Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
was born on April 15, 1452, in the town of Vinci, not far
Being an illegitimate child, Leonardo could not benefit
from the educational opportunities that were granted to
aristocrats, and was therefore not exposed to classical
Greek manuscripts in his early years of education.
Thus, with his sharp mind and endless curiosity, Leonardo
began to re-discover his environment with his own observations,
and with the method of “tabula rasa”(1) he found the chance
to develop his own point of view on every matter…
ease and talent in drawing attracted attention from his
early years on and at the same time the perfection of his
figures proved that he was a unique talent. According to
historian Vasari, Leonardo’s father Piero showed the drawings
to his close friend, artist Andrea del Verrocchio. Verrocchio
was fascinated by the drawings of the young Leonardo and
so at the age of 17 Leonardo began an apprenticeship in
the workshop of Verrocchio.
As a general evaluation of the drawings Leonardo made
from his early years on until the last years of his life,
one can say that with his observations on environment, objects
and living things he was in fact exploring the mysteries
of life. Some of the drawings and notes in his sketchbooks
show that he was the first person to make autopsies with
a systematic and scientific approach. He observed the functioning
of the “machinery” of humans and of all living creatures,
especially birds, as well as the changes that are caused
in these organisms by ageing. And so, 500 years ago, he
found some cause and effect relations which are still valid
today. For example he came to the conclusion that rich and
heavy food cause atherosclerosis as one gets older.
Freud emphasizes the fact that Leonardo never lost his childish
and curious vision by saying, “Indeed the great Leonardo
remained like a child for the whole of his life in more
than one way; it is said that all great men are bound to
retain some infantile part. Even as an adult he continued
to play, and this was another reason why he often appeared
uncanny and incomprehensible to his contemporaries.” The
artist has also often used the power of his observation
talent on the people around him; his piercing gaze would
penetrate through the masks people use to hide behind.
researching, relentless, curious and passionate perception
has also left behind an unforgettable “gallery of types”
showing various human types of Renaissance Italy. A major
part of these human drawings are sketches of figures necessary
for the creation of portrait and composition orders. Another
part of the drawings are of citizens of Renaissance Italy,
who with their striking and extraordinary physical features
attracted da Vinci’s attention and so had the privilege
of entering his sketchbooks. These were people from Florence,
Rome, Milan, people from the artist’s social environment,
employers, their wives, sketches of portraits of members
of the church, and various human portraits of beautiful,
ugly, old, young, females and males.
The Renaissance period in which Leonardo lived was
a time of continuous agitation, conflict, wars and riots.
When searching for sponsors, Leonardo has therefore emphasized
his engineering skills –his expertise in war machinery and
methods– in his letters of application.
It is no surprise that the male figures in Leonardo’s portraits
stand out with their warrior, gruesome, grotesque features.
It is also remarkable that the majority of the female
figures he used in his religious paintings and portrait
orders have an idealized beauty.
exceptions to this conclusion are of course the “Portrait
of a Grotesque Old Woman” which is thought to have been
copied from Leonardo by Francesko Melzi in 1490/91 and the
“Grotesque Portrait Studies” estimated to have been made
in 1492. But in general one can say that the women in his
paintings such as “Mona Lisa” (Portrait of Lisa del Giocondo),
“The Madonna of the Carnation”, “Annunciation”, “Portrait
of Ginevra de' Benci”, “Virgin of the Rocks”, “Portrait
of an Unknown Woman” dated 1490, “The Virgin and Child with
St Anne” and “Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with an
Ermine)” have been idealized with smooth and radiant complexions
and fully symmetric and geometric facial proportions. One
can also assume that the warrior rulers and other powerful
men of Renaissance Italy got married to much younger women
than themselves and therefore the majority of Leonardo’s
models were young and beautiful women.
inner organs of the human being in Leonardo’s anatomy drawings
are more closely interconnected than they are in 0reality;
this reflects his concept of the deep complexity of human
nature. Leonardo believed that different parts of the body
had emotional functions; for instance tears came directly
from the heart, the seat of all feeling. In line with the
idea that the human face is a direct reflection of an individual’s
underlying character and momentary sensations, da Vinci
gave expressions to the faces of the people he observed
according to his opinion of them and to the role he gave
them. This must also be the reason why his gallery of human
portraits stands out with grotesque and caricaturized images.
In his illustrations of some emotional moments in Christian
mythology, the artist tends to illustrate the people he
isn’t fond of uglier than they are.
the other hand, he would use all his talent to illustrate
the people he is interested in or has special feelings towards
-for example the noble women whose portraits he made- mysterious
and emotional. His foremost work of this sort was surely
the “Mona Lisa”, a painting he always carried by his side,
until the day he died. da Vinci is mainly acknowledged and
identified with the “Mona Lisa” portrait.
