15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519
529 yrs ago, around this time of the year, a beautiful girl named Caterina Di Meo Lippi gave birth to a charming boy, a couple of miles away from Vinci (today’s Italy), whom we know as a very famous artist of all time; Leonardo Da Vinci.
His father Ser Piero never married Caterina, however he took his custody when Leonardo was 5 years old. Until then, baby Leonardo spent all of the infanthood in the arms of nature with her mother.
Father wanted him to be a notary as himself and so gave him a formal school education. Little did he know what fate had planned for him.
Studies and Early Work
Leonardo was an individual of unquenchable curiosity. His inventive imagination could never hold him in the fixed boundaries of the knowledge system and soon his father could sense his talent which was meant to be out of the box.
At the age of 14 his father introduced him to the most successful artist of his days, Andrea Del Verrocchio in Florence, where Leonardo started with basic chores like cleaning the room and progressed with making tempera pigments by grounding colours and mixing with egg yolk and preparing canvas and panels for painting.
It was under him where he learned most of his skills like drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics, carpentry, drawing, painting, sculpting and modelling.
Most of the production of Verrocchio’s workshop was assisted by his pupils. Baptism of Christ was one such painting which is believed to have works of Leonardo in some parts of the landscapes and the little angel on the left.
Giorgio Vasari, wrote in the first biography of Leonardo, that the light effect he gave to the angel in this painting was so amazing that Verrocchio called off painting since then and focused only on sculpting.
Well we don’t know if this was an exaggeration, but truly by then, he grew to a man with multiple skills in variety of fields. His father set up a separate studio for him where he trained many students under him and was eager to explore more.
Leonardo had views of the world based on logic and methods which were not accepted by the common man for his time. Because of the illegitimate past he did not receive the correct honour for his work.
With an urge to work and earn more as he was an individual of unquenchable curiosity he wrote 10 point resume to the Duke of Milan requesting for employment.
Instead of mentioning about his painting talents, he mention the talents where he can work as a military engineer. In his letter he gave assurance of how we can built architectural structures like buildings, bridges, canal and more. He acknowledged in his draft about the ideas of building guns cannons and tanks for the military purpose. Also he expressed the desire to make a bronze Statue of the duke’s father. He left his first commissioned work of painting The Adoration of the Magi as soon as he was hired and left for Milan.
A chapel was constructed by the wife of early Duke of Milan. Leonardo was paid to paint this on a wooden panel for the alter of that chapel.
This painting clearly shows the art of sfumato which means without lines or borders like smoke and fume. The fine shading brings a blending of colour and tone making it more realistic.
Another copy was made by him but this time on canvas and is stored at the national gallery in London.
The subject of the portrait is identified as Cecilia Gallerani, mistress of Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan and was believed to be painted when she was pregnant as ermine is the symbol of fertility.
Leonardo discovered techniques of making oil paints that made it last longer and gave more effects and textures as seen here which is oil on walnut wooden panel.
This is a pen and ink on paper drawing that depicts a male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square.
Encyclopaedia Britannica online states, “Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe.”
At Milan he worked on many projects like constructing wings of the angels for the stage play, making illustrations of millatry weapons, making a statues and portrait etc. Of all the work his best one was ‘ The Last Supper ‘
Leonardo da Vinci depicted the moment immediately after Christ said, “One of you will betray me” Leonardo rejected the classical interpretation of the composition and had Jesus in the midst of the Apostles; he also created four groups of three figures on either side of Christ. The 12 Apostles reacted in differing ways; their movements and expressions are magnificently captured in Leonardo’s work.
The genius of the artist is seen especially in the use of light and strong perspective. Every moment, every emotion, every gesture is well illustrated in his sketchbooks. This shows the dedication of his observation on every minute details.
It is believed that Leonardo tried some experimentations with the tempera paints in the dry plaster of the wall and hence it couldn’t survive the bombing of the world war II and modern methods too cant restore it completely.
However, Leonardo always made a copy of such huge paintings in his workshops assisted by his teams and thankfully we have one such ‘ The Last Super ‘ preserved in the church of Sant’Ambrogio in Ponte Capriasca.
With modern methods of Raman rays and Xrays it can be well assumed that picture of Jesus and person on his right is painted by Leonardo himself.
In his later life he painted these two famous paintings. As on today Salvatore Mundi is the most costliest painting ever sold. It was earned in an auction by Gown Prince of Saudi Arabia on behalf of Abu Dhabi department of culture and tourism for the museum for $ 450.3 million. But sadly it is not seen ever after that purchase and we have no idea where it stays today.
Mona Lisa is todays most expensive painting of the world beautifying the Louvre Museum in Paris for visitor’s gaze in a bullet proof glass. While the character of Mona Lisa remains a mystery, her gazing eyes and realistic smile has no replacement or a copy made.
He practiced drawing of anatomical structures by illegally digging up the corpus from the graves. He loved drawing various poses of horses of the army. With his careful observations, he believed that there is an enormous connectivity in how God made the universe and how man makes the things in world. He could explain the birth and evolutionary concept way before modern biology came into picture. Many of his scripts are found to be written from left to right with a mirror image which is an ultimate human ability.
Out of many works of Leonardo, very few are found. More than 20,000 of his notes and sketches are believed to be lost in history. Leonardo had a tendency of leaving his paintings unfinished. As soon as he finds something more interesting than his current project, he use to leave it aside only to be either finished later or ever to be touched again.
His mind and life seems like supernatural, while as a human himself he remains mysterious and remote. If he was with us today, he would have taught about his major belief of OBSERVATION and how every thing in nature has a connection with each other.
It would be a great experience to eye witness these mind blowing art oneself. Many tourism have a prime focus for art lovers like us. Do check out one of them we found on the net Get your Guide
No doubt, he was called an universal genius. Alas, we are deprived of mesmerizing beauty of art made by the magic man who rests in peace at the Chapel of Saint-Hubert France.
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