and architects in Florence. Using a human-centered approach, they started a revolution that quickly spread to other Italian city-states such as Urbino, Ferrara, Padua, Mantua, Venice, and Milan. Renaissance art is divided into three periods: early Renaissance (1420–95), High Renaissance (1495–1520), and mannerism (also called the late Renaissance; 1520s–1600). These periods overlapped, depending on the artists and the places where they worked. Renaissance art theories began reaching other European countries in the 1500s, at the peak of the High Renaissance. Around this time Rome became the artistic capital of Europe.
As the Renaissance gained momentum the artist achieved a new status as a creative genius. Prior to this time artists occupied the position of artisans, or craftsmen, and were considered socially inferior to the upper classes. Now wealthy patrons, or financial supporters, clamored to commission the greatest artists, who gained coveted posts in the courts of monarchs and the nobility. As part of the revival of classical culture, Renaissance artists studied ancient ruins in Rome and adapted ancient painting techniques. They also introduced their own innovations, such as the use of linear perspective. Invented by the Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446), linear perspective is a system derived from mathematics in which all elements of a composition are measured and arranged from a single point of view, or perspective. The Florentine artist Masaccio (Tommaso di Giovanni di Simone Guidi; 1401–1428), known as the father of Renaissance painting, was the first to use linear perspective extensively. Portraits of prominent people and their families also became increasingly popular, reflecting a dramatic shift from the idea that heavenly figures or saints were the only worthy subjects of art. In addition, landscape painting was emerging as a new genre, or form of art. This was another important change, because in medieval art nature was simply the environment of human beings and therefore had little significance.
Leonardo introduces new techniques
One of the greatest figures of the High Renaissance was Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), a painter, sculptor, engineer, and scientist. He began his career as a painter in Florence, then worked in Milan and Rome before moving permanently to France during his final years. He also served as a military engineer while working as an artist. Leonardo produced many paintings, but only a few have survived. Nevertheless, he introduced techniques that influenced other painters. An example is Adoration of the Magi (1481), which is based on the story of the three Magi (kings; wise men) who traveled to Bethlehem from the East (ancient Persia; present-day Iran) to pay homage to the newborn Jesus Christ (later the founder of Christianity). Leonardo used a new approach by depicting human drama through an effect of continuing movement. A crowd of spectators, with odd and varied faces, flutters around and peers at Mary (mother of Jesus), who is holding the baby Jesus. In the background the three Magi are mounted on horses that prance among intricate architectural ruins. Traditionally, in paintings of this story Mary and Jesus had appeared at one side of the picture and the Magi approached from the other side. Leonardo departed from tradition by placing Mary and Jesus in the center of the composition. He also used linear perspective to depict the ruins in the background.
While working in Milan, Leonardo painted Virgin of the Rocks (1480s), another highly original work. He used the tradition of showing Mary and Jesus in a cave. This gave him the opportunity to experiment with dimmed light, which is coming from two sources, one behind the cave and the other in front of it. (Leonardo once wrote that an artist should practice drawing at dusk and in courtyards with walls painted black.) The technique highlights the four figures—Mary and Jesus and another woman and infant—in a soft, shadowy atmosphere. Last Supper (1495–97), a later painting that Leonardo did in Milan, depicts Jesus' final meal with his twelve disciples, or followers. For this fresco (wall painting) Leonardo decided not to use the traditional water-based paint, which makes areas of color appear distinct and does not allow for shading. Instead, he experimented with oil-based paint, which is more easily blended, but his efforts were unsuccessful. The paint did not adhere well to the wall, and within fifty years the scene became a confused series of spots. Last Supper was an important work, however, because it represented another new approach. Earlier Renaissance artists had applied the rules of linear perspective to show that objects appear smaller as they are farther away from the eye of the viewer. Leonardo combined this principle with two others: the perspective of clarity (distant objects gradually lose their separateness and hence are not drawn with outlines) and perspective of color (distant objects gradually take on gray tones). He wrote about both of these techniques in his notebooks.
In 1503 he was invited to paint a large-scale fresco that celebrated the Battle of Anghiara, in which Florence defeated Milan in 1440. The fresco was to be painted on the walls of the newly built Council Chamber of the Republic in the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence. Leonardo experimented with an oil-based paint on a primed (prepared with a sealing substance) wall surface. This process proved to be ineffective because the paint did not dry. The central section of the composition, which was destroyed during a restoration project in 1565, is now known through numerous copies made during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Shortly after Leonardo began the Battle of Anghiara his younger rival, Michelangelo Buonarroti (known as Michelangelo; 1475–1564), was commissioned to paint Battle of Cascina, another celebrated Florentine victory, for the same room in the Palazzo della Signoria. In 1503, while working on the Anghiara project Leonardo started painting the Mona Lisa. It is a portrait of Lisa di Anton Giocondo, the young wife of the prominent Florentine citizen Francesco del Giocondo. The Mona Lisa became one of the most famous portraits in European art because of Lisa's mysterious smile, which is in the process of either appearing or disappearing.
Records ideas in notebooks
In the 1490s Leonardo began keeping notebooks in which he recorded his ideas on a wide range of topics. He also illustrated the notebooks with drawings that demonstrated his ideas. He was working on the notebooks when he died in 1519. Following are five excerpts from Leonardo's notebooks, which reflect his ideas on art and the wide range of his interests.
Things to Remember While Reading Excerpts from Selections from the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci:
- Leonardo was particularly interested in science, which for him was closely related to art. For instance, he studied anatomy in order to understand the human form so he could paint realistic figures. The first excerpt is a series of notes he made on the ideas of the ancient Roman architect and engineer Marcellus Vitruvius Pollio (called Vitruvius; first century b.c.e.), who studied the proportions of the human body. Leonardo illustrated the proportions in his famous drawing Vitruvian Man (1492).