Using ink pens, Leonardo has illustrated the people
he chose for his “human types gallery” in various positions
-in side view, from the front and half way turned around-
and with different facial expressions… We know that some
of these drawings have been used for the figures in some
of the few oil paintings he made on canvas. These works
that complete each other are therefore a good indication
of how, by using different painting materials and techniques,
the same human face can have various superior and peculiar
strengths of expression.
human illustrations take us right into the crowded streets
of Renaissance Italy. The princes, priests, merchants, warriors,
noblemen, women and children are the forerunner of the modern
man, the individual, who has emerged in the atmosphere of
freedom subsequent to the medieval.
555 years after his birth, we honor the big master Leonardo
da Vinci with respect, as he is the one who has granted
us this awareness by keeping a visual recollection of that
(1) Italian: ‘wiped board’.
Da Vinci Painting
Leonardo da Vinci Biography
|Madonna with the Carnation,
Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo, The Baptism of Christ,
Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo,
Madonna Benois, c. 1475-1478
Portrait of Ginevra de’Benci, c. 1478-1480
St. Hieronymous, c. 1480-1482
Adoration of the Magi, 1481-1482
The Virgin of the Rocks (Mary with Christ, the infant St.
John and an angel), 1483-1486
The Virgin of the Rocks (Mary with
Madonna Litta, c. 14
Study for the Head of a Woman, c. 1490
Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with an Ermine), c.
Portrait of a Young Man (Portrait of the Musician Franchino
Gaffurio?), c. 1490
Portrait of an unknown Woman (La Belle Ferroniére), c.1490
Copy after Leonardo’s Last Supper
Study for the Last Supper (St. James the Greater) and Architectural
Study for the Last Supper (Judas), c.1495
Study for the Last Supper (the Disciple Philip), c. 1495
Study for the Last Supper (Peter?), c. 1495
Burlington House Cartoon (Mary, Christ, St. Anne and the
Infant St. John), 1499
Virgin and Child with St. Anne, c. 1502-1516
Madonna of the Yarnwinder, 1501
Portrait of Lisa del Giocondo (Mona Lisa), 1503-1506
Studies of Heads in Profile, c. 1478-1480
Study of a Young Woman in Profile, c.1511/12
Bearded Old Man in Profile, c. 1472
Warrior with Helmet and Breastplate in Profile, c.1472
Head of an Old Man in Profile, c.1485-1490
Head of an Old Man in Profile, c.1490
Bald Man in Profile, c.1495 (?)
Bald Man in Profile, c.1495 (?)
Studies of an Old Man and a Youth (Salai?) in Profile, Facing
each Other, c.1500-1505
Profile Study of an Old Man with a Laurel Wreath, c.1506-1508
Bust of an Older Man in Profile (Gian Giacomo Trivulzio?)
Head and Shoulders of a Youth in Profile (Salai?), c. 1510
Profile Study of a Youth (Salai?), c.1510
Head and Shoulders of an Older Man, c.1510-1515
Character Head of an Older Man and Sketch of a Lions Head,
Profile Study of an Old Man with a Beard and Braided Hair,
Study of a Bearded Old Man in Profile, c. 1513
Head of a Bearded Man (so-called Self-portrait), c.1510-1515
Character Head of an Old Man, c.1505
Grotesque Head of an Old Man with a Hat, Seen in Profile,
Grotesque Head of an Old Man with a Hat, Seen in Profile,
Grotesque Portrait Studies of Two Men, c.1487-1490
Profile Study of a Grotesque Male Head, c.1485-1490
Five Grotesque Heads, c.1494
Profile Study of a Grotesque Head, c.1500-1505
Grotesque Portrait Study of a Man, c.1500-1505
Grotesque Portrait of an Old Woman, c.1490/91 (?)
Grotesque Portrait Studies with a caricature of Dante (bottom
right), c.1492 (?)
Study of the Proportions of the Head and Face, c.1489/90
Torso of a Man in Profile, the Head Squared for Proportion,
and Sketches of Two Horseman, c. 1490 and c.150
Born on April 15 as the illegitimate son of the notary Ser Piero di
Antonio da Vinci and peasant woman Caterine, in Anchiano near Florence.
The same year his father marries another woman, Albiera di Giovanni
Amadori, from a “better” background.
Leonardo lives with his father.
1469 They move to Flornce where Leonardo starts to work in the workshop
of painter and sculptor Andrea del Varrocchio.
1472 Enters the San Luca guild of painters in Florence, which shows
that he had attained a degree of professional independence.
1473 Leonardo makes his earliest known drawing; ‘Landscape Drawing of
the Arno Valley’.
1476 Leonardo is accused of homosexual practices with his 17 year old
assistant Jacopo Saltarelli.
1472-1480 Continues to work in Verrocchio’s workshop. Works on paintings
‘Baptism of Christ’ and paintings of his own such as ‘Madonna with the
Carnation’, ‘Madonna Benois’ and perhaps the ‘Annunciation’.
Receives his first significant commission most probably with the help
of his father; to make an altar painting for the Bernhard Chapel in
the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, but he did not complete it.
