Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the greatest and most ingenious men that history has
produced. His contributions in the areas of art, science, and humanity are still
among the most important that a single man has put forth, definitely making his
a life worth knowing. Da Vinci, born on April 15, 1452, is credited with being a
master painter, sculptor, architect, musician, engineer, and scientist. He was
born an illegitimate child to Catherina, a peasant girl. His father was Ser
Piero da Vinci, a public notary for the city of Florence, Italy. For the first
four years of his life he lived with his mother in the small village of Vinci,
directly outside of the great center of the Renaissance, Florence. Catherina was
a poor woman, with possible artistic talent, the genetic basis of Leonardos
talents. Upon the realization of Leonardos potential, his father took the boy
to live with him and his wife in Florence (Why did). This was the start of the
boys education and his quest for knowledge. Leonardo was recognized by many
to be a “Renaissance child” because of his many talents. As a boy,
Leonardo was described as being handsome, strong, and agile. He had keen powers
of observation, an imagination, and the ability to detach himself from
the world around him. At an early age Leonardo became interested in subjects
such as botany, geology, animals (specifically birds), the motion of water, and
shadows (About Leonardo). At the age of 17, in about 1469, Leonardo was
apprenticed as a garzone (studio boy) to Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading
Florentine painter and sculptor of his day. In Verrocchios workshop Leonardo
was introduced to many techniques, from the painting of altarpieces and panel
pictures to the creation of large sculptural projects in marble and bronze. In
1472 he was accepted in the painters guild of Florence, and worked there for
about six years. While there, Leonardo often painted portions of Verrocchios
paintings for him, such as the background and the kneeling angel on the left in
the Baptism of Christ (Encarta). Leonardos sections of the painting have soft
shadings, with shadows concealing the edges. These areas are distinguished
easily against the sharply defined figures and objects of Verrocchio, that
reflect the style called Early Renaissance. Leonardos more graceful approach
marked the beginning of the High Renaissance. However, this style did not become
more popular in Italy for another 25 year (Gilbert 46). Leonardo actually
started the popularization of this style. For this reason Leonardo could be
called the “Father of the High Renaissance.” Leonardos leading
skills emerged through his paintings and his techniques. Leonardos talents
soon drew him away from the Guild and in 1472 Leonardo finished his first
complete painting, Annunciation. In 1478 Leonardo reached the title of an
Independent Master. His first large painting, The Adoration of the Magi (begun
in 1481), which was left unfinished, was ordered in 1481 for the Monastery of
San Donato a Scopeto, Florence. Other works ascribed to his youth are the Benois
Madonna (1478), the portrait Ginevra de Benci (1474), and the unfinished
Saint Jerome (1481). Leonardo expanded his skills to other branches of interest
and in 1481 Leonardo wrote an astonishing letter to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico
Sforza. In this letter he stated that he knew how to build portable bridges;
that he knew the techniques of constructing bombardments and of making cannons;
that he could build ships as well as armored vehicles, catapults, and other war
machines; and that he could execute sculpture in marble, bronze, and clay. Thus,
he entered the service of the Duke in 1482, working on Ludovicos castle,
organizing festivals, and he became recognized as an expert in military
engineering and arms. Under the Duke, Leonardo served many positions. He served
as principal engineer in the Dukes numerous military enterprises and was
active as an architect (Encarta). As a military engineer Leonardo designed
artillery and planned the diversion of rivers. He also improved many inventions
that were already in use such as the rope ladder. Leonardo also drew pictures of
an armored tank hundreds of years ahead of its time. His concept failed because
the tank was too heavy to be mobile and the hand cranks he designed were not
strong enough to support such a vehicle. As a civil engineer, he designed
revolving stages for pageants. As a sculptor he planned a huge monument of the
Dukes father mounted up on a leaping horse. The Horse, as it was known, was
the culmination of 16 years of work. Leonardo was fascinated by horses and drew
them constantly. In The Horse, Leonardo experimented with the horses’ forelegs
and measurements. The severe plagues in 1484 and 1485 drew his attention to town
planning, and his drawings and plans for domed churches reflect his concern with
architectural problems (Bookshelf). In addition he also assisted the Italian
mathematician Luca Pacioli in the work Divina Proportione (1509). While in Milan
Leonardo kept up his own work and studies with the possible help of apprentices
and pupils, for whom he probably wrote the various texts later compiled as
Treatise on Painting (1651). The most important painting of those created in the
early Milan age was The Virgin of the Rocks. Leonardo worked on this piece for
an extended period of time, seemingly unwilling to finish what he had begun
(Encarta). It is his earliest major painting that survives in complete form.

From 1495 to 1497 Leonardo labored on his masterpiece, The Last Supper, a mural
in the refectory of the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. While
painting The Last Supper, Leonardo rejected the fresco technique normally used
for wall paintings. An artist that uses this fresco method must work quickly.

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Leonardo wanted to work slowly, revising his work, and use shadows-which would
have been impossible in using fresco painting. He invented a new technique that
involved coating the wall with a compound that he had created. This compound,
which was supposed to protect the paint and hold it in place did not work, and
soon after its completion the paint began to flake away. For this reason The
Last Supper still exists, but in poor condition (Gilbert 46). Leonardo had at
many times merged his inventive and creative capabilities to enhance life and
improve his works. Although his experiments with plastering and painting failed,
they showed his dissatisfaction with an accepted means and his creativity and
courage to experiment with a new and untried idea. Experimentation with
traditional techniques is evident in his drawings as well. During Leonardos
18 year stay in Milan he also produced other paintings and drawings, but most
have been lost. He created stage designs for theater, architectural drawings,
and models for the dome of Milan Cathedral. Leonardo also began to produce
scientific drawings, especially of the human body. He studied anatomy by
dissecting human corpses and the bodies of animals. Leonardos drawings did
not only clarify the appearance of bones, tendons, and other body parts but
their function in addition. These drawings are considered to be the first
accurate representations of human anatomy. Leonardo is also credited with the
first use of the cross section, a popular technique for diagramming the human
body. Leonardo wrote, “The painter who has acquired a knowledge of the
nature of the sinews, muscles, and tendons will know exactly in the movement of
any limb how many and which of the sinews are the cause of it, and which muscle
by its swelling is the cause of this sinews contracting” (Wallace 131).