- Leonardo's famous fresco Battle of Anghiara was destroyed, but copies were made during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As indicated in a copy made by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens in 1615, Leonardo depicted the extreme physical exertion of men and horses engaged in furious battle. The group of central figures displays faces distorted by rage or pain. Even the heads of the horses, with flaring nostrils and gnashing teeth, were treated in this expressive manner. The second notebook excerpt, in which Leonardo gave detailed instructions on painting a battle scene, shows how he may have achieved the effects in Battle of Anghiara.
- In the third excerpt Leonardo reflected the Renaissance view of the artist as a creative genius. Notice that he believed painting could not be taught, and that the artist has a special talent for giving an exact representation of nature. Leonardo ranked painting as a science, even suggesting a comparison between the artist and God. This was a revolutionary idea, because in the Middle Ages artists had been considered ordinary craftsmen who were inferior to scientists and other thinkers. Also the artist was regarded as a mere vehicle for reflecting the glory of God, but, like the Renaissance humanists, Leonardo elevated the painter to the position of supreme creator.
- Leonardo had a lifelong interest in architecture. Although no buildings designed by him are known to exist, he was involved in designing and planning various architectural projects. The fourth notebook excerpt is his plan for a house. Notice that each part of the house has a specific function, which fits harmoniously into the entire space.
- Leonardo designed many mechanical devices. His best-known invention was a flying machine, which he designed by observing bird flight and the motions of air. The fifth excerpt is the notes he wrote about his flying machine.
What happened next…
Leonardo had considerable influence on artists of his own day and later times. Some of his views on art, which had been circulating since the sixteenth century, were published in 1651 in Trattato della pittura (Treatise on painting). This is a collection of his writings taken from numerous manuscripts. The small number of Leonardo's surviving paintings show his achievements as an artist. He made contributions to every artistic form, from portraits to religious narratives. He gave new insights into figure grouping, space, individual characterization, and light and shade. Many of his works inspired copies. In Florence his compositions were carefully studied by the great painter Raphael. Leonardo's Battle of Anghiara and Michelangelo's design for Battle of Cascina were the "school for the world," in the words of Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571). Even in the nineteenth century, long after Battle of Anghiara had disappeared, aspects of its design continued to intrigue artists throughout Europe.
Did you know…
• Leonardo designed a submarine. He wrote in his notebook, however, that he would "not publish or divulge [the design] on account of the evil nature of men who would practise assassinations at the bottom of the seas by breaking the ships in their lowest parts and sinking them together with the crews who are in them; although I will furnish particulars of others which are not dangerous, for above the surface of the water emerges the mouth of a tube by which they draw breath, supported upon wine skins or pieces of cork."
For More Information
Gelb, Michael. How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. New York: Delacorte Press, 1998.
Lafferty, Peter. Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Bookwright, 1990.
Nuland, Sherwin B. Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Viking, 2000.
Richter, Irma A., ed. Selections from the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Masterpieces of Italian Art. Volume: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. New York: VPI-AC Video Inc., 1990.
"Leonardo da Vinci." Artcyclopedia. [Online] Available http://artcyclopedia.com/artists/leonardo_da_vinci.html, April 10, 2002.
"Leonardo da Vinci," MSN Encarta. [Online] Available http://encarta.msn.com/find/Concise.asp?z=1&pg=2&ti=761561520, April 10, 2002.
"Leonardo da Vinci." National Museum of Science and Technology. [Online] Available http://www.museoscienza.org/english/leonardo/leonardo.html, April 10, 2002.
Pioch, Nicolas. "Leonardo da Vinci." WebMuseum. [Online] Available http://mexplaza.udg.mx/wm/paint/auth/vinci/, April 10, 2002.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
LEONARDO DA VINCI
Leonardo da Vinci, the Florentine artist, scientist, and inventor, was born at Vinci in Tuscany, the natural son of a notary, and died near Amboise, France. At his death he left a sizable collection of notebooks that were subsequently scattered in the various libraries of Europe. From 1881 on, many of these notebooks have been published. They consist of notes and jottings on various topics: mechanics, physics, anatomy, physiology, literature, and philosophy. They contain, moreover, plans and designs for machines that frequently have suggested Leonardo's "precursive genius." There are machines of war and of peace, flying machines based on the flight of birds, a parachute, a helicopter, tools and gadgets of all kinds. Leonardo's notebooks are also full of methodological notations on the procedures of scientific inquiry and philosophical considerations about the processes of nature. Undoubtedly many of the arguments that he discussed were taken from the philosophical literature of the time, especially from the writings of the Ockhamists; however, a coherent and complete philosophical scheme cannot be found in the notes, whose chronological order is extremely uncertain. Pierre Duhem held that Leonardo was mainly inspired by the doctrines of Nicholas of Cusa, but recent studies tend to emphasize his dependence on Marsilio Ficino. Leonardo lived in Florence for the first thirty years of his life and subsequently returned there many times.
Leonardo's Treatise on Painting (published 1651) reveals the artist and the scientist united in one personality. Painting, which he placed above all other arts, aims at representing the work of nature to the senses. Thus it extends to the surfaces, the colors, and the forms of natural objects, which science studies in their intrinsic forms. The beauty that painting seeks in things is the proportion of the things themselves, and proportion is also the object of the scientific consideration of nature. According to Leonardo, understanding nature means understanding the proportion that is found not only in numbers but also in sounds, weights, times, spaces, and any natural power whatever. Both art and science have the same object, the harmonious order of nature, which art represents to the senses and science expresses in its laws.
