Leonardo Da Vinci, His Life and Art


Leonardo da Vinci is usually regarded as an artistic genius who possessed great ability in art and understanding of the human physical features and natural sciences as depicted in his art. Leonardo da Vinci was also an accomplished musician and scientist. No other artist of his generation had such exceptional ability and left behind such a wealth of graphic work. He was somehow controversial, and as a young man, he was accused of being a homosexual (Zöllner, 2002, p.7). However, even though most of his works were of exceptional quality, he tended not finishing his works and sometimes fled due to social problems.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s early childhood

Leonardo da Vinci was born on 15th April 1452 in the village of Tuscan in Florence (Da Vinci, 2002, p 3). He was the son of Ser Piero da Vinci, a young lawyer and Caterina. He was of noble origin form his mother’s side (Da Vinci, 2002, p 4). His mother bestowed upon him not only the beauty of his person but also very many other gifts that placed him high above ordinary people. It is said that he was somehow a genius and usually solved with ease whatever he put his mind to (Da Vinci 2002 p 4).

When he was still young, he enrolled in the study of very many different things; however, he usually abandoned them once he had jut began to know them. One of the courses he studied was arithmetic, and after a few months, he had understood it so much that he used to come up with problems and solving them, which dismayed the person who was teaching him (Da Vinci 2002 p 5). Leonardo da Vinci also studied music and quickly learned to play the lyre.

He usually improvised on his music, and it made it to appear even more divine. When Leonardo da Vinci was young, he showed signs of intellectual and artistic ability. Leonardo da Vinci had high intellectual ability in mathematics and the general perspective of things concerning nature (Da Vinci, 2002 p 7). While still a boy, he did detailed drawings on paper, which were of exceptional quality in their finishing (Zöllner, 2000 p7).

One day, his father took some of the drawings made by Leonardo to his friend Andrea Del Verrocchio (1433-1485), a Florentine painter and sculptor (Zöllner, 2000 p.7). Andrea noted the exceptional quality of the paintings and insisted that Ser Piero should make him study design. Leonardo da Vinci, therefore, studied design after being requested by his father. However, Del Verrocchio saw the high quality of da Vinci’s work even though he was still learning the subject and convinced his father to let him study design as his apprentice. When his father asked Leonardo to work as an assistant to Andrea, he gladly accepted.

Early life as an artist

When Leonardo da Vinci joined Andrea Del Verrocchio’s workshop as his apprentice, he practised all branches of art in which drawing is a part of including architecture by using his intellect as a geometrician. He made architectural plans and elevations, designed flour mills fulling machines and engines that could be driven by the force of water (Da Vinci, 2002 p 7). However, the painting was what he mainly did; in his youth, he also made sculptures of the heads of boys and smiling women (Zöllner 2000). These sculptures seemed to be of exceptional quality and showed that he had a good understanding of the anatomy of the human body.

While da Vinci was still an apprentice at the workshop of Del Verrocchio, the latter was commissioned to do a painting of The Baptism of Christ (Zöllner, 2000, p10). Del Verrocchio asked da Vinci to paint part of the work painting the angel who kneels while holding some garments. He also asked da Vinci to modify the background in the painting. He made the painting in such a way that, by comparing them with the picture made by Del Verrocchio, the painting of the former seemed to be of higher quality compared with the artwork made by Del Verrocchio.

This is said to have made Andrea Del Verrocchio quit painting with colour since he could not bear the humiliation of having his picture seem inferior to that of da Vinci and yet da Vinci was far much younger than he was and still his student (Zöllner, 2000, p. 14). Da Vinci was accepted into the painters’ guild of Florence in 1472 while he was still working as an apprentice of Del Verrocchio soon after finishing the Verrocchio painting The Baptism of Christ.

The Baptism of Christ

Leonardo da Vinci’s works of art

Among the most original and creative works of da Vinci was the painting he made of medusa’s head. It had weird knots of serpents instead of hair on its head (Da Vinci, 2002, p.5). One of the earliest dated works of Leonardo da Vinci shows the view of a valley with hills on both sides of the horizon and the sea in the distance. He drew sketches to represent the trees in the landscape in an oscillating pattern in such a way that they appeared to blend perfectly with nature. This painting is now in the Uffizi in Florence. This was among the earliest paintings in history, depicting a landscape (Zöllner, 2000, p. 14).

This further shows that da Vinci derived his paintings from nature. It is said that one day while da Vinci’s father was resting in his country house one of his most loyal and diligent his servant brought him a shield which had been carved out of a fig tree and asked him to take it to da Vinci so that he may make a painting on it. Ser Piero obliged and took it to da Vinci for it to be painted, but he did not tell him what to paint on the shield.

Da Vinci took it and removed and had it reshaped to remove all the surface imperfections and then later had it smoothened. He then took the shield to a room and made a monster looking creature from lizards, maggots, snakes, bats, newts and other animals of the kind. This creature had a poisonous breath, belched poison from its throat, fire from its eyes and smoke from its nostrils. Since his father and the servant had not requested for the shield, he asked his father that it be sent.

When his father came for it, da Vinci revealed the painting in a dimly lit room with a stream of light illuminating the picture. His father was so frightened that da Vinci had to prevent him from running. He told his father that the painting had served its purpose, and hence he should take it. Ser Piero was so please with the painting that he secretly bought another shield for his servant; however, he later sold the original shied to some merchants who later sold it to the duke of Milan (Da Vinci, 2002, p.11).

