15 April 2016

Leonardo da Vinci – painter and inventor

Artist regarded as most talented individual ever to have lived

The self-portrait is kept at the Royal Library in Turin
The presumed self-portrait of
Leonardo in Turin's Royal Library
Leonardo da Vinci, painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect and engineer, was born on this day in 1452 near Vinci in Tuscany.

Leonardo’s genius epitomises the Renaissance ideal of possessing all round accomplishments and his wall painting of the Last Supper and portrait of the Mona Lisa are among the most popular and influential artworks of all time.

His surviving notebooks reveal a spirit of scientific enquiry and a mechanical inventiveness that were centuries ahead of their time.

Leonardo received an elementary education but must have shown early artistic inclinations because his father apprenticed him to Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence when he was 15, in whose workshop he was trained in painting and sculpting. There are many superb pen and pencil drawings still in existence from this period, including sketches of military weapons and apparatus.

Some of Leonardo’s drawings have been widely reproduced over the centuries and are now even used on T-shirts and coins
Leonardo moved to Milan in 1482 to work for the Duke, Ludovico Sforza, where he was listed as both a court painter and engineer. In addition to his works of art, he designed court festivals and advised on architecture and fortifications.

The Mona Lisa is arguably Leonardo's most famous picture
The Mona Lisa is arguably the most
famous of all Leonardo's works
One of his early works was the altar painting, the Virgin of the Rocks, which is now in the Louvre in Paris.

He also spent three years painting the Last Supper on to the wall of the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the city.

In 1502 Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia, the soldier son of Pope Alexander VI, as a military architect and engineer and travelled about with him creating plans and maps of the Papal States in the Romagna and Marche regions, early examples of modern cartography that would have been rare at the time.

On his return to Florence in 1503 Leonardo started work on the Mona Lisa, or La Giocanda - 'the jovial one’ in Italian - perhaps now the most famous painting in the world. The model was thought to be Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant. 'Mona' was a polite form of polite form of address for a married woman in Italy, a contraction of "ma donna" with a similar meaning to 'Ma’am' or 'Madam' in English.

At around the same time, Leonardo carried out dissections at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova as part of his comprehensive study of the human body.

At the age of 65 Leonardo left Italy for good to work for King Francis 1 of France. He designed court festivals and drew up plans for a palace and a garden for the King’s mother while working on his scientific studies and a treatise on painting.

Leonardo died in France in 1519 at the age of 67.

The Last Supper is painted on the walls of Milan's Santa Maria delle Grazie
The Last Supper, painted directly on to the wall in the
monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Travel tip:

The Last Supper - Il Cenacolo - was painted directly on to the wall of the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the square of the same name in Milan. Leonardo captured the expressions on the faces of the disciples after Christ had uttered the words: “One of you will betray me.” It is necessary to book in advance in order to see the painting and entrance is limited to 25 people at a time for a maximum stay of 15 minutes. For more details, visit www.cenacolo.it.

Travel tip:

A portrait of a man in red chalk in the Royal Library - Biblioteca Reale - in Turin is widely accepted to be a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, drawn when he was about 60 years of age. The library, on the ground floor of the Royal Palace in Piazzetta Reale, was founded in 1840 to hold the rare manuscripts collected by members of the House of Savoy over the years.


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