Leonardo held that the two pillars on which science stands are experience and mathematical calculation. As an "unlettered man" (as he called himself) he had contempt for those who, instead of learning from experience, claimed to learn from books (the commentators and followers of Aristotle). He contrasted his work as an inventor with their work of "trumpeting and reciting the work of others." "Wisdom is the daughter of experience," he said. Experience never deceives, and those who lament its deceitfulness should lament their own ignorance because they demand from experience what is beyond its limits. The judgment of experience can be mistaken; and the only way to avoid error is to subject every judgment to mathematical calculation and to use mathematics unrestrictedly to understand and demonstrate the reasons for the things that experience manifests. Mathematics is therefore, according to Leonardo, the basis of all certitude, since without recourse to mathematics it is impossible to put an end to the verbal disagreements of what he called the sophistic sciences—that is, the philosophical disputes about nature.
The privilege accorded to mathematics was most certainly a legacy from Platonism. Leonardo took from Plato's Timaeus and Ficino's commentary on it the doctrine that the elements of natural bodies are geometric forms; thus the efficacy of mathematics as an instrument of investigation was justified for him by the fact that nature itself is written in mathematical characters and that only those who know the language of mathematics can decipher it. This is the major contribution that ancient Platonism made to the formation of modern science. Nicolas Copernicus and Galileo Galilei shared this obviously metaphysical doctrine that, however, strongly contributed to launching science from its origins to its mathematical organization. It helped bring scientific consideration from the domain of quality (of natures or essences) to that of quantity by permitting consideration of the natural object as measurable; that is, in the extremes, by reducing the objectivity of nature to its measurability.
However, if the order of nature is a mathematical order, then it is a necessary order; and this necessity is, according to Leonardo, the only true "miracle" of nature: "O wondrous and awesome necessity! With your law you constrain all effects to result from their causes by the shortest path, and according to the highest and irrevocable law every natural action obeys you with the briefest operation." The phrases "by the shortest path" and "with the briefest operation" refer to another feature of the necessary order of nature: its simplicity. Nature follows the shortest or simplest path in its operations. It does not like useless loitering, and this also reveals the mathematical character of its structures. Necessity and simplicity of nature exclude the presence of arbitrary or miraculous forces, as well as the efficacy of magic and of those forces to which it appeals.
Guided by these criteria, Leonardo could arrive at and formulate important theorems and principles of statics and dynamics. The theorem of the composition of forces, the principle of inertia, and the principle of action and reaction are the most notable of these formulations, which, of course, he did not state in the precise form that they received later from René Descartes and Isaac Newton. Nevertheless, they demonstrate his genius for moving from the limited work of the inventor to the generalizations of the scientist.
See also Aesthetics, History of; Copernicus, Nicolas; Descartes, René; Duhem, Pierre Maurice Marie; Ficino, Marsilio; Galileo Galilei; Mathematics, Foundations of; Newton, Isaac; Nicholas of Cusa; Ockhamism; Plato; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition.
Leonardo's manuscripts have been published with photographic reproductions by Charles Ravaisson-Mollien, 6 vols. (Paris, 1881–1891). They have also been published in Codex Atlanticus, edited by G. Piumati (Milan, 1894–1904) and I manoscritti e i disegni di Leonardo da Vinci, published by the Reale Commissione Vinciana (Rome, 1923–1930). The best collection of selections is J. P. Richter, The Literary Work of Leonardo da Vinci, 2 vols. (London, 1883; 2nd ed., 1939). Leonardo da Vinci on Painting: A Lost Book, edited and translated from the Codex Vaticanus Urbinas, No. 1270, and from the Codex Leicester by Carlo Pedretti (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), includes a preface by Kenneth Clark and some material never published before.
Works on Leonardo include the following: Pierre Duhem, Études sur Leonardo da Vinci, 3 vols. (Paris, 1906–1913); E. Solmi, Leonardo (Florence, 1900); C. Luporini, La mente di Leonardo (Florence: Sansoni, 1953); Eugenio Garin, Medioevo e Rinascimento (Bari: Laterza, 1954), pp. 311ff., and Cultura filosofica del Rinascimento italiano (Florence: Sansoni, 1961), pp. 388ff.; I. B. Hart, The World of Leonardo da Vinci (London: Macdonald, 1961); James Beck, Leonardo's Rules of Painting: An Unconventional Approach to Modern Art (New York: Viking Press, 1979); and Boris Kouznetsov, "The Rationalism of Leonardo Da Vinci and the Dawn of Classical Science," Diogenes (69 : 1–11).
Nicola Abbagnano (1967)
Translated by Nino Langiulli
Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)
Leonardo da Vinci
Born: April 15, 1452
Died: May 2, 1519
Italian artist, painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, and scientist
Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, and scientist. He was one of the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance, and his influence on painting was enormous to the following generations.
Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, near the village of Vinci about 25 miles west of Florence. He was the illegitimate (born to unmarried parents) son of Ser Piero da Vinci, a prominent notary (a public official who certifies legal documents) of Florence, and a local woman, Caterina. Not much is known about Leonardo's childhood except that when he was fifteen, his father apprenticed him to Andrea del Verrocchio (1435–1488), the leading artist of Florence and the early Renaissance.
Verrocchio, a sculptor, painter, and goldsmith, was a remarkable craftsman. He had great concern for the quality of execution in expressing the vitality of the human figure. These elements were important in the formation of Leonardo's artistic style. It should be noted that much in Leonardo's approach to art originated from using tradition, rather than rebelling against it.
