Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519



The most heavenly gifts seem to be showered on certain human beings. Sometimes supernaturally, marvelously, they all congregate in one individual. . . . This was seen and acknowledged by all men in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, who had. . . an indescribable grace in every effortless act and deed. His talent was so rare that he mastered any subject to which he turned his attention. . . . He might have been a scientist if he had not been so versatile.
-- Giorgio Vasari

Museum of Science

MMA's Timeline of Art History

Leonardo's Bear, [MMA]

Leonardo as Draftsman, [MMA]

A Closer Look at the Mona Lisa

Andrea del Verrocchio's David, for which Leonardo is said to have posed.

Leonardo was born in the Tuscan hill town of Vinci, in the lower valley of the Arno River in the territory of Florence. Between his father's family and his mother's, Leonardo had 17 siblings, all of whom conspired to keep Leonardo from his father's inheritance. A polymath: scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician, poet and writer. Born at Vinci in the region of Florence, the illegitimate son of a notary, Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, and a peasant girl, Caterina (surname unknown). In 1466, Leonardo was apprenticed to Andrea di Cione, known as Andrea del Verrocchio - one of the most important artists in his time. Much of Leonardo's early career was spent in service to Ludovico il Moro in Milan. Leonardo also worked in Rome, Bologna and Venice, spending his final years in France at the home given him by King François I, who is said to have cradled Leonardo in his deathbed. Leonardo was 23 when Michelangelo was born and 31 when Raphael was born. Click here for The Metropolitan Museum of Art's special Leonardo feature, which corresponded with their show Leonardo da Vinci, Master Draftsman, January 22, 2003–March 30, 2003.











The Baptism of Christ, c. 1472–1475, by Verrocchio and Leonardo.











Study of light and volume.

Unlike Botticelli, Leonardo understood that objects were not made of outlines - that line did not exist in nature, and he explored the idea of three-dimensional bodies as defined by light and shadow. Known as chiaroscuro, this technique gave his paintings a more plausible illusion of space, contrasting the older art, which now looked flat.











The Vitruvian Man, c. 1492. Also called the Canon of Proportions.

Encyclopaedia Britannica online states, "Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe." Leonardo based his drawing on some hints at correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry in Book III of the Treatise de Architectura by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius:

The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.












Study of Embryos, pen over red chalk, c. 1510-1513.











Study of an old man.











Study of a Flying Machine, c. 1488.











Nature drawing.











Study of a horse.











The Last Supper, 1498 — Convent of Sta. Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy.

Instead of fresco, Leonardo used tempera over a ground that was mainly gesso, resulting in a disasterous surface vulnerable to not only flaking but also mold.











Full size cartoon of The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist, c. 1507











Virgin of the Rocks











Virgin of the Rocks, detail of above.











Lady with an Ermine











Portrait of Ginevra de Benci











Mona Lisa











Archaic kore figure (Greek), c. 7th-6th century BCE.











L. H. O. O. Q., Marcel Duchamp, 1917.











St. John the Baptist, 1513-1516, oil on walnut wood. This may have been Leonardo's last painting.











Self-portrait in red chalk, c. 1512-1515.

Giorgio Vasari, in his Lives of the Artists, (2nd ed. of 1568), introduces his chapter on Leonardo da Vinci with the following words:
In the normal course of events many men and women are born with remarkable talents; but occasionally, in a way that transcends nature, a single person is marvellously endowed by Heaven with beauty, grace and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind, all his actions seem inspired and indeed everything he does clearly comes from God rather than from human skill. Everyone acknowledged that this was true of Leonardo da Vinci, an artist of outstanding physical beauty, who displayed infinite grace in everything that he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied he solved with ease.