1482 Moves to Milan and works as a military engineer,
sculptor and painter for the the ruler, Ludovico Sforza.
1483-1486 He is commissioned to make an altar painting ‘Virgin of the
Rocks’ together with the two brothers Ambrogio and Evangelista de Predis.
1487-1488 Works as consultant architect in the Milan Cathedral Workshop.
1489-1494 Leonardo who becomes a court artist to the Sforza Family,
works on an equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza in Milan, commissioned
by Ludovico Sforza.
also is recognized for designing court festivities.
1499 Leonardo starts the ‘Burlington House Cartoon’ for King Louis XII
of France, but later leaves Milan and goes to Venice.
1500 Makes a cartoon of the ‘Virgin and Child with St. Anne for the
Church of SS.’
1501 Works on a small painting of the ‘Virgin and Child (Madonna of
the Yarnwinder)’ for Florimond Robertet, Secretary to the King of France.
1502 Travels Central and Upper Italy with mercenary leader Cesare Borgia
as his architect and military engineer.
1503 Returns to Florence and starts on a portrait of his wife Lisa del
Giocondo (The Mona Lisa). Later he starts on one of his most monumental
commissions, which is the wall-painting of the ‘Battle of Anghiari’
in the Grand Council Chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
1504 His father dies.
1506 Leonardo is given the permission by the Florentine civic authorities
to go to Milan for three months, upon the wish of of the French governor,
Charles d’Amboise, but stays longer leaving the ‘Battle of Anghiari’
1507 He returns to Florence for a short time to continue the wall-painting,
but again is called upon by the King of France to Milan, where he paints
a new version of the ‘Virgin of the Rocks’.
1508-1512 With exception of a few short visits to Florence, Leonardo
stays in Milan generally serving Charles d’Amboise.
1513 After the death of Charles d’Amboise, Leonardo goes to Rome wtih
his new patron Guiliano de’ Medici.
1516 After the death of Guiliano de’ Medici, he becomes
the court painter of the French King Francis I. He lives in Cloux, where
he does scientific experiments, architectural designs and irrigation
Leonardo dies on May 2nd in Cloux. Upon his request Leonardo was buried
in the Church of St. Florentine in Amboise, but unfortunately his grave
was destroyed during war.
1520-1530 Francesco Melzi, the pupil of Leonardo, organizes the manuscripts
he has inherited and compiles the ‘Treatise on Painting’, which are
instructions on painting. As for his paintings, they are left to another
pupil, Giacomo Salia, but after his death they are acquired by the King
of France during the 1530s and can still be visited at the Louvre.
Frank Zöllner, ‘Leonardo’, Germany: Taschen, 2000
Leonardo Da Vinci index
of the Magi, Anatomical Drawing of Hearts, Anatomical Studies, Anatomical
Study, Annunciation, Archimedes Screws, Caricature Head Study, Caricature
Of The Head Of An Old Man, Codex Hammer, Codex Madrid Design, Design
for Two-Wheeled Hoist, Female Head in Profile, Fin Spindle, Flying Machine,
Giant Catapult, Head of a Child, Head of a Warrior, Head of a Woman,
Head of a Young Woman, Head of the Saviour, Hydraulic Water Pump, La
Belle Ferronniere, Lady with the Ermine, Last Supper, Madonna of the
Rocks, Mona Lisa, Page From Quaderni D'Anatomia, Portrait of a Bearded
Man, Portrait of Isabella d'Este, Six Figures, Sketch of a Horse, St.
John the Baptist, Study for 'Adoration of the Magi', Study for Adoration,
Study for an Apostle, Study for Horse Sculpture, Study for the Battle
of Anghiari, Study for the Virgin and Child, Study of a Child's Head,
Study of a Hand, Study of Arms, Study of Drapery, Study of Flowers,
Two Heads, Unicorn Dipping its Horn, Virgin and Child, Virgin and Child
with St Anne ink oil, Virgin of the Rocks, Vitruvian Man
|About Mona Lisa and The
just can't stop talking about that Mona Lisa. Why is she
smiling? What's her story? Some people think her mysterious
grin meant she was secretly pregnant, but that would be
unlikely in conjunction with another theory: that Mona Lisa
is actually a self-portrait of Leonardo! X-rays of the painting
and close comparison with drawings of Leonardo suggest that
this may actually be true.
The Last Supper is one of Leonardo's best-known and worst-preserved
pieces. Doomed from the start by Leonardo's experimental
technique, the mural began to deteriorate even before the
artist's death. Within 50 years it was almost indecipherable,
and it was repainted twice during the 18th century. Its
suffering continued through the 19th century, first at the
hands of Napoleon's soldiers, then from the monks who actually
cut a door through the bottom. After miraculously surviving
the Allied bombs of World War II, the beleaguered mural's
luck began to change. Restorers discovered that much of
the original work remained, and it is once again a joy to