Leonardo DAVINCI

Ansel Adams

John James Audubon Mary Cassatt Paul Cézanne Leonardo Da Vinci Edgar Degas The Hudson River School Michelangelo Claude Monet The Pre-Raphaelites Pierre-Auguste Renoir Vincent Van Gogh Frank Lloyd Wright

Leonardo DAVINCI


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ISBN (hardback) 978-1-4222-4638-2 ISBN (series) 978-1-4222-4632-0 ISBN (ebook) 978-1-4222-7176-6

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Developed and produced by National Highlights, Inc. Editor: Regency House Publishing Limited Interior and cover design: Regency House Publishing Limited Text © 2023 Regency House Publishing Limited

Front cover: The Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) (1503–07) Page 1: Adoration of the Magi (1481–82) Pages 2–3: The Annunciation (1472–75)


The Art of Leonardo 7 Series Glossary of Key Terms 92

Index 94 List of Plates 96




Leonardo Da Vinci was born in April 1452 near Vinci, a small town in Italy. He was the illegitimate son of a local village notary. As a young man, he demonstrated a developing artistic talent that led to his unique legacy to the world. Along with Michelangelo and Raphael, Leonardo is one of the greatest figures of the Italian Renaissance and is acknowledged to be perhaps the most complete universal genius in history, as artist, scientist, engineer, and inventor. His painting, the Mona Lisa , is arguably both the most famous painting in the world and the quintessential Renaissance image of womanhood. Other world-famous works include The Last Supper and Leonardo’s drawings of a flying machine. Da Vinci died of a probable stroke in May 1519 at the age of 67.


O ne of the more interesting aspects of Renaissance civilization is that its genius did not spring from the privileged, educated, and monied classes, but revealed itself in unlikely places, often developing from seemingly unpropitious beginnings. It is a measure of the freedom of thought that was then current that in the intellectual climate that the Renaissance fostered, there was no single route to achievement—nor one point of departure. These comments are made because they have a particular relevance to the subject of this book, Leonardo Da Vinci, whose illegitimate birth to a peasant woman in an obscure fortified village in the foothills of Monte Albano could not have presaged that he would become perhaps the greatest universal genius in the history of mankind. It is always dangerous to deal in superlatives, but if Leonardo cannot be said to fit that Continued on page 14

PLATE 1 Self-Portrait (c. 1512–15) Sanguine red chalk on paper, 13 1 ⁄

8 x 8

3 ⁄ 8 inches (33.3 x 21.3 cm)

Leonardo’s presentation of himself as an ancient sage, with a long beard and severe demeanor, has been analyzed by a number of writers since he drew the portrait in the last years of his life. One comment from the sixteenth century is that Leonardo wore his hair and his beard so long, and his eyebrows were so bushy, that he appeared the very personification of noble wisdom. Is this how Leonardo actually perceived himself? Views of those who knew him varied greatly, but there was general agreement that he was a procrastinator who rarely finished anything, with which view any writer on his career is bound to agree. Pope Leo X summed up his view of Leonardo thus: “Alas, this man will do nothing; he starts by thinking of the end of the work before its beginning.” This assessment of a man whose life achievement seems to us unparalleled is a surprising reflection on Renaissance values.





PLATE 2 Vinci, near Florence, Italy

Leonardo Da Vinci was born in a village close by to the town of Vinci and near the larger city of Florence. This is how Leonardo was named.





PLATE 3 (right detail) Verrocchio: The Baptism of Christ (1472–75) Tempera and oil on panel, 69 2 ⁄ 3 x 59 1 ⁄ 2 inches (177 x 151 cm) Leonardo’s contribution to this painting by Andrea del Verrocchio, in whose studio he had served his apprenticeship, consists of the figure of the kneeling angel on the left of the painting and possibly some repainting of the landscape background. With hindsight, it is possible to see some of Leonardo’s qualities in this figure, but it does not stand out as demonstrably superior to the rest of the painting. Leonardo’s contribution was probably made in about 1472, after he had been accepted by the Painters’ Guild but while he was still working in Verrocchio’s studio, in charge of painting commissions. Leonardo’s intervention in the painting, which, it is believed, included repainting or adding some details, was to substantiate in a more effective form the triangular grouping of the figures, the foot of the angel balancing the foot of the Baptist. It is also probable that he made a major effect of space in the background with his repainting of that area.



PLATE 4 The Birthplace of Leonardo

Most people think that Leonardo Da Vinci was born in Vinci, as the name seems to suggest. But the truth is that the birthplace of Leonardo was in this stone house in Anchiano, about two miles (3 km) from Vinci.





criterion, it is difficult to suggest another. An illustration of the difficulty in measuring genius may be found in the old, now abandoned, Intelligence Quotient test. One exercise attempted by its creators was to measure the intelligence of historical personages against that of great modern minds. Having completed a list, and including

such eminent figures as Isaac Newton, Einstein, and others, they added as a footnote that Leonardo had not been included because he did not conform to any measurable criteria, since the intelligence quotient figure they had arrived at was plainly impossible. The IQ system examined all forms of intelligence over a full


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