In December, 1499, the Sforza family was driven out of Milan by French forces
and Leonardo was forced to leave Milan and his unfinished statue of Ludovico
Sforzas father, which was destroyed by French archers that used it for target
practice. Leonardo then returned to Florence in 1500 (Bookshelf). When Leonardo
returned to Florence the citizens welcomed him with open arms because of the
fame he acquired while in Milan. The work he did there strongly influenced other
artists such as Sandro Botticelli and Piero di Cosimo. The work he was to
produce would influence other masters such as Michelangelo and Raphael. In 1502
Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia, Duke of Romagna and son and Chief
General of Pope Alexander VI. For this post he supervised work on the fortress
of the papal territories in central Italy. In 1503 he was a member of a
commission of artists to decide on the proper location for the David by
Michelangelo (Encarta). Towards the end of the year Leonardo began to design a
decoration for the Great Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio. Leonardo chose the Battle
of Anghiari as the subject of the mural, a victory for Florence in a war against
Pisa. He made many drawings and sketches of a cavalry battle, with tense
soldiers, leaping horses and clouds of dust. In painting The Battle of Anghiari
Leonardo again rejected fresco and tried an experimental technique called
encaustic. Once again the experiment was unsuccessful. Leonardo went on a trip
and left the painting unfinished. When he returned he found that the paint had
run and he never finished the painting. The paintings general appearance is
known from Leonardos sketches and other artists’ copies of it (Creighton 45).

During the period of time that Leonardo spent painting the Palazzo Vecchio he
also painted several other works, including the most famous portrait ever, the
Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda, (after the presumed name of
the models husband) became famous because of the unique expression on Lisa
del Giocondas face. She appears to have just started to or finished smiling.

This painting was one of Leonardos favorites and he carried it with him on
all of his subsequent travels (Clark 133). In 1506, Leonardo returned to Milan
to finished up some of his projects that he had to abandon during his hasty
departure. He stayed there until 1516 when he moved to Cloux, France, where he
stayed with his pupil Melzi. While in Milan he was named Court Painter to King
Louis XII of France, who was then residing in Milan. For the next six years he
traveled from Milan to Florence repeatedly to look after his inheritance. In
1514 he traveled to Rome under the patronage of Pope Leo X. During this time
Leonardos energy was focused mainly on his scientific experiments. He then
moved to France to serve King Francis I. It is here in Chateau de Cloux that he
died on May 2,1519 (Wallace 127). Leonardo constantly reworked his drawings,
studies and mechanical theories. His observations of the motion of water are
amazingly accurate. In Leonardos Studies of Water Formation, the flow
patterns observed are swirling around , then below as it forms a pool. Using
modern slow motion cameras’ scientists now study the same effects that Leonardo
wrote about and observed with his naked eye (Encarta). Another study of water
and wind is his Apocalyptic Visions. This is a collected study of hurricanes and
storms. In these highly detailed drawings the pen lines so carefully marked
explode into action similar to the storms themselves. Leonardos mathematical
drawings are also highly skilled. In a math formula Leonardo proved the theory
of perpetual motion false but it still intrigued him. Among his vast notes were
small ideas for a perpetual motion machine. His ideas for completing this task
involved an unbalanced wheel that would revolve forever, conserving its energy.

However these machines were never constructed. Another mathematical drawing was
the Polyhedron. This three dimensional figure represented proportions to him
“not only in numbers and measurements but also in sounds, weights,
positions and in whatsoever power there may be” (Wallace 59). The notebooks
of Leonardo contain sketches and plans for inventions that came into existence
almost five-hundred years after the Renaissance. Leonardo practiced a technique
of writing backwards. It has been postulated that he did this, being
left-handed, so that he wouldnt smear the ink by his left hand running across
newly-written words. Moreover, the individual words are spelled backwards. In
order to read the Notebooks one must hold the pages up to a mirror and it is
believed by some that Leonardo did this to keep his writing and theories secret.

In any event, contained in the Notebooks are plans and drawings for what we
recognize today as the first working propeller, a submarine, a helicopter, a
tank, parachutes, the cannon, perpetual motion machines, and the rope ladder.

There are perfectly executed drawings of the human body, from the proportions of
the full figure to dissections in the most minute detail. It was observed,
however, that Leonardos interest in the human body and his ability to invent
mechanical things were actually not as paramount to him as was his fascination
and awe of the natural world (Clark 133). Leonardo lived to be 67 years old. He
is not known to have ever married or had children. In fact, it was said of him
that he only saw women as “reproductive mechanisms” (Clark 134). If
there is one quality that characterizes the life of Leonardo da Vinci it would
be his curiosity for life and the world around him. Curiosity is the force that
motivated him to observe, dissect and document every particle of matter that
warranted his attention. From babies in the womb to seashells on the beach,
nothing escaped his relentless intellect. The mind of Leonardo transcends the
period of the Renaissance and every epoch thereafter. It is universally
acknowledged that his imagination, his powers of reason, and his sheer energy
surpass that of any person in history. The study of Leonardo is limited only by
the inadequacy of the student.


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