Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

A Painter and the Most Talented Man who Ever Lived

The illegitimate son of a legal adviser and a peasant girl, da Vinci began his apprenticeship in painting but is remembered for being a most brilliant universal genius.

Leonardo Da Vinci was born on a Tuscan farm where he grew up amongst lizards and fireflies and other strange animals found on an Italian vineyard. His observations of these fuelled his imagination and contributed to his ongoing fascination with form and function. Not only was he talented, during his youth he was considered a great beauty, though there is no portrait evidence to support this.

Renaissance Man

He began an apprenticeship in Florence as a teenager under the tutelage of Andrea Del Verrocchio, a talented sculptor and painter. His distinctive work favoured delicate hues and soft shadings, in sharp contrast to the well-defined traditional figures of his tutor, Verrocchio’s. Despite their stylistic differences, the assistant and teacher collaborated on the celebrated work “The Baptism of Christ”. His, then greatly unpopular style, is now seen as the beginning of the High Renaissance period.

The Painter

Leonardo is well known for his painting career, both during his lifetime and in present day. However, he never produced the output of other prolific painters like Rembrandt and Van Gough.

The highly acclaimed “The Last Supper” was completed around 1495. In contrast to traditional representations of the scene with apostles sitting in a line, Leonardo had them grouped, with Jesus as the central figure. The clarity and expressions of the individual responses to the announcement by Jesus are realistic in their motion and are highly praised.

It is not possible to discuss Leonardo Da Vinci without reference to the Mona Lisa, the portrait of the young wife of the merchant. This was completed much later, following a forced brief exile and the beginning of a partnership with Michelangelo. The Mona Lisa is most famously renowned for her mysterious ‘smile’ but Leonardo also portrayed a more general natural pose, which included her hands, an uncommon approach a the time, but one which has inspired artists since then.

Other Talents and Studies

Leonardo Da Vinci was a man with huge ability and has been noted as the most talented man who ever lived. However, his tendency to begin projects and then quickly move on to something else of interest resulted many of his projects being taken up by other inventors to realise. He was a man with a need for variety and an almost insatiable curiosity for all that his eyes could see and his hands could touch.In addition to his painting he excelled at a number of other interests, particularly during his time as court artist to the Duke of Milan and including;

  • Civil Engineering – designing bridges, aqueducts and revolving stages for pageants
  • Military planning – inventing weapons and artillery
  • Sculpting – designing a huge monument of the Dukes father mounted on a horse

Leonardo also studied a raft of human knowledge areas, which he recorded in a series of notebooks. These remain intact today and are full of drawings, illustrations, examples and notes and written in mirror writing and include;

  • Futuristic drawings – of flying machines, parachutes and submarines,
  • Anatomical and Botanical drawings – through the dissection of human and animal corpses he created the first anatomical textbook
  • Concept descriptions – of theories thought inexplicable, for example, friction magnetism, sound, and liquid and solid states

Leonardo Da Vinci was a great painter with a unique style and he influenced the development of art in general. However, the concepts he described and studies he noted were way ahead of his time. His work, much revered today by modern students and his dogged attention to so many disciplines, surely earns him the eminent title of a most brilliant universal genius.

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