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Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519) was an Italian
Renaissance architect, musician, anatomist, inventor, engineer,
sculptor, geometer, and painter. He has been described as the archetype
of the "Renaissance man" and as a universal genius. Leonardo
is famous for his masterly paintings, such as The Last Supper and
Mona Lisa. He is also known for designing many inventions that anticipated
modern technology, although few of these designs were constructed
in his lifetime. In addition, he helped advance the study of anatomy,
astronomy, and civil engineering. Renaissance humanism saw no mutually
exclusive polarities between sciences and arts.
Leonardo was born in Anchiano, near Vinci, Italy, the illegitimate
child of Ser Piero da Vinci, a young notary, and Caterina, most
likely a peasant girl. It has been suggested, albeit on scanty evidence
, that she was a Middle Eastern slave owned by Piero.
Leonardo was born before modern naming conventions developed in
Europe; his name "Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci", simply
means "Leonardo, son of [Mes]ser Piero, from Vinci". Leonardo
signed his works "Leonardo" or "Io, Leonardo"
Leonardo grew up with his father in Florence, where he started
drawing and painting. His early sketches were of such quality that
his father soon showed them to the painter Andrea del Verrocchio,
who subsequently took on the fourteen-year old Leonardo as an apprentice.
In this role, Leonardo also worked with Lorenzo di Credi and Pietro
But the greatest of all Andrea's pupils was Leonardo da Vinci,
in whom, besides a beauty of person never sufficiently admired and
a wonderful grace in all his actions, there was such a power of
intellect that whatever he turned his mind to he made himself master
of with ease. —Vasari
Later, he became an independent painter in Florence. In 1476, he
was accused anonymously, along with three other men, of sodomy with
a 17 year-old model, Jacopo Saltarelli, who was a notorious male
prostitute. After two months in jail, he was acquitted because no
witnesses stepped forward. For some time afterwards, Leonardo and
the others were kept under observation by Florence's Officers of
the Night - a kind of Renaissance vice squad, charged with suppressing
the practice of sodomy, which a majority of male Florentines engaged
in , as shown by surviving legal records of the Podestà and
the Officers of the Night.
Modern critics contend that Leonardo's love of boys was well-known
even in the sixteenth century. Rocke reports that in a fictional
dialogue on l'amore masculino (male love) written by the contemporary
art critic and theorist Gian Paolo Lomazzo, Leonardo appears as
one of the protagonists and declares, "Know that male love
is exclusively the product of virtue which, joining men together
with the diverse affections of friendship, makes it so that from
a tender age they would enter into the manly one as more stalwart
friends." In the dialogue, the interlocutor inquires of Leonardo
about his relations with his assistant, Salai, "Did you play
the game from behind which the Florentines love so much?"
There is no evidence that Leonardo was ever intimately involved
with any woman, nor in a close friendship with one. Though he kept
his private life particularly secret, it is known that he surrounded
himself with handsome young men throughout his life, and his art
reflects an appreciation of androgynous beauty (and in at least
one instance, sexuality). It has therefore been widely assumed that
he was a homosexual. One of his lovers is thought to have been Gian
Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno (nicknamed Salai (Little Devil)). Gian
entered Leonardo's household around 1488 at the age of 10, becoming
his servant and assistant for the next thirty years. However some
simply believe that Leonardo was an exceptional teacher that needed
assistants to aid him in his work and his appreciation of androgynous
beauty was just his fascination with the workings of the human body.
In 1506, Leonardo met Count Francesco Melzi, the 15 year old son
of a Lombard aristocrat. Salai eventually accepted Melzi's continued
presence and the three undertook journeys throughout Italy. Though
Salai was always introduced as Leonardo's "pupil", he
never produced any work of artistic merit. Melzi, however, became
Leonardo's pupil and life companion. Leonardo had many other friends
who are now figures renowned in their fields, or for their influence
on history; these included Niccolò Machiavelli, Cesare Borgia
and Franchinus Gaffurius.
It is apparent from the works of Leonardo and his early biographers
that he was a man of high integrity and very sensitive to moral
issues. His respect for life led him to being a vegetarian at least
part of his life (although the term 'vegan' would fit him well,
as he even entertained the notion that taking milk from cows amounts
to stealing. Under the heading, "Of the beasts from whom cheese
is made," he answers, "the milk will be taken from the
tiny children." ). Vasari reports a story that as a young
man in Florence he often bought caged birds just to release them.
He was also a respected judge on matters of beauty and elegance,
particularly in the creation of pageants.
Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512 to 1515
From around 1482 to 1499, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan , employed
Leonardo and permitted him to operate his own workshop complete
with apprentices. It was here that seventy tons of bronze that had
been set aside for Leonardo's "Gran Cavallo" horse statue
(see below) were cast into weapons for the Duke in an attempt to
save Milan from the French under Charles VIII in 1495.
When the French returned under Louis XII in 1498, Milan fell without
a fight, overthrowing Sforza . Leonardo stayed in Milan for a
time, until one morning when he found French archers using his life-size
clay model of the "Gran Cavallo" for target practice.
He left with Salai and his friend Luca Pacioli (the first man to
describe double-entry bookkeeping) for Mantua, moving on after 2
months to Venice (where he was hired as a military engineer), then
briefly returning to Florence at the end of April 1500.
In Florence he entered the services of Cesare Borgia,, the son
of Pope Alexander VI, acting as a military architect and engineer;
with Cesare he travelled throughout Italy. In 1506 he returned to
Milan, now in the hands of Maximilian Sforza after Swiss mercenaries
had driven out the French.
From 1513 to 1516, he lived in Rome, where painters like Raphael
and Michelangelo were active at the time, though he did not have
much contact with these artists. However, he was probably of pivotal
importance in the relocation of David (in Florence), one of Michelangelo's
masterpieces, against the artist's will.
Clos Lucé.In 1515 Francis I of France retook Milan, and
Leonardo was commissioned to make a centrepiece (a mechanical lion)
for the peace talks between the French king and Pope Leo X in Bologna,
where he must have first met the King. In 1516, he entered Francis'
service, being given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé
(also called "Cloux") next to the king's residence at
the royal Chateau Amboise. The King granted Leonardo and his entourage
generous pensions: the surviving document lists 1000 écus
for the artist, 400 for Melzi (named "apprentice") and
100 for Salai (named "servant"). In 1518 Salai left Leonardo
and returned to Milan, where he eventually perished in a duel. Francis
became a close friend.
Leonardo da Vinci died at Clos Lucé, France, on 2nd May,
1519. According to his wish, 60 beggars followed his casket. He
was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the castle of Amboise.
Melzi was his principal heir and executor, but Salai was not forgotten:
he received half of Leonardo's vineyard.
The Last Supper (1498)Leonardo is well known for his artistry and
paintings, such as Last Supper (Ultima Cena or Cenacolo, in Milan)
1498, and the Mona Lisa (also known as La Gioconda, now at the Louvre
in Paris), 1503-1506. Though there is significant debate whether
Leonardo himself painted the Mona Lisa, or whether it was the work
of his students, it is known that it was probably his favourite
piece. He most likely kept it with him at all times, and did not
travel without it. Thousands of people see it each year in the Louvre,
perhaps drawing their own interpretation on what is known as the
Mona Lisa's most infamous and enigmatic feature - her smile. It
is well known that Leonardo made extensive use of many tricks in
this painting, including the so-called Golden Ratio. The name Mona
Lisa is not the one given to the piece of art at the time, nor was
it known by this title until much later.
Leonardo often planned grandiose paintings with many drawings and
sketches, only to leave the projects unfinished. For example, in
1481 he was commissioned to paint the altarpiece The Adoration of
the Magi. After extensive, ambitious plans and many drawings, the
painting was left unfinished and Leonardo left for Milan. Of his
paintings, only seventeen survived. None of his sculptures have
In Milan he spent 17 years making plans and models for a monumental
seven metre (24 ft) high horse statue in bronze called "Gran
Cavallo". Because of war with France, the project was never
finished. (In 1999 a pair of full-scale statues based on his plans
were cast, one erected in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the other in Milan
.) The Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland has a small bronze horse,
thought to be the work of an apprentice from Leonardo's original
After returning to Florence, he was commissioned for a large public
mural, The Battle of Anghiari; his rival Michelangelo was to paint
the opposite wall. After producing a fantastic variety of studies
in preparation for the work, he left the city, with the mural unfinished
due to technical difficulties.
Leonardo pioneered new painting techniques in many of his pieces.
One of them, a colour shading technique called sfumato, used a series
of custom-made glazes by Leonardo. It is characterized by subtle
transitions between colour areas, creating an atmospheric haze or
smoky effect. Chiaroscuro is the technique of modelling and defining
forms through contrasts of light and shadow.
