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Saturday, 2 January 2016

Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452 in in a farmhouse about 1.9 miles (3 km) from the small Tuscan hill town of Vinci. The town is situated in the lower valley of the Arno river in what was the territory of the Medici-ruled Republic of Florence.

Casa Leonardo, where Leonardo da Vinci is believed to have been born
He was the illegitimate son of Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, a Florentine provincial lawyer and Caterina, a peasant woman. Leonardo had many half brothers and sisters.

As he was born before modern naming conventions developed in Europe, his full name was "Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci", which means "Leonardo, son of Mister Piero, from Vinci".

Leonardo himself simply signed his works "Leonardo" or "Io, Leonardo" ("I, Leonardo"). Most authorities therefore refer to his works as "Leonardos", not "da Vincis". It is assumed he did not use his father's name because of his illegitimate status.

Leonardo spent his first five years in the home of his mother, then from 1457 he lived at his father's family estate in Vinci. Here, Leonardo started drawing and painting. His early sketches were of such quality that his father soon showed them to the artist Andrea del Verrocchio who subsequently took the fourteen-year old Leonardo on as an apprentice.

The young Leonardo studied many things, mastering them then putting them aside. After nine months of studying arithmetic he was baffling his master with questions. However his classroom education ended at the age of 15.  Leonardo never learnt to speak Latin or Greek which meant he was scoffed at by his contemporaries.


His illegitimacy barred him from a profession like that of his lawyer father. In 1466, at the age of fourteen, Leonardo was apprenticed to the artist Verrocchio,  the leading Florentine painter and sculptor of his day.

In 1472, at the age of twenty, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of Saint Luke, the guild of artists and doctors of medicine. His attachment to Verrocchio was such that he continued to collaborate with him.

Between 1471-81 Leonardo had various independent commissions, and was accepted into the Painters Guild at Florence.

In 1482 Leonardo was appointed State Engineer, Court Painter and Director of Court Festivals to Lodovico Sforza (Duke of Milan) in Milan. It was there he painted his classic The Last Supper (see below).

When he was working for the Duke of Milan, one of Leonardo's responsibilities was playing the lute and singing to him.

In 1502, Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI. He spent a year acting as a military architect and engineer and travelling throughout Italy with his patron.

Between 1503-16, Leonardo had various independent commissions in Florence, Milan and Rome.

In 1516, Leonardo was in employment of King Francis I of France at 700 crowns a year. He was given the title of “First Painter, Architect and Mechanic of the King”.

Leonardo spent much of his time in King Francis’ employment studying ways and means of making the Loire River navigable.


His artistic genius was first noted when working as an apprentice to Andrea Del Verrocchio, Leonardo inserted a head of an angel of such perfection into Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ that his master vowed never to paint again.

Leonardo had a weakness for grotesque, curiously shaped heads and had a habit of following men and women with strange features. A hairy head would attract his attention for a whole day, then he would return home and reproduce it as a sculpture.

Truly ambidextrous, Leonardo could paint with one hand and draw with the other at the same time.

Leonardo's earliest known dated work is a drawing in pen and ink of the Arno valley, drawn on August 5, 1473.

The Arno Valley

Leonardo spent several years painting a representation of Jesus' last Passover meal for the Dominicans of Santa Maria delle Grazie on the wall of their convent in Milan. The Last Supper was completed on February 9, 1498.

Originally commissioned between 1503 and 1506, Leonardo finished his famous Mona Lisa (see below) painting a decade later while in the employment of King Francis of France, though he still didn’t consider it finished.

His model for Mona Lisa was one Lisa Del Giocana, whose silk merchant husband commissioned a portrait of her. Leonardo spent so long painting it that the husband terminated the sitting and refused to pay for the portrait.

According to Giogio Vasari's life of Leonardo, the legendary artist employed musicians and jesters to keep the smirking model merry and stop her fidgeting.

On one occasion Leonardo used his housekeeper to model a frightened woman. To help her achieve a petrified look he set himself on fire and painted the expression of horror on her face.

