January 1, 1478 - Leonardo DaVinci
By Emma O’Leary
Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, and an engineer, the epitome of a “Renaissance man.” He was born on April 15th, 1452, in Anchiano, Italy. Anchiano is close to the town of Vinci, which is the surname we know today. At the time of his birth, is parents were unmarried. Da Vinci grew up on his father’s family’s estate, where he received a fundamental education of basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. His father, an attorney and notary, found appreciation in da Vinci’s artistic talent and apprenticed him at age 15 with Andrea del Verrocchio, a notable painter and sculptor. In 1472, when da Vinci was 20, he was offered a membership for the painter’s guild of Florence, but da Vinci decided to stay with Verrocchio and keep refining his skills in painting, sculpting, and the mechanical arts. Da Vinci stayed with Verrocchio until 1478, when he became an independent master.
In 1482, da Vinci moved to Milan shortly after working in a commissioned piece for a Scopeto monastery. The piece was called The Adoration of the Magi, but was never finished. In Milan, da Vinci began working for the Sforza family, one of the ruling families in Milan during the Renaissance. While serving the Sforza family, da Vinci worked as an engineer, painter, architect, sculptor, and designed court festivals. The family asked da Vinci to build a 16-foot-tall bronze equestrian statue of the Sforza family founder, Francesco Sforza. He worked on this project on and off for over a decade, and in 1493, a clay model was finally ready for display; however, when Duke Ludovico Sforza fell from power in 1499, the bronze was repurposed for canons and the clay model was destroyed. Da Vinci was later listed in the register of the royal household as “pictor et ingeniarius ducalis” which translates to “painter and engineer of the duke.”
Da Vinci spent 17 years in Milan and competed six works. He worked on the altar painting “The Virgin on the Rocks” from about 1483-1486. This painting led to 10 years of dispute between da Vinci and the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, who commissioned the altarpiece. For reasons unknown, the legal dispute led da Vinci to make another version of the altarpiece in 1508. In 1487, “The Vitruvian Man” was created. The drawing is of a man in two overlapping positions inscribed in a circle and square. There are also notes around the drawing, based off of the work of architect, Vitruvius Pollio. The piece shows da Vinci’s interest in the proportions of man and his attempt to relate nature to man.
Da Vinci’s first big masterpiece was crafted during his time in Milan. “The Last Supper” was painted from 1495-1498. It was created for the refectory of Milan’s Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie and was painted onto plater using temper and oil paints. “The Last Supper,” also known as “The Cenacle,” measures about 15 x 29 feet is the only surviving da Vinci fresco. The mural depicts the Passover dinner during which Jesus addressed the Apostles and said “One of you shall betray me.” Even though the painting is relatively simple, da Vinci managed to portray much emotion in the faces of the Apostles and highlighted the Apostles with gesture, facial expressions, and poses. Many influential artists were awed by the composition of the painting, including Rubens and Rembrandt.
Shortly after French’s invasion of Milan, da Vinci left for Venice then back to Florence. In Florence, they welcomed him and honored him as a renowned native son. Da Vinci was then named an architectural expert on a committee investigating damage to the structure of the church of San Francesco al Monte. In 1503, da Vinci was commissioned to paint a mural for the council hall in the Palazzo Vecchio. It was to be a historical scene, portraying the Battle of Anghiari, and at 23 x 56 feet, it would have been twice the size of “The Last Supper,” but was unfortunately unfinished. During the same time period, da Vinci panted the “Mona Lisa (1503-1519).” The painting is of a woman, who is now believed to be Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of Florentine merchant, Francesco del Giocondo. “The Mona Lisa” is perhaps the most popular and most analyzed painting of all time, with the expression on the woman’s face and the landscape in the background. This balance shows da Vinci’s vision of the connection between humanity and nature.