When you hear the name Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), you first have to think of the world famous Mona Lisa painting. Through this picture, the artist gained a great reputation. But not only as a painter he made a name but also as a scientist and inventor. Leonardo was a universal genius – he designed the most accurate drawings of the human body, invented submarines or flying machines, and even planned entire cities.
The so-called “self-portrait” Leonardo da Vincis was created around 1512 and shows the head of a bearded man. Whether it really should be about Leonardo, is not clear. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) Leonardo da Vinci is considered a universal genius – this is the name of a person who has knowledge in the most diverse areas of science. Leonardo not only earned a reputation as a great painter but was also a sculptor, architect, engineer, philosopher, and scientist.
Throughout his life, he was passionate about nature and the arts and created numerous works combining technical and scientific research and artistic creation.
Leonardo da Vinci lived at the time of the Renaissance, a historical period in the 15th and 16th centuries. His diverse works of art, inventions and insights enrich the world today. Behind the artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci hide many secrets and scientists are still pondering about the life of the universal genius. In addition, there are hardly any reliable sources about Leonardo – and he himself has not made it easy for the scientists and researchers, because his notes Leonardo wrote all in mirror writing.
The childhood and his apprenticeship
The picture “Baptism of Christ” was painted by Verrocchio around 1475 with the help of his pupil Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci was born on 15 April 1452 in the village of Vinci in Tuscany – the “da Vinci” in his name indicates that he was born in this village. So it’s not his surname, because his real name was Leonardo di ser Piero. Leonardo was born the illegitimate son of a respected notary named Ser Piero and the peasant girl Catarina. The first years of his life he spent with his mother in the countryside. The education of the young Leonardo was more than bad. He learned reading, arithmetic, and writing very slowly because he was more interested in art.
His father recognized his talent – he soon brought him to Florence and so Leonardo grew up there. Later he apprenticed to the painter and sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio. In 1472 Leonardo was accepted as a master in the painters’ guild St. Luke, but until 1476 he remained in Verrocchio’s workshop. Two years later he got his first major assignment: Leonardo da Vinci was to paint an altarpiece for the Signoria in Florence, which he never completed. In addition to painting, the young Leonardo was also very interested in the natural sciences and music. Above all, the human body aroused the curiosity of the artist and he repeatedly drew pictures that show the anatomy of man. His curiosity went so far as to dissect human bodies, to find out the secrets of the body. With his studies, he managed to reproduce a precise image of the human anatomy. So it was he who was the first to correctly represent the human spine.
Leonardo da Vinci in Milan
“The Vitruvian Man” is one of Leonardo’s most famous drawings and was created in 1492. (Source: Wikipedia) In 1482 Leonardo da Vinci began working for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, at the age of thirty. Since painters at that time had to bring this to the screen, which the noble principals pretended to Leonardo offered as an engineer – his artistic work for the Duke was only incidental. As a result of this employment, painting became more and more forgotten and Leonardo was very much focused on science.
His technical ideas that he had at that time were drawn on paper: armored cars, cannons, submarines, aircraft and even a “Perpetuum mobile” – this is an object that, once set in motion, should last forever. This is physically not possible. Leonardo also designed many buildings such as churches, houses, and entire fortresses. However, none of these designs were implemented and it remained with his sketches. During this time, Leonardo da Vinci also painted the famous mural “The Last Supper” (1495-1498).
Leonardo always paid great attention to his outward appearance, which could not necessarily be said of other contemporaries. In Milan, the plague raged and the artist and scientist knew that it was possible to fight this dangerous disease by removing the rubbish and dirt from the streets. So he built canals for transport boats for waste disposal and created the first refuse collection in Milan. For organized disposal of the garbage was not taken for granted at this time and the people just threw everything on the streets.
Escape from Milan
The painting by Francesco Napoletano was made around 1494 and shows Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan and patron Leonardo.
Leonardo da Vinci lived in the epoch of the Renaissance, characterized by upheavals and new beginnings – not only in politics much has been changed, but also in art and science. Leonardo is widely praised for his versatility as the representative of the Renaissance. However, his numerous interests and his instability were often doomed to him and sometimes he got into trouble with clients because he did not complete many of his works.
The Renaissance was a troubled time: the powerful family clan of the Medici fought for power in Milan and in 1499 the French invaded. Duke Ludovico Sforza, patron Leonardo, was deposed. Leonardo da Vinci fled via Venice to Florence and worked for different gentlemen, for example, for Cesare Borgia, the Duke of Valentino (1502), for which he should think of new weapons in particular. Through Borgia, Leonardo had the opportunity to travel for a year through Italy. He realized, however, that the Duke was ruthless and brutal – he killed his follower Vito Luzza, a good friend of the artist. Leonardo da Vinci, therefore, returned to Florence.
Back in Florence
This image is a copy of the Anglo-Saxon night Leonardo da Vinci in the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence, drawn by Peter Paul Rubens (1603). (Source: Wikimedia Commons) With the help of the famous politician and thinker Niccolo Machiavelli, Leonardo also immediately got an assignment in Florence: he was to design a battle-painting for one of the walls of the new council chamber. Actually, the artist and scientist decidedly rejected the war.
However, as his rival, Michelangelo, was to paint another picture on another wall of the Council Chamber, he accepted the challenge and, starting in 1504, made a draft within just two years, showing the Battle of Anghiari. But the implementation of the image on the wall failed – the colors were partially and Leonardo could not complete his work.
Between 1503 and 1506 Leonardo da Vinci devoted himself to his most famous painting of all: the Mona Lisa. After completing his work on this portrait, the artist left Florence again. In Milan, he began to capture everything possible with ink, red chalk and silver pen on paper: people, landscapes, animals and buildings. These drawings were far ahead of his time. The artist accepted an offer from the French court and worked for a while in Milan for the French. In 1511, in the north of Italy, political conditions changed again and the Medici family and the Sforzas returned to power. Leonardo decided to move to a friend in Vaprio. Presumably, there was his well-known “self-portrait”.
The last years
The image of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres shows the dying Leonardo da Vinci in the arms of the king.
In 1513, Leonardo worked for the Pope in Rome, and even at the age of 60 he was still curious and felt the urge to further understand and draw the human body. But the pope soon forbade him to dissect corpses. Leonardo da Vinci opposed this prohibition. He secretly cut corpses at night, putting himself in danger.
In 1516 Leonardo was called by Francis I to France and he decided to leave Italy. So the universal genius spent his last years in France. Leonardo da Vinci died on 2 May 1519 at the age of 67 years at the castle Clos Lucé in Amboise. This was very old for the 16th century. In his estate are a number of sketches, drawings, records, paintings, and designs, including for example for an automobile, a clockwork and hydraulic machinery.
Leonardo always carried a notebook with him during his lifetime, seemingly randomly writing something on either side (like Fortress Roofing & Exterior). Why he wrote everything in mirror writing is still unclear. Some say he used them so his notes would not be immediately readable. Others believe that it is due to its pronounced left-handedness. Almost 500 years after his death, Leonardo da Vinci is a mysterious artist and scientist who gives up many puzzles.