Often described as the archetypical Renaissance man, Da Vinci was the painter of such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. As well as possessing an artistic gift, Leonardo did extremely well as a scientist, experimented with philosophy, and wrote significantly on the numerous subjects he examined. His writings, sketches, and diagrams, initially written as private journals and notes, were assembled after his death into the Notebooks. His ideas and body of work have influenced innumerable artists and made Da Vinci a leading light of the Italian Renaissance.
Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in Anchiano, Tuscany which is now Italy. Born out of wedlock to respected notary Ser Piero and a peasant girl named Caterina, he was raised by his father and his stepmothers. At the age of five, he moved to his father’s family estate in nearby Vinci, the Tuscan town from which the surname associated with Leonardo originates, and lived with his uncle and grandparents.
Leonardo had received no proper education beyond basic reading, writing and math, but his father valued his artistic talent and apprenticed him at around age 15 to the noted sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio, of Florence.
Leonardo received a training that included painting and sculpture along with technical-mechanical arts. Leonardo’s first big break was to paint an angel in Verrocchio’s “Baptism of Christ,” and Verrocchio was so humbled by the talent of da Vinci that he never picked up a paintbrush again. For about a decade, da Vinci developed his painting and sculpting techniques and trained in mechanical arts.
His painting of the “Virgin of the Rocks,” begun in 1483, demonstrated his innovative use of chiaroscuro. Later da Vinci started “The Last Supper, painted during his time in Milan, from about 1495 to 1498. A tempera and oil mural on plaster, “The Last Supper” was created for the refectory of the city’s Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie.” (History.com). The masterpiece took roughly three years to complete. It captures the drama of the moment when Jesus informs the Twelve Apostles gathered for Passover dinner that one of them would soon betray him. Leonardo also made many sculptures.
“The two great sculptural projects to which Leonardo devoted himself wholeheartedly were not realized; neither the huge, bronze equestrian statue for Francesco Sforza, on which he worked from about 1489 to 1494, nor the monument for Marshal Trivulzio, on which he was busy in the years 1506–11, were brought to completion.” (Heydenreich, Encyclopedia Britannica Online). His most iconic is a piece referred to as Il Cavallo (c. 1482-1493), or The Horse in English. This was a 24-foot-tall statue of a horse meant to be a tribute to the father of the Duke of Milan. Sigmund Freud once described him “like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep.” (History.com).
Da Vinci’s interests went far beyond fine art. He studied nature, mechanics, anatomy, physics, architecture, weaponry and more, often workable designs for machines like the bicycle, helicopter, submarine and military tank that would not come to fruition for centuries. Although da Vinci is known for his artistic abilities, fewer than two-dozen paintings cred ited to him exist. One reason is that his interests were so varied that he wasn’t a productive painter. For centuries afterward, however, thousands of pages from his private journals with notes, drawings, observations and scientific theories have surfaced and provided a fuller measure of a true “Renaissance man.”