Inventor: Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci
Criteria: Architect, sculptor, engineer, painter, scientist, and inventor.
Birth: April 15, 1452 in the small town of
Death: May 2, 1519 in Cloux, near
Leonardo was born in the small town of
In 1478 Leonardo became an independent master. His first commission, to paint an altarpiece for the chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio, the Florentine town hall, was never executed. His first large painting, The Adoration of the Magi (begun 1481, Uffizi), left unfinished, was ordered in 1481 for the Monastery of San Donato a Scopeto,
About 1482 Leonardo entered the service of the duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, having written the duke an astonishing letter in which he stated that he could build portable bridges; that he knew the techniques of constructing bombardments and of making cannons; that he could build ships as well as armored vehicles, catapults, and other war machines; and that he could execute sculpture in marble, bronze, and clay. He served as principal engineer in the duke's numerous military enterprises and was active also as an architect. In addition, he assisted the Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli in the celebrated work Divina Proportione (1509).
Evidence indicates that Leonardo had apprentices and pupils in
During his long stay in
In 1502 Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia, duke of
During this second Florentine period, Leonardo painted several portraits, but the only one that survives is the famous Mona Lisa (1503-1506, Louvre). One of the most celebrated portraits ever painted, it is also known as La Gioconda, after the presumed name of the woman's husband. Leonardo seems to have had a special affection for the picture, for he took it with him on all of his subsequent travels.
In 1506 Leonardo again went to
Although Leonardo produced a relatively small number of paintings, many of which remained unfinished, he was nevertheless an extraordinarily innovative and influential artist. During his early years, his style closely paralleled that of Verrocchio, but he gradually moved away from his teacher's stiff, tight, and somewhat rigid treatment of figures to develop a more evocative and atmospheric handling of composition. The early painting The Adoration of the Magi introduced a new approach to composition, in which the main figures are grouped in the foreground, while the background consists of distant views of imaginary ruins and battle scenes.
Leonardo's stylistic innovations are even more apparent in The Last Supper, in which he represented a traditional theme in an entirely new way. Instead of showing the 12 apostles as individual figures, he grouped them in dynamic compositional units of three, framing the figure of Christ, who is isolated in the center of the picture. Seated before a pale distant landscape seen through a rectangular opening in the wall, Christ—who is about to announce that one of those present will betray him—represents a calm nucleus while the others respond with animated gestures. In the monumentality of the scene and the weightiness of the figures, Leonardo reintroduced a style pioneered more than a generation earlier by Masaccio, the father of Florentine painting.
The Mona Lisa, Leonardo's most famous work, is as well known for its mastery of technical innovations as for the mysteriousness of its legendary smiling subject. This work is a consummate example of two techniques—sfumato and chiaroscuro—of which Leonardo was one of the first great masters. Sfumato is characterized by subtle, almost infinitesimal transitions between color areas, creating a delicately atmospheric haze or smoky effect; it is especially evident in the delicate gauzy robes worn by the sitter and in her enigmatic smile. Chiaroscuro is the technique of modeling and defining forms through contrasts of light and shadow; the sensitive hands of the sitter are portrayed with a luminous modulation of light and shade, while color contrast is used only sparingly.
Leonardo was among the first to introduce atmospheric perspective into his landscape backgrounds, an especially notable characteristic of his paintings. The chief masters of the High Renaissance in
Leonardo's many extant drawings, which reveal his brilliant draftsmanship and his mastery of the anatomy of humans, animals, and plant life, may be found in the principal European collections. The largest group is at
Because none of Leonardo's sculptural projects was brought to completion, his approach to three-dimensional art can only be judged from his drawings. The same strictures apply to his architecture: None of his building projects was actually carried out as he devised them. In his architectural drawings, however, he demonstrates mastery in the use of massive forms, a clarity of expression, and especially a deep understanding of ancient Roman sources.
As a scientist Leonardo towered above all his contemporaries. His scientific theories, like his artistic innovations, were based on careful observation and precise documentation. He understood, better than anyone of his century or the next, the importance of precise scientific observation. Unfortunately, just as he frequently failed to bring to conclusion artistic projects, he never completed his planned treatises on a variety of scientific subjects. His theories are contained in numerous notebooks, most of which were written in mirror script. Because they were not easily decipherable, Leonardo's findings were not disseminated in his own lifetime; had they been published, they would have revolutionized the science of the 16th century. Leonardo actually anticipated many discoveries of modern times. In anatomy he studied the circulation of the blood and the action of the eye. He made discoveries in meteorology and geology, learned the effect of the moon on the tides, foreshadowed modern conceptions of continent formation, and surmised the nature of fossil shells. He was among the originators of the science of hydraulics and probably devised the hydrometer; his scheme for the canalization of rivers still has practical value. He invented a large number of ingenious machines, many potentially useful, among them an underwater diving suit. His flying devices, although not practicable, embodied sound principles of aerodynamics.
