LEONARDO da VINCI: The Renaissance Man’s Epitome

Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper - photo by Musement

Leonardo da Vinci (15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519) was an excellent Italian painter and polymath. Leanardo was also a foremost Old Master of the Italian Renaissance with his areas of specialisation and interests on cartography, history, writing, botany, astronomy, geology, anatomy, literature, engineering, mathematics, music, science, architecture, sculpting, painting, and invention.

Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1600, in the Uffizi, Florence – photo by artnet News

However, Leonardo da Vinci did extremely well as a scientist, architect, engineer, sculptor, and painter. He was considered to be one of the three great originators of High Renaissance art in Italy, together with Raphael and Michelangelo from 1490 to 1530. Leonardo was also distinguished as a master of oil painting such as the painterly methods of using shadow to make a 3-D effect (chiaroscuro) and using glazes in slightly different tones of colour, making an almost imperceptible transition from light to dark (sfumato). These two methods are noticeable in his Mona Lisa work of art.

Leonardo da Vinci was generally considered one of the greatest painters of all time. Quite a lot of scholars and historians consider Leonardo to be the prime exemplar of the Renaissance Man or Universal Genius. Moreover, he was extensively considered as one of the variedly gifted and artistic individuals to have ever lived. In fact, the extent and profundity of his interests don’t have any precedent in the history recorded so far, while his mind and personality look superhuman, he himself is remote and mysterious.

Leonardo is respected and appreciated for his technological cleverness and resourcefulness. It is also noteworthy that this great artist of his time was educated in the studio of Andrea del Verrocchio, who was a renowned Florentine painter. He spent the greater part of his earlier working life in Milan with Ludovico il Moro. Leonardo was famous principally as a painter.

Leonardo’s armoured fighting vehicle – photo by LeonardoDaVinci.net

However, he conceptualised flying machines, a kind of armoured fighting vehicle, an adding machine, concentrated solar power, and double hull. Quite a few of his designs were built or even feasible in his life, owing to the fact that the contemporary scientific approaches to engineering and metallurgy were just in their early years during the Renaissance. However, a number of the smaller inventions of Leonardo, like a machine for testing the tensile strength of wire and an automated bobbin winder entered the manufacturing world unheralded.

Many of the most practical inventions of Leonardo are at this present time exhibited at the Museum of Vinci as working models. He made considerable discoveries in hydrodynamics, optics, geology, civil engineering, and anatomy, but he didn’t publish his findings. As a result, they had no direct influence on later science.

Childhood Life

To be précised, Leonardo da Vinci was born on 15 April 1452 but his full name was Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci, which simply means Leonardo the son of Messer Piero from Vinci.

Leonardo spent his first five years in a small town called Anchiano. From 1457 he lived in his father’s household, together with his uncle and grandparents in the little town of Vinci.

Design for a flying machine by Leonardo da Vinci – photo by LeonardoDaVinci.net

Leonardo got unofficial education in mathematics, geometry and Latin. Later in life, Leonardo was able to record two childhood incidents only. The first was regarded as a sign, and this was the time a  kite dropped from the sky and flitted over his cradle, using its tail feathers to brush his face.

The second incident happened as he was exploring in the mountains, where he saw a cave and was frightened that some great monsters might hang there and driven by inquisitiveness to discover what was inside. As a matter of fact, the early life of Leonardo has actually been the subject of historical conjecture.

Early Life and Career in Florence

He trained in the influential and famous workshop of the renowned goldsmith, painter, and sculptor in Florentine where he was given the best education that can be useful for a young artist who was growing up in the Renaissance period. The studio was at the centre of the city. He was handled by a number of extremely talented artists.

Leonardo absorbed a massive range of technical skills in modelling, sculpting, painting, drawing, and goldsmithing, while he was in Florence. He was also trained in plaster casting and metal working. The studies of light and perspective had a great impact on Leonardo. Another great influence was the learning about the new oil painting techniques from Northern Europe.

Benois Madonna by Leonardo da Vinci – photo by LeonardoDaVinci.net

At this juncture, it was clear and obvious that Leonardo would play a significant role in the Early Renaissance painting because he exhibited great talent, even as a young apprentice. Leonardo opened his own workshop in 1477/1478, despite the fact that he still worked with his instructor for some years. Leonardo had become an independent artist by 1478, even though his early commission for an altarpiece was never executed.

Other works attributed and dated to this period are:

  • the portrait Ginevra de Benci
  • the Benois Madonna
  • unfinished Saint Jerome

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Life in Milan with Ludovico Sforza

Leonardo, who was restless and ambitious, dumped The Adoration of Magi, his first large-scale commission in 1482 and entered the service of Ludovico Sforza, who was then the Duke of Milan. He was with him until 1499 and at the same time when Leonardo got to the peak of his artistic career. He served Sforza as a senior engineer in many military adventures, in addition to sculpting and painting, and he was also active as a festival designer and an architect. Furthermore, he assisted Luca Pacioli, the Italian mathematician in his Divina Proportione work.

De Divina Proportione, a book by Luca Pacioli illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci – photo by Graphicine

Leonardo.s workshop was bustling with activity within a few years of his relocation to Milan. He finished a lot of studies on human anatomy, mechanics, architecture, and painting from 1485 to 1495, all of which he documented in abundantly illustrated detail in a sequence of notebooks.

Without a doubt, it was the absolute extensiveness of the interests and talents of da Vinci that resulted in a high number of uncompleted art projects of Leonardo. For instance, he actually finished just six projects in his 17 years stay in Milan, at times lingering on one painting for many years before completing it.