Leonardo invented in art "aerial perspective" whereby the misty atmosphere blurs and changes colors of the landscape as it dissolves into the distance. "All our knowledge has it's origins in our perceptions," he said.

In his time Leonardo was thought of as an also-run, a mere practitioner of the mechanical arts. Art was seen in his day as a craft on a par with baking and weaving.

Even in the nineteenth century not everyone rated him. The artist Renoir cattily said of Leonardo: "He bores me, he should have stuck to his flying machines."

Only 17 paintings that can definitely be attributed to Leonardo survive today, not all finished.

The only Da Vinci painting to be in private hands is The Madonna and the Yardwinder owned by the Duke of Buccleuch.  The painting has been lent to the National Gallery of Scotland (now the Scottish National Gallery) since 2009,


Leonardo's real interest was engineering and design. He was forever doodling with ideas sometimes to the detriment of his public commissions.

Leonardo designed a diving helmet of leather. It was furnished with spikes to protect the diver from monsters and a breathing tube stretched from the helmet to the surface with a cork float.

While working for the Duke of Milan Leonardo developed a keen interest in canal building. He worked out how to divert the River Arno. After 2000 workmen toiled for six months to no avail the project was aborted.

In 1510 Leonardo designed a horizontal water wheel which was a forerunner of the modern water turbine.

Leonardo was commissioned to make a mechanical lion which could walk forward, then open its chest to reveal a cluster of lilies. It is unknown for what occasion the mechanical lion was made but it is believed to have greeted King Francis I of France at his entry into Lyon and perhaps was used for the peace talks between the French king and Pope Leo X in Bologna.

Leonardo invented an early alarm clock, which woke the sleeper by gently rubbing his feet.

A pacifist, Leonardo booby-trapped his designs to prevent his militaristic patrons using him to wage war. For instance, he sketched a combat vehicle with some resemblance to a tank.with gearing that could never work in practice.

He sketched in his Codex Atlanticus dated to around 1485 a possible parachute. Leonardo said of it "If a man has a tent 12 braccia wide and 12 high covered with cloth, he can throw himself down from any great height without hurting himself."

The feasibility of Leonardo's parachute design was successfully tested in 2000 by Briton Adrian Nicholas and again in 2008 by Luigi Cani.

Leonardo da Vinci was the first to explain why the sky is blue.


The Pope once refused permission to Leonardo to study anatomy at a hospital in Rome. Later he dissected corpses, which at the time was still considered a taboo practice.

Da Vinci did the first accurate and detailed anatomical drawings including showing the function of the heart valves and cavities of the brain.

Leonardo's drawing of the Vitruvian Man (see below) is is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius. It is regarded as a cultural icon,being reproduced on items as varied as the euro coin and T-shirts.

In his Codex on the Eye Leonardo suggested immersing a patient's eye in a water filled tube sealed with a lens for correcting sight defects.

Da Vinci had a rare brain condition known as "Double Hemisphere Action" which meant he could
simultaneously write different sentences with his right and left hand and carry on a quite unconnected conversation.

Leonardo was the first to record that the number of rings in the cross section of a tree trunk reveals its age. He also discovered that the width between the rings indicated the annual moisture.


Leonardo left 5,000 pages of jokes, dabblings, drawings, doodles, inventions and lists known as his note books.

Leonardo da Vinci used "mirror writing" (from right side of page to left) for his personal and private notes. This helped prevent others from stealing his ideas, protected his scientific theories from scrutiny by the Roman Catholic Church, and as a left-hander, also eliminated smudging.

The hidden treasures of Leonardo's notebooks languished unknown and unpublished for over 200 years after his death in trunks in outhouses.700 pages were found and 31 notebooks are preserved today.

The Codex Leicester, a collection of Leonardo's writings and drawings 1508-10 became the world’s most expensive book of any kind when it was sold for $30,802,500. to Bill Gates on November 11, 1994.