Assistant in Verrocchio's workshop
Leonardo, after completing his apprenticeship, stayed on as an assistant in Verrocchio's shop. His earliest known painting is in Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ (c. 1475). Leonardo executed one of the two angels as well as the distant landscape, and he added the final touches to the figure of Christ, determining the texture of the flesh.
Collaboration on a major project by a master and his assistant was standard procedure in the Italian Renaissance. What is special is that Leonardo's work is not a slightly less skilled version of Verrocchio's manner of painting, but an original approach which changed the surface effects from hard to soft, making the edges less cutting, and increasing the slight changes of light and shade.
Independent master in Florence
About 1478 Leonardo set up his own studio. In 1481 he received a major church commission for an altarpiece, the Adoration of the Magi. In this unfinished painting, Leonardo's new approach is far more developed. A crowd of spectators, with varied faces, looks at the main group of the Virgin and Child. There is a strong sense of continuing movement. Leonardo placed the Virgin and Child in the center. Traditionally in paintings of this theme they had appeared at one side of the picture, approached by the kings from the other side.
Earlier Renaissance artists had applied the rules of linear perspective, by which objects appear smaller in proportion as they are farther away from the eye of the spectator. Leonardo joined this principle to two others: perspective of clarity (distant objects are less distinct) and perspective of color (distant objects are more muted in color). He wrote about both of these principles in his notebooks.
The Magi alterpiece was left unfinished because Leonardo left Florence in 1482 to accept the post of court artist to the Duke of Milan. In leaving, Leonardo followed a trend set by masters of the older generation who went to Venice and Rome to execute commissions larger than any available in their native Florence.
Leonardo presented himself to the Duke of Milan as skilled in many crafts, but particularly in military engineering. He also produced remarkable machinery for stage set-ups. Both activities point to his intense interest in the laws of motion and propulsion (the movement or push forward), a further aspect of his interest in things and their workings.
Leonardo's first Milanese painting is the altarpiece Virgin of the Rocks. It makes use of a respected tradition in which the Holy Family is shown in a cave. This setting becomes a vehicle for Leonardo's interests in representing nature in dimmed light, which blends together the outlines of separate objects. He once commented that artists should practice drawing at dusk in courtyards with walls painted black.
The other surviving painting of Leonardo's Milanese years is the Last Supper (1495–1497). Instead of using fresco (painting on fresh plaster with special water color paints), the traditional medium for this theme, Leonardo experimented with an oil-based medium, because painting in true fresco makes areas of color appear quite distinct. Unfortunately, his experiment was unsuccessful. The paint did not stick well to the wall, and within fifty years the scene was reduced to a confused series of spots. What exists today is largely a later reconstruction.
When the Duke of Milan was overthrown by the French invasion in 1499, Leonardo left Milan. He visited Venice briefly, where the Senate consulted him on military projects, and traveled to Mantua.
In 1500 Leonardo returned to Florence, where he was received as a great man. Florentine painters of the generation immediately following Leonardo were excited by his modern methods, with which they were familiar through the unfinished Adoration of the Magi. Leonardo had a powerful effect on the younger group of artists.
Leonardo even served a term as military engineer for Cesare Borgia in 1502, and he completed more projects during his time in Florence than in any other period of his life. In his works of these years, the concentration is mostly on portraying human vitality, as in the Mona Lisa. It is a portrait of a Florentine citizen's young third wife, whose smile is called mysterious because it is in the process of either appearing or disappearing.
Leonardo's great project (begun 1503) was a cavalry battle scene that the city commissioned to adorn the newly built Council Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio. The work is only known today through some rapid rough sketches of the groups of horsemen, careful drawings of single heads of men, and copies of the entire composition. Leonardo began to paint the scene but was called back to Milan before the work was completed. A short time thereafter, the room was remodeled and the fragment was destroyed.
Leonardo was called to Milan in 1506 by the French governor in charge to work on an equestrian statue (a sculpture of a leader riding a horse) project, but he produced no new paintings. Instead he turned more and more to scientific observation. Most of Leonardo's scientific concerns were fairly direct extensions of his interests as a painter, and his research in anatomy (the structure of a living organism) was the most fully developed. Early Renaissance painters had attempted to render the human anatomy with accuracy. Leonardo went far beyond any of them, producing the earliest anatomical drawings still followed today.
Leonardo filled notebooks with data and drawings that reveal his other scientific interests: firearms, the action of water, the flight of birds (leading to designs for human flight), the growth of plants, and geology (the study of earth and its history). Leonardo's interests were not universal, however. Theology (the study of religion), history, and literature did not appeal to him. All his interests were concerned with the processes of action, movement, pressure, and growth. It has been said that his drawings of the human body are less about how bodies are and more about how they work.
In 1513 Leonardo went to Rome, where he remained until 1516. He was much honored, but he was relatively inactive and remarkably aloof (apart) from its rich social and artistic life. He continued to fill his notebooks with scientific entries.
The French king, Francis I (1494–1547), invited Leonardo to his court at Fontainebleau, gave him the title of first painter, architect, and mechanic to the king, and provided him with a country house at Cloux. Leonardo was revered for his knowledge more than for any work he produced in France. He died on May 2, 1519, at Cloux.
Leonardo's influence on younger artists of Milan and Florence was enormous. Among these were Filippino Lippi (1457–1504) and Andrea del Sarto (1486–1531) who were able to absorb and transmit his message rather than merely copy the unimportant aspects of his style.