List of artworks
Mona Lisa (1503–1505/1506)Annunciation (1475-1480) –
Uffizi, Florence, Italy
Ginevra de' Benci (c. 1475) – National Gallery of Art, Washington
The Benois Madonna (1478-1480) – Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg,
The Virgin with Flowers (1478-1481) – Alte Pinakothek, Munich,
Adoration of the Magi (1481) – Uffizi, Florence, Italy
The Madonna of the Rocks (1483-86) – Louvre, Paris, France
Lady with an Ermine (1488-90) – Czartoryski Museum, Krakow,
Portrait of a Musician (c. 1490) – Pinacoteca Ambrosiana,
Madonna Litta (1490-91) – Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg,
La belle Ferronière (1495-1498) – Louvre, Paris, France
Last Supper (1498) – Convent of Sta. Maria delle Grazie, Milan,
The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist (c.
1499-1500) – National Gallery, London, UK
Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (1503-1505/1506) – Louvre, Paris,
The Madonna of the Rocks or The Virgin of the Rocks (1508) –
National Gallery, London, UK
Leda and the Swan (1508) - (Only copies survive – best-known
example in Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy)
The Virgin and Child with St. Anne (c. 1510) – Louvre, Paris,
St. John the Baptist (c. 1514) – Louvre, Paris, France
Bacchus (1515) – Louvre, Paris, France
Science and engineering
Perhaps even more impressive than his artistic work are his studies
in science and engineering, recorded in notebooks comprising some
13,000 pages of notes and drawings, which fuse art and science.
These notes were made and maintained through Leonardo's travels
through Europe, during which he made continual observations of the
world around him. He was left-handed and used mirror writing throughout
his life. This is explainable by the fact that it is easier to pull
a quill pen than to push it; by using mirror-writing, the left-handed
writer is able to pull the pen from right to left.
His approach to science was an observatory one: he tried to understand
a phenomenon by describing and depicting it in utmost detail, and
did not emphasize experiments or theoretical explanations. Throughout
his life, he planned a grand encyclopedia based on detailed drawings
of everything. Since he lacked formal education in Latin and mathematics,
contemporary scholars mostly ignored Leonardo the scientist.
As did most people at the time, he believed that the Sun revolved
around the Earth, and that the Moon reflects the sun's light due
to its being covered by water.
Leonardo's study of the proportions of the human body.Leonardo started
to discover the anatomy of the human body at the time he was apprenticed
to Andrea del Verrocchio, as his teacher insisted that all his pupils
learn anatomy. As he became successful as an artist, he was given
permission to dissect human corpses at the hospital Santa Maria
Nuova in Florence. Later he dissected also in Milano in the hospital
Maggiore and in Rome in the hospital Santo Spirito (the first mainland
Italian hospital). From 1510 to 1511 he collaborated with the doctor
Marcantonio della Torre (1481 to 1511). In 30 years, Leonardo dissected
30 male and female corpses of different ages. Together with Marcantonio,
he prepared to publish a theoretical work on anatomy and made more
than 200 drawings. However, his book was published only in 1580
(long after his death) under the heading Treatise on painting.
Leonardo drew many images of the human skeleton, and was the first
to describe the double S form of the backbone. He also studied the
inclination of pelvis and sacrum and stressed that sacrum was not
uniform, but composed of five vertebrae. He was also able to represent
exceptionally well the human skull and cross-sections of the brain
(transversal, sagittal, and frontal). He drew many images of the
lungs, mesentery, urinary tract, sex organs, and even coitus. He
was one of the firsts who drew the fetus in the intrauterine position
(he wished to learn about "the miracle of pregnancy").
He often drew muscles and tendons of the cervical muscles and of
the shoulder. He was a master of topographic anatomy. He not only
studied the anatomy of human, but also of other beings. It is important
that he was not only interested in structure but also in function,
so he was anatomist and physiologist at the same time. Because he
actively searched for bodily deformed people to paint them, he is
also considered to be the beginner of caricature.
Leonardo's drawing of the cross section of a skull (c. 1489)His
study of human anatomy led also to the design of the first known
robot in recorded history. The design, which has come to be called
Leonardo's robot, was probably made around the year 1495 but was
rediscovered only in the 1950s. It is not known if an attempt was
made to build the device.
Inventions and engineering
Fascinated by the phenomenon of flight, Leonardo produced detailed
studies of the flight of birds, and plans for several flying machines,
including a helicopter powered by four men (which would not have
worked since the body of the craft would have rotated) and a light
hang-glider which could have flown. On January 3, 1496 he unsuccessfully
tested a flying machine he had constructed.