After Bill Gates purchased the Da Vinci Codex, he had it scanned for use as a wallpaper on Windows '95.

Page of the Codex Leicester

A volume of his drawings with Leonardo's legendary right to left writing is now in the Royal collection at Windsor Castle.


A strikingly handsome, tall man, Leonardo was described by people who knew him as "The most beautiful man who ever lived." As he got older, Leonardo developed an expansive grey beard.

Leonardo dressed as a dandy and wore the finest clothes. In his younger days he was proud of his rose colored tunics.

Reputedly a man of great strength. With his right hand, Leonardo could bend the ring of an iron door knocker or a horseshoe as if they were lead.

A charming man with a lovable disposition, he kept his servants well and fed and sheltered many friends. Strong willed, persuasive but Leonardo suffered from a  regal spirit and was full of airs and graces.

Leonardo kept his private life particularly secret, and there is no evidence that he was ever intimately involved with any woman, nor in a close friendship with one. He frequently drew bejeweled women with grotesquely ugly heads.

He surrounded himself with handsome young men throughout his life, and his art reflects an appreciation of androgynous beauty. It has, therefore, been assumed that Leonardo was a homosexual in a city (Florence) that was noted for it,

At the age of 23 Leonardo,along with three friends was accused of sodomy with a 17 year-old model, Jacopo Saltarelli, who was a notorious male prostitute. After two months in jail, he was acquitted as no witnesses had stepped forward. For some time afterwards, Leonardo and the others were kept under observation by Florence's Officers of the Night - a sort of Renaissance vice squad,

One of his loves may have been Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno (nicknamed Salai (Little Devil)). Gian entered Leonardo's household around 1488 at the age of ten, becoming his servant and assistant. Though Salai was always introduced as Leonardo's "pupil", he never produced any work of artistic merit.

In 1506, Leonardo met Count Francesco Melzi, the fifteen year old son of a Lombard aristocrat. Salai eventually accepted Melzi's continued presence and the three undertook various journeys throughout Italy.

Leonardo had many other friends who are now figures renowned in their fields, or for their influence on history; these included Niccolò Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia.

Rather than having one long sleep every night Leonardo tended to doze for twenty minutes every two hours.

Leonardo studied music and soon could improvise and play the lyre but he didn't stick at it.

In 1516 King Francis persuaded Leonardo to settle in France at the Château du Clos Lucé (or simply Clos Lucé) near Amboise in the Loire Valley. This red brick manor house is now a museum of his many achievements.


Leonardo once came up with a partially automated spit for roasting meat that turned over a fire as hot gases flow up a chimney, driven by a fan-like structure  The inventive artist and engineer was unlikely to develop the contraption for himself as he didn't eat meat. Indeed he was such a fervent vegetarian that he was known to buy caged birds from poultry vendors and set them free.

Leonardo was the first painter of religious subjects to show biblical characters looking like ordinary men without halos.

In his twilight years, Leonardo became increasingly devoutly religious and was tormented by an unnamed terrible sin. A brilliant man with a low boredom threshold, he was the embodiment of the Renaissance spirit having distinguished himself in a number of different fields from anatomy to aerodynamics. On his deathbed he confessed towards how greatly he had offended God by not working on his God given artistic talent more.


Leonardo da Vinci died at his Château du Clos Lucé home in France on May 2, 1519, According to his wish, 60 beggars followed his casket. He was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the castle of Amboise.

Francis I of France receiving the last breath of Leonardo da Vinci, by Ingres, 1818

Melzi was his principal heir and executor, but Salai was not forgotten: he received half of Leonardo's vineyard. Leonardo also remembered his servant Battista di Vilussis, who received the other half of Leonardo's vineyards, his brothers who received land, and a servant woman who received a black cloak "of good stuff" with a fur edge.

The actor Leonardo DiCaprio's first name derives from his German-born mother Irmalin's having experienced a sudden kick from her unborn boy while standing in front of a da Vinci painting in Italy.

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