On a more significant level, Leonardo influenced the two greatest young artists to come in contact with him. Raphael (1483–1520) came to Florence in 1504 at the age of twenty-one, and quickly revealed Leonardo's influence in his portraits and Madonnas. Also, about 1503, Michelangelo (1475–1564) changed from a sculptor of merely grand scale to one whose figures are charged with energy. This may be seen in the contrast between Michelangelo's early David and his later St. Matthew.
From this time on Leonardo influenced, directly or indirectly, all painting. However, most of Leonardo's scientific observations remained unproven until the same questions were again investigated in later centuries.
For More Information
Clark, Kenneth. Leonardo da Vinci. Rev. ed. New York: Viking, 1988.
Kemp, Martin. Leonardo da Vinci, the Marvellous Works of Nature and Man. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.
Turner, A. Richard. Inventing Leonardo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
Leonardo da Vinci
Italian Artist and Scientist 1452–1519
Leonardo da Vinci is history's foremost Renaissance man, a master of both art and science. Da Vinci is best known as the artist who created such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa, Madonna of the Rocks, and The Last Supper. Yet he was also a brilliant scientist, architect, engineer, and inventor. In fact, he was one of the best scientific minds of the Renaissance period, carrying out sophisticated research in fields ranging from architecture and civil engineering to astronomy and anatomy. The dynamics of water and the study of hydraulics were prominent among his many interests.
A Brief Chronology
Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 in the hills of Tuscany. As a child, he was a gifted artist and became an apprentice in one of the best art studios in Italy. By 1478, Leonardo became an independent master. He was hired into the court of Ludovico Sforza (Duke of Milan) when he was 30 years old and served as a painter, sculptor, musician, architect, and engineer. He also served as the principal engineer in the Duke's numerous military endeavors. Leonardo returned to Florence in 1499 when the Duke's family was driven from Milan by French forces.
In 1502, da Vinci entered the service of Duke Ceasare Borgia as his chief architect and engineer. There he completed many of his art and architectural works. The French governor summoned him back to Milan in 1506 where he became the court painter to King Louis XII of France, who had taken Milan from the Sforzas. He continued his many engineering projects during this time.
From 1514 to 1516, Leonardo lived in Rome under the patronage of Pope Leo X, and concentrated on his scientific studies while in the Vatican. Then in 1516, da Vinci traveled to France to enter the service of King Francis I. He died in France on May 2, 1519.
During the Renaissance period, there was a shift from purely philosophical endeavors toward observational or empirical science. Da Vinci's observational skills and data recording efforts were exceptional. His scientific legacy is found in his Notebooks. These handwritten manuscripts (approximately 8,000 pages survive) were apparently meant to be a great encyclopedia of knowledge, but, like many of his projects, it was never finished.
All of da Vinci's notes are written backwards, reportedly so that only someone intelligent enough to realize this fact could read them. It makes the manuscripts difficult to read, as does his use of peculiar spellings and abbreviations, and the lack of logical ordering and arrangement of the entries. For these reasons, the magnitude of the impact of his scientific work was not fully understood until later in the nineteenth century.
The Codex Leicester, written between 1506 and 1510, is the only notebook manuscript by da Vinci that is still privately owned, and the only one kept in America. (Bill Gates, Microsoft Corporation's chairman and chief software architect, paid $30.8 million in 1994 for the Codex Leicester manuscript.) This codex (unbound manuscript) was found in 1690 in an old chest in storage in Rome. Seventy-two pages in all, the Codex Leicester is a record of Leonardo's thoughts on a wide variety of topics, from astronomy to hydrodynamics, and includes his observations and theories related to the nature and properties of water. As in the rest of his notebooks, its pages feature his signature mirror writing.
Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks reveal that the subject of hydraulics was his most frequently studied and recorded topic. Da Vinci made the first empirical studies of streams and their velocity distribution. He used a weighted rod held afloat by an inflated animal bladder. Da Vinci traced the velocity distribution across the stream's channel by releasing the rod at different places in the stream's cross-section. His inventiveness in devising scientific experiments was well ahead of his time.
Leonardo had plenty of time to observe nature during his years of service to the Duke of Milan (1482–1499). It is reported that he was an expert on the rocks and fossils found in northern Italy. He was fascinated by the idea of moving mountains or piercing them with tunnels. His Notebooks are full of observations he made on mountains and rivers, and they reveal that he understood the principle of sedimentation . He explained how rocks could be formed by the deposition of sediments by water, while at the same time rivers erode rocks and carry their sediments to the sea in a grand continuous cycle.
During the Renaissance, there were several hypotheses on why shells and fossilized forms of living creatures were found in rocks on the tops of mountains. Some believed the shells to have been carried there by the Biblical Flood, while others thought that these shells had grown in the rocks. Leonardo disliked both of these explanations and refuted them based upon his careful observations. Leonardo doubted the existence of a worldwide flood, noting that there would have been no place for the water to go when the floodwaters receded. His observations recorded that rain falling on mountains rushed downhill, not uphill, and this suggested that any Great Flood would have carried fossils away from the land, not towards it. As for the second hypothesis of his time, he disputed it by noting the evidence that these shells had once been living organisms and therefore could not have grown without access to food, which, as shells, they would not have had if anchored in the rocks.
Leonardo's answer to how shells came to be found on the mountaintops was very close to our modern understanding. Fossils were once-living organisms that were been buried at a time before the mountains were raised. He wrote, "It must be presumed that in those places there were sea coasts, where all the shells were thrown up, broken, and divided . . . . " In other words, where there is now land, there once was ocean. Much of his knowledge and observations on flooding dynamics came from the Arno River in northern Italy.