In 1502 Leonardo da Vinci produced a drawing of a single span 720-foot
(240 m) bridge as part of a civil engineering project for Sultan
Beyazid II of Constantinople. The bridge was intended to span an
inlet at the mouth of the Bosphorus known as the Golden Horn. It
was never built, but Leonardo's vision was resurrected in 2001 when
a smaller bridge based on his design was constructed in Norway.
An armoured tank designed by Leonardo at the Château d'Amboise
(see also the interior)Owing to his sometime employment as a military
engineer, his notebooks also contain several designs for military
machines: machine guns, an armoured tank powered by humans or horses,
cluster bombs, etc. even though he later held war to be the worst
of human activities. Other inventions include a submarine, a cog-wheeled
device that has been interpreted as the first mechanical calculator,
and a car powered by a spring mechanism. In his years in the Vatican,
he planned an industrial use of solar power, by employing concave
mirrors to heat water.
Why Leonardo did not publish or otherwise distribute the contents
of his notebooks remains a mystery to those who believe that Leonardo
wanted to make his observations public knowledge. Technological
historian Lewis Mumford suggests that Leonardo kept notebooks as
a private journal, intentionally censoring his work from those who
might irresponsibly use it (the tank, for instance). They remained
obscure until the 19th century, and were not directly of value to
the development of science and technology. In January 2005, researchers
discovered the hidden laboratory used by Leonardo da Vinci for studies
of flight and other pioneering scientific work in previously sealed
rooms at a monastery next to the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata,
in the heart of Florence.
While most of Leonardo's inventions were not realized, many were
technologically feasible as it was demonstrated recently, e.g. his
With the genius and legacy of Leonardo da Vinci having captivated
authors and scholars generations after his death, the following
examples of "Da Vinci fiction" can be found in culture
In the Star Trek: Original Series episode "Requiem for Methuselah",
Leonardo da Vinci is revealed to be one of many aliases to "Flint",
an immortal man born in the year 3834 BC. Leonardo's abilities and
knowledge are thus attributed to centuries of scientific and artistic
study. Leonardo appears again in the Star Trek universe, in the
series Star Trek Voyager, where his workshop is created as a holographic
simulation. Actor James Daly played Flint / Leonardo in Star Trek:
The Original Series, while John Rhys-Davies portrayed Leonardo in
Star Trek Voyager. Also, in the S.C.E. (Starfleet Corps of Engineers)
novels, the main starship of the series is called the U.S.S. Da
Vinci (NCC-81623), a Saber-class vessel, named for the artist.
The 1979 Doctor Who story City of Death features a theft of the
Mona Lisa. The Doctor goes back in time to visit Leonardo's workshop
and claims to be an old acquaintance of the artist. Leonardo also
appears as a character in several Doctor Who novels.
Theodore Mathieson's short story "Leonardo Da Vinci: Detective"
portrays him using his genius to solve a murder during his time
The novel Pasquale's Angel by Paul McAuley, set in an alternate
universe Florence, portrays Leonardo as "the Great Engineer",
creating a premature industrial revolution (see clockpunk).
The novel The Memory Cathedral by Jack Dann is a fictional account
of a "lost year" in the life of Leonardo. Dann has his
genius protagonist actually create his flying machine.
The DC Comics Elseworlds story Black Masterpiece, in Batman Annual
#18 shows Leonardo's apprentice becoming a Renaissance Batman, using
the Master's devices in his war on Florentine crime.
DC Comics's Vertigo division published a twelve-issue miniseries
about Leonardo and his apprentice Salai, entitled "Chiaroscuro:
The Private Life of Leonardo da Vinci."
In the mainstream DC Universe, according to "Secret Origins"
#27, Leonardo is an ancestor of the famed Freemason Cagliostro,
as well as Zatara and Zatanna who are both magicians (in the Magic
(illusion) and Magic (paranormal) senses) and Superheroes.
Terry Pratchett's character Leonard of Quirm is a pastiche of Leonardo.
The Dargaud cartoon character Léonard by Turk and De Groot.
Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code revolves around a conspiracy based
on elements of Leonardo's Last Supper and other works, claiming
that he belonged to the Priory of Sion (a sect generally regarded
Leonardo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was named after Leonardo
The movie Ever After from 1998 starring Drew Barrymore and Patrick
Godfrey as Leonardo da Vinci.
The movie Hudson Hawk starring Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello revolves
around Leonardo da Vinci's inventions.
Peter Barnes's Leonardo's Last Supper centres on Leonardo being
"resurrected" in a filthy charnel house after being prematurely