Leonardo Da Vinci As an Artist

The reputation of Leonardo Da Vinci as an artist rested on many works of paintings which were considered to class along with the ultimate masterpieces that were ever created in the best part of five hundred years. The virtuoso quality of these works lies in a mixture of painterly methods and aesthetics, not least in his excellent skill in the comparatively new medium of oil paint.

In addition, his exceptional draftsmanship, demonstrated in his Self-Portrait was evident in his bigger body of drawings, which can be noticed in a lot of the great European art collections. Unfortunately, Leonardo’s three-dimensional art can only be evaluated from his drawings, due to the fact that not any of his sculptural projects were finished. The same can be mentioned concerning his architecture, where his mastery of the subject is undoubtedly obvious from his architectural drawings and designs.

Ginevra de’ Benci by Leonardo da Vinci, use of chiaroscuro and sfumato – photo by Wikipedia

In contrast to the previously highly stylised projects of religious art, Leonardo dedicated much of his life trying to come up with down-to-earth, realistic paintings. Leonardo demonstrated his total mastery of painting systems, plus perspective, chiaroscuro and sfumato, which enabled him to make immensely realistic three-dimensional effects in representing his Madonnas as well as other figures as real-life people. This new lifelike approach, together with his mastery of colour pigments (colorito) and design (diseqno) had a great impact on succeeding generations of artists.

The Intellectual Artist

Leonardo emphasised greatly on the intellectual parts of painting, leading him and Michelangelo to spearhead the thought that artists were correct ingenious thinkers, not just skilled craftsmen.

The Painting of Leonardo

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci –
photo by Wikipedia

The fame of Leonardo rested on his accomplishments as a painter, in spite of the topical consciousness and admiration of him as a scientist and inventor. A handful of works either attributed or authenticated to him have been grouped to be part of his great masterpieces. These paintings are renowned for an array of attributes that have been much replicated by students and discussed extensively by critics and connoisseurs. Leonardo had already been described as a Divine Painter by the 1490s.

The innovative methods of laying on the paint, his interest in physiognomy, detailed knowledge of anatomy, geology, botany, and light, and how humans register emotion in gesture expression, his utilisation of subtle gradation of tone, as well as his inventive use of the human form in metaphorical composition, are all parts of the qualities that make Leonardo’s work exceptional. All these qualities reflected in his most famous painted works.

Leonardo’s Sculpture

There is little knowledge of the activity of Leonardo Da Vinci regarding his finished sculpture, due to lack of documentary evidence. But it was gathered from his writings and available documentary evidence that Leonardo considered himself talented in the area of sculpture. As a matter of fact, he knew that he was predominantly experienced in the challenging task of bronze casting. It was most likely that he started as an apprentice sculptor with his youthful activity being to a far lesser level a painter, even though it is true that all the works of sculpture which have been credited to the early years of Leonardo are either assigned to Antonio Rossellino or Verrocchio.

Leonardo da Vinci’s equestrian statue, Il Cavallo dello Sforza, 500 years in the making – photo by National Geographic

There is no recorded proof of any sculpture available which can readily be attributed to Leonardo. This declaration isn’t invalidated by the availability of waxes and bronzes, which have been allocated to Leonardo with slight justification. Some of them planned for the adornment of the Francesco Sforza monument, even as others were meant for the Trivulzio monument. These were the two monuments and huge tasks which occupied the mind of Leonardo for many years but were never finished.

The Architecture of Leonardo

There are no completed projects to confirm Leonardo Da Vinci’s studies in the area of architecture. The only information available is of the fact that he spent a long time setting up the auditorium of Milan Cathedral, and there are countless plans of fortifications which he created for Valentino and the Dukes of Milan. Nevertheless, the most interesting architectural project that Leonardo left behind is his draft of Trattato sull’architettura, which there is still enough evidence left about.

It is, therefore, apparent that the tremendous importance of the theories of Leonardo lies in the fact that they offer a connection between the fifteenth-century theories and that of the classical architectonic theories of the older Donato Bramante.


The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci – photo by LeonardoDaVinci.net

Leonardo wasn’t a creative painter, but a most creative draftsman, maintaining journals filled with detailed drawings and small sketches, recording all types of things that captured his interest. Plus, the journals there were available in many studies for paintings, a number of which can be known as introductory to certain works.

The Vitruvian Man, Head of an Angel, The Virgin of the Rocks in the Louvre, were all among his renowned drawings. Some other interesting drawings are various studies normally called caricatures owing to the fact that they appear to be based on observation of live models.

Leonardo’s Fame and Reputation

The prominence of Leonardo during his own lifetime was such that the King of France just took him away like a trophy, and was said to have offered him the support he needed in his old age and held him in his arms as he gave up the ghost.

The interest in Leonardo and his work has never reduced. This is because crowds still line up to see the best of his artworks. Many T-shirts still carry most of his famous drawing, while writers still keep hailing him as an intellect.

Old Age and Death of Leonardo Da Vinci (1513–1519)

From September 1513 to 1516, Leonardo spent much of his time living in Belvedere in Vatican City in Rome. On 2 May 1519, Leonardo died at Clos Lucé when he was 67 years of age. What caused his death was as a result of an intermittent stroke; this diagnosis is consistent with accounts of the state of Leonardo’s alleged remains as described in 1863.

The remains of Leonardo were initially interred in Saint-Florentin Chapel at the Chateau d’Amboise in the Loire Valley. But after the destruction of the chapel in 1802, the location of the remains of Leonardo became subject to argument.