After leaving Verrocchio’s workshop, Da Vinci remained in Florence and worked on his own until 1481 when he went to Milan. Da Vinci received his first independent commission in 1478 for the government of Florence. This was an altarpiece which was never completed. He later did a painting of the Madonna Litta. In 1481, da Vinci was asked to do a painting of The Adoration of Magi for the monastery of San Donato a Scopeto. The other was an altarpiece for St. Bernard chapel in the palazzo del Signoria. He did not finish the first one and did not even begin on the second one (Leonardo da Vinci’s Life, n.d). He abandoned the projects and went to Milan where he was hired by the city’s duke who was known as Ludovico Sforza.

It is also said that he abandoned the projects due to public humiliation as during the time that he was working on the paintings he was charged with sodomy (Zöllner, 2002, p 7). In Milan, he was employed as the painter and engineer of the duke. He helped in designing fortifications and military conceptions. He stayed in Milan for 17 years fleeing the city after the fall of the duke due to invasion by the French. In Milan, da Vinci did and completed at least six paintings.

Among this was the Virgin of the Rocks, the last supper, the ideal city, proportions of the human figure after Vitruvius and many others. The perfect city shows the sheer genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Though designed in the late 1480s, this city has all the modern facilities required in a contemporary city. Da Vinci designed a city, which had efficient means of communication, and sanitation, features that were only integrated into cities in modern times (Leonardo da Vinci’s Life, n.d).

The ideal city

The ideal city

The Last Supper depicts Jesus and his disciples as during the last supper, as explained in the bible. This painting was done on the plaster of the wall of the Santa Maria Delle Grazie. This is among the most sold copies of da Vinci’s work of all time. It is said that King Louis wanted so much to possess the painting of the last supper due to its magnificence that he had inquired whether it was possible to remove the painting by cutting through the wall even if this destroyed the famous refectory (Leonardo da Vinci’s Life, n.d).

The fact that da Vinci could create outstanding imaginary figures is shown in the picture of the Vitruvian man. Vitruvius, a first-century architect, had proposed that temples should be built-in asymmetry which resembles that of the man. He showed that the figure of a man could effectively fit in a circle and a square with both limbs outstretched. Da Vinci clearly illustrated this by showing the painting the picture of a man in different positions with both limbs stretched. In both cases, the man touched the circumference of the circle and was inside the square. The navel falls at precisely the centre of the circle and the square. None of the artists who had initially illustrated the Vitruvian man had shown the figure of a male adopting two positions in the same image. The Vitruvian man is further proof of da Vinci’s architectural ability.

The Vitruvian man

The Vitruvian man

While still in Milan, da Vinci made a large horse with the Duke of Milan on it, which was shown to be snorting and vigorously rearing, a sign of da Vinci clear understands of not just sculpturing but also natural sciences (Da Vinci, 2000, p6). He initially intended to cast the work in bronze, but this did not do it. After the fall of the duke of Milan, da Vinci left Milan and went back to Florence where he had gained a reputation after his departure. He was warmly welcomed and soon after started working as a senior “military architect for Cesare Borgia, the captain-general of the papal armies and son of Pope Alexander VI” (Da Vinci, 2000, p6). Soon afterwards, Leonardo was commissioned to paint a mural in palazzo Vecchio’s council hall in Florence.

His work was known as The Battle of Anghiari; however, da Vinci did not finish this work as he went back to Milan when its French governor offered him employment, thereby opting to take the employment and cease painting for some time. However, this was not to take long since before returning to Milan, Leonardo was commissioned by a rich inhabitant of Florence to make a portrait of his wife, Mona Lisa (Leonardo da Vinci’s Life, n.d). This would later turn out to be the most famous work of da Vinci. He showed the portrait as that of a woman who was in a half-smile. Here da Vinci’s mastery of the art is depicted in the fine detail with which the painting was made. The woman is made in a clearly distinguishable gaze and is half smiling. Leonardo captures this so clearly.

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

If Leonardo had a special interest in human anatomy, he did extensive studies on the human body and even did dissections of animals and even the human body. This enabled him to draw the human body so well, even indicating the fine muscles just as they appear in the body. Leonardo da Vinci was employed by Charles d’Amboise, the French governor of Milan in 1506 to work as an architect. He made very few paintings during this time.

In 1507, Leonardo was appointed by King Louis XII as his engineer and painter (Leonardo da Vinci’s Life, n.d). While in Milan, da Vinci did extensive research on the human body. When King Francis I offered him employment in France in 1516 he left Italy for France. He was employed as the first painter, architecture, and engineer to the king. While in France, he lived in the Manor of Cloux a gift he had received from the king. Leonardo stayed in France until his death on 2nd May 1519 in Cloux. He was 67 years old. However, even though he died a long time ago his some of his painting and many notebooks have been preserved, are still viewed, and admired many.

Works Cited

Da Vinci, Leonardo. Leonardo on Art and the Artist. Volume 2002, Part 2. NY, Courier Dover Publications. 2002. Web.

“Leonardo da Vinci’s Life.” Leonardo da Vinci’s Life. N.d. Web.

Zöllner, Frank. Leonardo, 1452-1519. Cologne, Taschen. 2000. Web.