Leonardo da Vinci
He was a genius who lived during the Renaissance.

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This is believed to be a self-portait of Leonardo when he was around 60 years of age.

The great Italian artist, mathematician, scientist, engineer, architect, writer and inventor, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, was born on 15 April, 1452.  It is written that he was born 'at the third hour of the night'. 

The name 'da Vinci' actually means 'from Vinci' because Vinci is the name of the small town, near to Florence, where Leonardo's family came from.  He was actually born in a farmhouse in the village of Anchiano, just 3 km from Vinci

The first part of his name, Leonardo di ser Piero , means 'Leonardo the son of Mr. Peter.'   Piero (Peter) was his father's first name and he worked as a notary (rather like a solicitor.)  His father's family was middle-class and well-to-do.

Leonardo's mother was called Caterina and she was a peasant-girl.  She was not married to Leonardo's father and would not be able to do so because of her low social class.  Instead, Leonardo's father married a girl from a wealthy family and Caterina was made to marry a farmer.  The child grew up in his father's household and spent much time in the countryside, observing nature.

Everyone could see that Leonardo was very talented.   He played the lyre, sang beautifully, was excellent at maths and enjoyed drawing animals and nature.   He was fascinated by birds and their ability to fly.

Below is a drawing by Leonardo in 1473 of the local landscape.  This drawing is called Il Paesaggio.

The teenage Leonardo was sent to Florence to be trained by Andrea del Verrocchio who was a very well-known and highly-considered artist, sculptor and goldsmith. 

At this time, Florence was ruled by the de' Medici family.  They were great patrons of art and Verrocchio's workshop was their favourite one.  In other words, Verrocchio was the artist of the time in Florence.  

 

Below is an image of the painting called the Baptism of Christ.  In Italian it is il Battesimo di Cristo.    This painting was created in collaboration with Verrocchio in his workshop between the years 1475 and 1478.  It is believed that the angel on the far left was painted by Leonardo. 

There is a story that, upon seeing Leonardo's skill in painting the angel, Verrocchio felt that he himself was no longer good enough to be an artist and he never painted again. 

This is a close-up of Leonardo's angel.

One of Leonardo's most famous paintings is The Last Supper (completed in 1498).  In Italian, it is called Il Cenacolo.  It is also called La Ultima Cena and it is one of the most reproduced paintings in the world.  It depicts the dramatic moment when Jesus has just announced that one of His disciples will betray Him.   The characters in the painting are all reacting with shock and surprise.

The Last Supper is painted on a wall inside the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.  This method of painting is called 'fresco'.  In Italian it is 'affresco' - meaning 'fresh'. 

Why is this method of painting called 'fresh?'   It requires applying paint to wet, fresh plaster on a wall.  However, Leonardo did not use the best quality ingredients when he created The Last Supper and it deteriorated very quickly.  It has been repaired many times. 

 

Below is an image of The Last Supper.

Another famous painting by Leonardo is the Mona Lisa.  Mona means 'my lady'.  The painting is called La Gioconda in Italian.  The woman in the painting is generally believed to be Lisa Gherardini and she was the wife of a wealthy businessman called Francesco del Giocondo, from Florence.  It is said that the painting was requested by the Giocondo family to decorate their new home and to celebrate the birth of their second son. 

The portrait was nicknamed La Gioconda because of a double meaning:-
1.  'Gioconda' is the feminine form of the family surname.
2.  The family surname 'Giocondo' also means 'joyful' in Italian.  In the painting, the lady is smiling - in other words, she is the 'joyful one.'

However, there is a great deal of mystery about the true identity of the woman in the Mona Lisa.   Was she really Lisa Gherardini?
Some historians believe that she could even be Caterina, Leonardo's mother!  Will the mystery ever be solved?..........

Leonardo started to paint the Mona Lisa around 1502 and he spent many years working on it.  It belongs to the French Government and can be seen at 
Le Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Leonardo's most famous drawing is The Vitruvian Man (around 1487).  In Italian it is called L'Uomo Vitruviano.  It is kept in le Gallerie dell' Accademia in Venice.  The drawing is a study of proportion and geometry in the human shape.  It is named after the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius who lived from 80-70 BC to 15 BC.   Leonardo's drawing is based on the notes written by Vitruvius about perfect proportion in architecture and the human body. 