In Arno, daVinci worked with Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) on his lifelong dream of building a system of canals that would make the Arno River navigable from Florence to the sea. Machiavelli was a well-known political thinker of the Renaissance and author of The Prince. The treatise stood apart from all other political writings of that period in that it focused on the practical problems a ruler faced in retaining power, rather than the more speculative issues that explained the foundation of political authority and the pursuit of ideals.
In addition to being a great engineering feat, the canal project had economic and military purposes. Da Vinci envisioned irrigating the Arno valley and selling water to farmers to make money for the government. If they succeeded, da Vinci and Machiavelli would have transformed Florence into a major world power of the time. But in 1504, their plan failed after a flood destroyed much of their work. Some say Leonardo's obsession with this project is the motivation for the view of this valley in the background of the Mona Lisa, and it also drove his lifelong quest to understand the dynamics of water.
da Vinci's Legacy
Leonardo da Vinci's contribution to hydraulics and the understanding of water resources is not often the first thing historians associate with his brilliant life. Yet his wide-ranging interests and efforts to gather data to understand the world around him led to many significant advancements in knowledge, and remain an example to today's scientists, thinkers, and visionaries.
see also Canals; Infrastructure, Water-Supply; Water Works, Ancient.
Mays, Larry W. Water Resources Handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.
Leonardo. National Museum of Science and Technology, Milan. <http://www.museoscienza.org/english/leonardo/Default.htm>.
Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo da Vinci Museum. <http://museum.brandx.net/main.html>.
Welcome to the Louvre Museum. The Louvre Palace and Museum, Paris. <http://www.louvre.fr/>.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (də vĬn´chē, Ital. lāōnär´dō dä vēn´chē), 1452–1519, Italian painter, sculptor, architect, musician, engineer, and scientist, b. near Vinci, a hill village in Tuscany. The versatility and creative power of Leonardo mark him as a supreme example of Renaissance genius. He depicted in his drawings, with scientific precision and consummate artistry, subjects ranging from flying machines to caricatures; he also executed intricate anatomical studies of people, animals, and plants. The richness and originality of intellect expressed in his notebooks reveal one of the greatest minds of all time.
Early Life and Work: Vinci and Florence
Leonardo was the illegitimate son of a Florentine notary and a peasant woman. Presumably he passed his childhood with his father's family in Vinci, where he developed an enduring interest in nature. Early sources describe his beauty, charm of manner, and precocious display of artistic talent.
In 1466 Leonardo moved to Florence, where he entered the workshop of Verrocchio and came into contact with such artists as Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Lorenzo di Credi. Early in his apprenticeship he painted an angel, and perhaps portions of the landscape, in Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ (Uffizi). In 1472 he was registered in the painters' guild. The culmination of Leonardo's art during his first period in Florence is the magnificent unfinished Adoration of the Magi (Uffizi) commissioned in 1481 by the monks of San Donato a Scopeto. In this work is revealed the integration of dramatic movement and chiaroscuro that characterizes the master's mature style.
Middle Life and Mature Work: Milan and Florence
Leonardo went to Milan c.1482 and remained at the court of Ludovico Sforza for 16 years. In this time he composed the greater part of his Trattato della pittura and the extensive notebooks that demonstrate the marvelous versatility and penetration of his genius. As court artist he also organized elaborate festivals. Severe plagues in 1484 and 1485 drew his attention to problems of town planning, an interest which was revived during his last years in France. Many drawings of plans and elevations for domed churches reflect a concern with architectural problems that must have been stimulated by contact with Bramante during these years. He worked c.1488 on a model for the tambour and dome of the cathedral at Milan. In 1490 he was employed with Francesco di Giorgio as consulting engineer on the restoration of the cathedral at Pavia and later on the cathedral at Piacenza.
In 1483, Leonardo, with his pupil Ambrogio de Predis, was commissioned to execute the famous Madonna of the Rocks. Two versions of the painting exist—one in the Louvre (1483–c.1486), another in the National Gallery, London (1483–1508). Leonardo's fresco of the Last Supper (Milan) was begun c.1495 and completed by 1498. This work is now badly damaged. Leonardo's own experiments with mural painting—in the Last Supper he did not use traditional fresco technique—account in part for its disintegration, which was already noticed by 1517, and subsequent deterioration and repeated restorations obliterated details and individual figures. In 1978 a major (and controversial) restoration was begun, and in 1994–95 protective air-filtration and climate-control equipment were installed. The restoration was completed in 1999, leaving the mural brightened considerably with some details clarified, but also revealing the extensive loss of the original painting. Nonetheless, the composition and general disposition of the figures, in which all lines and attention intersect at the mural's center—the head of Christ outlined against a clear sky and landscape—reveal a power of invention and a sublimity of spiritual content that mark the painting among the world's masterpieces.
While at Ludovico's court Leonardo also worked on an equestrian monument to the duke's father, Francesco Sforza. The work was never cast, and the model, admired by his contemporaries, perished during the French invasion of 1499. In 1511 he undertook a similar work with the commission of an equestrian monument for Gian Giacomo Trivulzio. This work was also never completed and known only through drawings related to the project. After the fall (1499) of Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo left Milan and, following brief sojourns in Mantua and Venice, returned to Florence in 1500.
Back in Florence Leonardo engaged in much theoretical work in mathematics and pursued his anatomical studies at the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. In 1502 he entered the service of Cesare Borgia as a military engineer. His engagement took him to central Italy to study swamp reclamation projects in Piombino and to tour the cities of Romagna. At Urbino he met Niccolò Machiavelli, who later became a close friend.
