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Leonardo da Vinci

Hailed as the epitome of the true "Renaissance man", Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, in his time was not only a renowned painter but also excelled in such fields as architecture, botany, engineering, anatomy, mathematics, and was a writer and inventor of fabulous devices.

Born in the spring of 1452 C.E. to a peasant mother in the Florentine town of Vinci, Leonardo is rumored to have been artistically talented even as a child. The 16th Century historian, Vasari, states that a local peasant had requested his father to have Leonardo paint a plaque that was so well executed it was ultimately sold to the Duke of Milan. For this reason and other proofs of his talent, Leonardo was apprenticed to the workshop of the premiere artist of the age, the venerable Andrea di Cione, also known as Verrocchio.

Being present in the cultural hub of Florentine intellectualism at the impressionable age of fourteen, Leonardo was given the opportunity to learn more than just the details of the craft of art, drawing and painting. As well as learning how to create the materials used to create the art, he was introduced to chemistry, metalworking and metallurgy, mechanical engineering, carpentry, casting and leather working. With the rich, influencial and intellectual luminaries of Florentine society being frequent visitors, the students of Verrocchio, Leonardo included, also gained an education in the humanities.


The Last Supper

Mona Lisa

Close-up detail
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While a great artist in his own right, by this time most of the commissions coming into Verrocchio's workshop were actually done by his students. It was within these collective works that Leonardo's special talent for rendering the details of light and movement began to form and gain special notice. Leonardo created the young angel in Verrocchio's painting "Baptism of Christ" and it is said that Verrocchio was so impressed by its superiority to even his own work that he never attempted to paint again.

When he was twenty, Leonardo achieved the rank of Master in the Guild of St. Luke which was a consortium comprised of both artists and medical doctors. Even with his own studio to work from, Leonardo's attachment to his former master, Verrocchio, kept him collaborating with the older man for years.

In this period when artists survived on the commissions to do portraiture for the nobles and illustrative artwork for the churches, Leonardo created two of the most famous and oft reproduced painting in the world of human history. One of these works by the master Leonardo was a wall painting for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. In the space above a door he rendered a portrayal of the "Last Supper" of Jesus Christ.

Of his portrait paintings for the various functionaries of that day's society, Leonardo's attention to detail showed not only in the picture of the "Lady with the Ermine", possibly a special friend to the Duke Lodovico, but he captured in paint the enigmatic smile of "la Gioconda", the laughing one, known to the world at large as "Mona Lisa". Within this classic painting is demonstrated the smoothness of texture and subdued coloring that was a Leonardo trademark. This effect was achieved by using oil paint in the same was one would use tempera paints so that the colors blended on the surface, thus making specific brushstrokes blend indistinguishably into the overall texture of the painting.


Study for portrait of
Isabella d'Este

Study of a Horse

Design for a
Flying Machine
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But Leonardo was more than just a painter. It is a fact that his interest in engineering and construction often got in the way of painting and many of his best preserved drawings are of the various and sometimes futuristic devices he designed. As well as various machines for drawing water up and into the irrigation systems of the lands around, he developed machines for testing the tensile strength of thread and one for making sequins for the adornment of women's dresses.

A plan for a 720-foot, single span bridge he created for the Sultan Beyazid II of Istanbul was not constructed because the project manager swore it would not be possible for the bridge to stand. Five hundred years later, his genius was proven when a smaller version of the bridge was constructed successfully in Norway. Five years later the current government of Turkey finally built Leonardo's bridge across the Golden Horn.

Leonardo's ever-fertile mind was constantly turned to the study of just about everything he could imagine. It has been said that whatever he touched turned to beauty. With his feeling and grasp of the drawn line he displayed such a blend of light and shadow that his works are still considered exquisite life-communicating values demonstrating the world of human art.


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