A Euro coin depicting The Vitruvian Man.

Leonardo wrote lots of notes in 'mirror writing'.  This means that they can only be read by holding them in front of a mirror and reading the reflection.  As Leonardo was left-handed, he had the ability to write from the right side of the page towards the left.  Leonardo was also known to write notes in code. 

Leonardo dreamed of being able to build 'a flying machine.'  He sketched ideas for flying machines by making observations of how birds fly.   Below are some of Leonardo's designs.

He had amazingly original ideas and drew up designs for lots of inventions - including automobiles, submarines, battle machines, bridges and weapons. 

It is quite fascinating to think that those ideas that seemed weird or impossible then, now exist as normal objects that are used everyday.  Below is his design for a battle machine (a tank). 

Leonardo was fascinated by anatomy and made detailed studies of human and animal skeletons and of their bodies.  It was as if he was studying to be both a doctor and a vet!

He also studied like a botanist, making detailed sketches of plants. 

 In addition, Leonardo could also draw accurate maps.  Below is a map of the town of Imola.


All of this leads to the following question:

Was there anything that Leonardo did not know how to do? 
 

He seems to have been an all-round genius!

In 1516, Leonardo moved to France where he was asked to paint for the French King Francis I.   He took the Mona Lisa with him.  King Francis bought the painting from Leonardo for 4000 écus.   It has belonged to France ever since!  Below is a portrait of Francis I.

Leonardo died in France on 2 May 1519 at the royal manor house called Clos Lucé where he had resided as a guest of King Francis I during his years in France. 

King Francis had become a close friend and it is believed he was at Leonardo's bedside when he died.  Below is a painting by Ménageot, depicting the death of Leonardo in the presence of the French king.

At Leonardo's funeral, sixty beggars followed the procession.  This had been one of Leonardo's requests before he died.

Painting above by Ménageot:  the death of Leonardo da Vinci in the arms of François I.

Leonardo's tomb is in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the grounds of le Château d'Amboise, which was the residence of King Francis I. 

It is believed that Leonardo was a vegetarian and an animal-lover.  He hated cruelty towards animals.  He is known to have said:  
Verrà il tempo in cui l'uomo non dovrà più uccidere per mangiare, ed anche l'uccisione di un solo animale sarà considerato un grave delitto.
The time will come when man will not have to kill in order to eat and even the killing of just one animal will be considered a crime.

 

The well-known Italian artist and architect called Giorgio Vasari (1511 - 1574) once said:
Passeggiando tra le bancarelle del mercato a Firenze, un giorno Leonardo si imbatté in un venditore di uccellini, tutti, ovviamente, chiusi in gabbia. Commosso fino alle lacrime, il grande artista li comprò tutti e poi li lasciò volare via, liberi.
Whilst strolling through the market stalls of Florence, one day Leonardo came across a seller of birds, all obviously in a cage.  Moved to tears, the great artist bought all of them and then let them fly away, free.

Leonardo said many wise and interesting things.  One of his most famous quotations is this:
Sì come una giornata bene spesa da lieto dormire, così una vita bene usata da lieto morire.
Just as a day well-spent brings happy sleep, so does a life well-used bring happy death.


The French King, Francis I, who had been such a great friend and admirer of Leonardo, said after the artist's death: 'There has never been another man born into the world who knew as much as Leonardo.'




An Interesting Fact:
Leonardo had a nephew called Pierino da Vinci.  He too was a great artist and sculptor.  It was believed that he had inherited his famous uncle's talent.   
 Unfortunately, he died at the early age of 23 years in 1553.   Just look at the quality of his work below!  Uncle Leonardo would be very proud!
(Young River God - visible at the Louvre Museum, Paris)


Grazie, Leonardo da Vinci!
Thank you, Leonardo, for all your amazing art, observations and inventions. 
You were definitely way ahead of your time! 
King Francis was correct - you did know more than everyone else.
Today, centuries later, your inspirational work gives us so much to discuss!

Grazie mille!



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