By 1503 he was back in Florence, where he was commissioned to execute the fresco of the battle of Anghiari. This work, like its companion piece assigned to Michelangelo, was never completed, and the cartoons were subsequently destroyed. The work exerted enormous influence on later artists, however, and some impression of the original may be had from anonymous copies in the Uffizi and Casa Horne (Florence), from an engraving of 1558 of Lorenzo Zacchia, and from a drawing by Rubens (Louvre). From about this time dates the celebrated Mona Lisa (Louvre), the portrait of the wife of a Florentine merchant.
In 1506, Leonardo returned to Milan, engaged by Charles d'Amboise in the name of the French king, Louis XII. Here he again served as architect and engineer. Gifted with a gargantuan curiosity concerning the physical world, he continued his scientific investigations, concerning himself with problems of geology, botany, hydraulics, and mechanics. In 1510–11 his interest in anatomy quickened considerably. At the same time he was active as painter and sculptor, had many pupils, and profoundly influenced the Milanese painters. A painting generally ascribed to this period is the St. Anne, Mary, and the Child (Louvre), a work that exemplifies Leonardo's handling of sfumato—misty, subtle transitions in tone.
Late Life and Work: Rome and France
In 1513 Leonardo went to Rome, attracted by the patronage of the newly elected Medici pope, Leo X, and his brother Giuliano. Here he found the field dominated by Michelangelo and Raphael. The aging master was assigned to various architectural and engineering projects at the Vatican and received commissions for several paintings. It was perhaps in this period that he executed the enigmatic painting of the young St. John the Baptist (Louvre). Giuliano de' Medici left Rome in 1515 and died at Fiesole in the following year.
It is conjectured that Leonardo left with him, attached to his household, and that soon afterward he accepted an invitation of Francis I of France to settle at the castle of Cloux, near Amboise. Here the old master was left entirely free to pursue his own researches until his death. Although there is no certain record of his last years, he seems to have been active with festival decoration and to have been interested in a canal project. Notes and drawings ascribed to this late period show his continued interest in natural philosophy and experimental science.
In 1965 two previously lost notebooks were discovered in the National Library of Spain, Madrid. The first is a vast work concerning technological principles; the second is an intellectual diary spanning 14 years. The lost notebooks were published as The Madrid Codices (1974).
See also L. Goldschneider, ed., Leonardo da Vinci: Life and Work, Paintings and Drawings (8th ed. 1967), P. C. Marani, Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings (2001), C. C. Bambach, Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman (2003), F. Zöllner, Leonardo da Vinci: 1452–1519, The Complete Paintings and Drawings (2003), and M. Clayton and R. Philo, Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist (2012); The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, ed. by J. P. Richter (2 vol., 1970), The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, ed. by J. P. Richter (3d ed. 1970), and M. Kemp, ed., Leonardo on Painting: Anthology of Writings by Leonardo da Vinci (1989); biographies by K. Clarke (rev. by M. Kemp, 1989), C. Nicholl (2004), and M. Kemp (rev. ed. 2011); I. B. Hart, The World of Leonardo da Vinci (1962, repr. 1977), P. R. Ritchie-Calder, Leonardo and the Age of the Eye (1970), C. Pedretti, Leonardo: A Study in Chronology and Style (1973), L. Reti, ed., The Unknown Leonardo (1974), A. R. Turner, Inventing Leonardo (1993), and R. King, Leonardo and the Last Supper (2012).
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
Painter, engineer, scientist, and inventor who mastered many fields of study and
has become a world-renowned figure of the Renaissance. Da Vinci's artworks had a profound influence on the painters of his time; his many inventions—including the helicopter, bicycle, and parachute—were inspired by a lifelong investigation into the properties of motion, force, and gravity. He is still regarded as the archetypal Renaissance Man, an individual of profound creative genius and wide-ranging scientific curiosity.
Born near the town of Vinci, west of Florence, Leonardo was the illegitimate son of a notary and a peasant woman. He showed a talent for drawing and composition very early in his life and, at the age of fifteen, was sent to Florence as an apprentice in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio. He met the leading painters of the
city, including Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio. From Verrocchio he learned the craft of painting, the science of perspective, and techniques of depicting the human form in motion. Da Vinci collaborated with Verrocchio on the Baptism of Christ, produced in about 1475, in which Leonardo painted the background landscape and an angel. By one tradition, Verrocchio was so astonished at the beauty and composition of these elements that he gave up painting for the rest of his life. During his time in Florence, Leonardo also painted the Annunciation and a portrait of Ginevra de Benci. In these works, he was striving for a new style of painting that went beyond the conventions of the early Renaissance. Leonardo gave the figures softer contours by the sfumato technique, in which he blended colors and used light and shadow to give his works dramatic intensity.
Leonardo established his own studio in Florence, and in 1481 was commissioned to paint an altarpiece, the Adoration of the Magi. This work has become an important study for art historians, as it was left unfinished. In 1482 Leonardo accepted a position as a court painter and architect for Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. For the duke he designed artillery, fortifications, and military equipment; he collaborated with Donato Bramante on the design of churches, public buildings, and streets. While in Milan Leonardo was also commissioned to paint the Madonna of the Rocks, which sets the biblical family of Jesus in a scene of natural wilderness. The painting exists in two different versions, providing art historians with a source of endless debate over the authenticity of the works and Leonardo's methods of painting. In 1495 he began the The Last Supper, a fresco for the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. For this work Leonardo made a change in the traditional formula of fresco paint, in order to more easily blend the colors on the hard stone surface of a wall. His experiment turned out a failure, as the paint soon began flaking from the wall and over many years the image deteriorated. Nevertheless, The Last Supper remains one of Leonardo's most famous works and the archetypal image of this biblical event.
