Best known as a Renaissance painter and sculptor, Leonardo da Vinci was also an inventor, architect, draftsman, and military engineer, making him the epitome of a true Renaissance man. In this article, we explore the artist’s life and most celebrated works.
Leonardo da Vinci was born in Vinci, in the Republic of Florence, on April 15, 1452
Born Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, he was born out of wedlock.
Da Vinci’s father, Ser Piero da Vinci, was a successful notary, while his mother, Caterina, was from the lower classes. His parents both married other people the year after his birth. Caterina married a local artisan, and da Vinci’s father married Albiera Amadori.
Following Amadori’s death in 1464, Leonardo da Vinci’s father married three more times. From all of these marriages, da Vinci eventually acquired 16 half-siblings in total, of whom 11 survived infancy, the youngest born when Leonardo da Vinci was 46 years old.
Little is known about da Vinci’s childhood, and much is shrouded in myth
Tax records indicate that he grew up in the household of Antonio da Vinci, his paternal grandfather, although it is possible that he spent a good portion of his early years in the care of his mother.
Leonardo da Vinci’s father spent most of his time in Florence, although the young Leonardo is believed to have been close to his paternal uncle, Francesco da Vinci. Despite being descended from a long line of notaries, Leonardo da Vinci received a somewhat rudimentary, informal education in reading, although many attribute this to the fact that his talent was discovered quite early.
In the mid-1460s, da Vinci’s family moved to Florence
Florence was a center of culture and thought for Christian Humanism at the time. At the age of 14, da Vinci became a “garzone,” or studio boy, at the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, a leading Florentine painter and sculptor.
Soon after da Vinci started his apprenticeship, Verrocchio’s own master, the great sculptor Donatello, died. At the age of 17, Leonardo da Vinci became Andrea del Verrocchio’s apprentice, training with him for seven years. Other notable painters apprenticed in the same workshop included Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Lorenzo di Credi, and Botticelli. It was here that Leonardo da Vinci was exposed to theoretical training, as well as mastering a variety of technical skills, including metal working, chemistry, metallurgy, and mechanics, in addition to the artistic skills of drawing, painting, modelling, and sculpting.
When da Vinci was 20, he was offered membership in the painters’ guild of Florence
He declined the offer, however, opting instead to remain with Andrea del Verrocchio until 1478, when da Vinci became an independent master.
Leonardo da Vinci started his first commissioned piece, The Adoration of the Magi, in 1482. However, he never actually completed the work, relocating to Milan halfway through, where he worked for the ruling Sforza clan as a sculptor, painter, architect, engineer, and designer of court festivals.
Da Vinci painted The Last Supper between 1495 and 1498, while based in Milan
A tempera and oil mural painted on plaster, the painting was created to adorn the refectory of a monastery in Milan. Measuring 15 by 29 feet, it is the artist’s only known fresco still in existence today. The painting depicts the Passover dinner, when Jesus Christ addressed the Apostles, telling them, “One of you shall betray me.”
Scholars believe that the Mona Lisa depicts Lisa del Giocondo
In 1499, the French invaded Milan, forcing the Sforza family to flee. Da Vinci left, too, reportedly settling in Venice for a time, before returning to Florence. There, he painted a series of paintings that included La Gioconda, the 21-by-31-inch masterpiece that is best known as the Mona Lisa today.
With her mysterious slight smile, the subject has been a cause of speculation for centuries. Although she was originally believed to have been a courtesan called Mona Lisa Gherardini, the current school of thought is that the subject was actually Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a prominent Florentine merchant.
The Mona Lisa is the only known da Vinci portrait from that period still in existence today. It is exhibited at the Louvre in the French capital, where it continues to beguile visitors from all over the world.
Relatively few of Leonardo da Vinci’s works of art survive to this day
This is predominantly due to the fact his total output was relatively small in comparison with many other prominent artists.
Other surviving works by the master include:
· Ginevra de’ Benci, a portrait of a popular Florentine woman completed in 1474.
· Vitruvian Man. Dating back to 1485, the ink on paper piece depicts a man in two superimposed positions.
· Da Vinci’s self-portraits, the most famous of which is drawn in red chalk.
· Lady with Ermine, a commission painted with oils on a walnut wood panel, depicting Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of one of da Vinci’s patrons.