TO LEARN MORE
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown / Hardcover: 454 pages / Doubleday Books; 1st ed edition (March 18, 2003)
Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. While working to solve the enigmatic riddle, they are stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci -- clues visible for all to see -- yet ingeniously disguised by the painter. What did he know and when did he know it.
The Da Vinci Kit: Mysteries of the Renaissance Decoded
by Andrew Langley / Paperback: 64 pages / Running Press Book Publishers; Kit edition (April 2006)
Uncover the secrets of Leonardo da Vinci's highly debated masterpieces with this interactive investigation of the original Renaissance man. Our Da Vinci Kit will satisfy fans of Brown's book who hunger for more information about the enigmatic Leonardo da Vinci, his masterpieces, and the Renaissance era that defined him--in an appealing, interactive format!
Leonardo Da Vinci
Kenneth Clark, Leonardo, Martin Kemp / Paperback (1993) / Penguin USA
In an engaging essay complementing 120 color plates, Clayton, a curator at Windsor Castle, follows Leonardo's travels from Florence to France through his drawings.
Leonardo: Painter, Inventor, Visionary, Mathematician, Philosopher, Engineer
Jean Claude Fere, Leonardo, Jean-Marie Clark / Paperback - 207 pages ( 1995) / Terrail
Leonardo da Vinci was a Renaissance man in the fullest sense. Over 150 color illustrations offer glimpses into the inner world of the man who was four centuries ahead of his time.
Richard A. Turner / Paperback - 268 pages (October 1994) / University of California Press (1994)
A clever conceit--how each century creates its own version of Leonardo, revealing truths about both the painter and the evolution of culture--artfully constructed.
How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day
by Michael J. Gelb / Paperback: 321 pages / Dell Books (Paperbacks) (February 8, 2000)
Leonardo's life provides examples of qualities that we can all move towards in our own lives. The book emphasizes that we are all much more creative than we realize.
Leonardo: The Artist and the Man
by Serge Bramly, Sian Reynolds (Translator) / Paperback: 493 pages / Penguin
Serge Bramly's acclaimed biography reveals Leonardo to be as complicated, seductive, and profoundly sympathetic as the figures he painted.
ON THE SCREEN:
Da Vinci Tech
DVD / 1 Volume Set / 50 Minutes / Biography / Less than $25.00
Nearly 500 years after his death, Leonardo da Vinci still intrigues us. Though best known as a great artist, but he was also a remarkable scientist and inventor. His love of mechanics was unparalleled and he filled his notebooks with pages of incredible machines
Life of Leonardo Da Vinci
DVD / Color, NTSC format (US and Canada only) / 2 discs / 270 Min. / Less than $36.00
How can anyone capture the complexity of such a staggering and legendary figure as Leonardo da Vinci? This massive docudrama gives its all, and will probably never be surpassed.
ON THE WEB:
Da Vinci Biography
From the Museum of Science Web site.
From the Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia.
Virtual Leonardo da Vinci Museum
Explore his birthplace, culture surroundings and achievements in
Da Vinci's Inventions
Contains information on over 25 of da Vinci's inventions with photo's and descriptions.
Working Machine Models
Leonardo da Vinci working machines made by hand for gift and education purposes.
Leonardo's fascination with machines probably began during his boyhood. The workshop is presented at the
Mona Lisa Smile Secrets Revealed
The painting's smile has kept art lovers guessing The smile on the face of the Mona Lisa is so enigmatic that it disappears when it is looked at directly, says a
The Mind of Leonardo
An exhibit designed to convey an image of Leonardo's intellectual initiatives that will be easily accessible to all visitors and historically accurate. The exhibition will display exceptional documents and original works, drawings, paintings and manuscripts by Leonardo. Presented by the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in
WORDS OF WISDOM:
"Although human subtlety makes a variety of inventions by different means to the same end, it will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature, because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous." - Leonardo daVinci
DID YOU KNOW?
Leonardo had no surname in the modern sense; "da Vinci" simply means "from Vinci". His full birth name was "Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci", meaning "Leonardo, son of (Mes)ser Piero from Vinci."