While in Milan he also worked on the design of a bronze equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan's father and predecessor. Despite years of study and preliminary sketches, he was unable to overcome the difficulty of raising a balanced sculpture of a horse in dynamic motion. When the French invaded Italy, the duke was overthrown and Leonardo left Milan, moving for short periods to Venice and Mantua, and then back to Florence. There he painted the Virgin and Child with St. Anne, a striking study in the balance and harmony of a group of figures, and the portrait known as the Mona Lisa, or La Gioconda —names that were given to the painting in the nineteenth century. The painting depicts Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant, wearing a somber black dress and gazing at the viewer with a mysterious smile, and posing against a natural background. In these paintings Leonardo introduced new aspects of “perspective of color,” in which distant objects lose their outline as well as their hue. This aspect of his works had a major influence on the painters of the later Renaissance, including Piero de Cosimo, Raphael, and Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Through his many travels and projects Leonardo kept a series of notebooks, in which he used a backward script that was not deciphered until long after his death and which were not published until the late nineteenth century. The notebooks are filled with anatomical drawings, artistic studies, scientific observations and speculations, and inventive designs, including hundreds of new war engines, flying machines, canal locks, and vehicles, many of which were not produced until centuries after his death, when the fields of engineering and manufacturing caught up with the artist's genius.
In 1506, Leonardo was summoned back to Milan by Charles d'Amboise, the French governor of the city. In this period of his life he took up scientific research and observation. In his notebooks, he studied geology, botany, hydraulics, and human anatomy and produced a series of accurate drawings of the body and its internal organs. From 1513 until 1516, he lived in Rome at the invitation of Pope Leo X. He completed St. John the Baptist, worked on several architectural projects, and worked in his notebooks. By this time his fame had spread throughout Europe and in 1516 he was invited to the royal French court of Fontainebleau by King Francis I. He was named the court painter and architect and was given a handsome country home in which to live until he died in 1519.
See Also: Michelangelo Buonarroti; painting; Verrocchio, Andrea del
Vinci, Leonardo da (1452-1519)
Vinci, Leonardo da (1452-1519)
Italian scientist and artist
A true Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, inventor, scientist, architect, engineer, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher. Although centuries after his death he remains known primarily as the artist who painted the "Last Supper" and the "Mona Lisa," Leonardo placed a stronger emphasis on his scientific rather than his artistic endeavors. His investigations into almost every field of known science in his time resulted in plans for everything from airplanes to air conditioning systems. Leonardo was also prolific in the field of mathematics and physics , including squaring the circle and calculating the velocity of a falling object.
Born in Vinci, near Florence, Italy, Leonardo was the illegitimate son of Ser Piero da Vinci, a notary, and a peasant woman. Leonardo's father recognized his genius early and ensured that he received a proper education in reading, writing, and arithmetic at his home. Leonardo never attended a university. Rather, at the age of 15, he was sent to Florence, where he became an apprentice painter under Italian sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio (1436–1488). It was during this apprenticeship that Leonardo became absorbed in science, and his interest in technical and mechanical skills was already leading him to sketch various machines. In 1482, Leonardo entered the service of the Duke of Milan as the court painter and advisor on architecture and military issues. According to one report, after studying Euclid, Leonardo became so interested in geometry that he neglected his duties as court painter.
Leonardo's interest in mathematics soon led him to provide several approaches to squaring the circle (constructing a square with the same area as a given circle) using mechanical methods. In his notebooks, Leonardo described and drew plans for both a telescope and a mechanical calculator. Leonardo also formulated several accurate astronomical theories, including one which stated that Earth rotates around the Sun , and another stating the Moon shines because of the Sun's reflected light. Leonardo postulated that the shadowing image of the full moon that appears cradled between the horns of the crescent moon each month is illuminated by light reflected from the earth, a conclusion that was reached by German Astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) a century later. Through experimentation, Leonardo concluded that the velocity of a falling object is proportional to the time of its fall, predating Sir Isaac Newton's mathematical theory of force and gravity . Leonardo's greatest contribution to science and physics, however, may have been his belief that much of nature could be explained scientifically through a strict adherence to mathematical laws, a fundamental tenet of the philosophy of physics.
Leonardo was a keen observer of the rocks and fossils of his native Northern Italy. Among his 4,000 pages of unpublished notes (an unfinished encyclopedic work) are references to sedimentation occurring in the Arno riverbed and its flood-plain, and observations of rainwater rushing downhill, carrying fossilized rock with it. Leonardo reasoned that the fossils he observed embedded in the rocks of mountains were not washed uphill, and therefore, the hillsides had once been the site of the sea floor. He furthered this argument with his identification of fossilized corals and oysters, found more than 100 mi (160 km) inland. In the layers of stratified rocks and fossils, Leonardo grasped the concept of geologic time .
The Duke of Milan was defeated by the French Armies in 1499, and the following years were nomadic for Leonardo as he traveled to Mantua and then Venice, where he consulted on architecture and military engineering (Leonardo's notebook included plans for a triple-tier machine gun). Leonardo then returned to Florence briefly and, in 1506, returned to Milan where he worked on various engineering projects. Leonardo spent from 1513 to 1516 in Rome, then moved to France, where King Francis I employed him as a painter, architect, and mechanic. By this time, Leonardo worked little on painting and devoted himself primarily to his scientific studies. Leonardo's thousands of sketches and notes focusing on both practical matters of his day and visions of future scientific accomplishments remain as a testament to Leonardo's prolific genius.