Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo was one of the many famous masters of the sixteenth century. But, Leonardo was more than just an artist. He was an astronomer, sculptor, geologist, mathematician, botanist, animal behaviourist, inventor, engineer, architect and even a musician. As time went by, Leonardo da Vinci is still recognised as one of the most fascinating people history has ever known.

Leonardo was born on Saturday, 15th April 1452 at 10:30 in the night. He was an illegitimate son of notary (official) Ser Piero d’Antonia and a peasant called Caterina. After birth Ser Piero quickly married into a wealthy family while Caterina married a cowherd. Initially, Leonardo lived with his grandparents on father’s side. His father realised his wife could have no children so Leonardo was taken in by father and educated. As a young child, he showed extraordinary talent, being quick at music and learning to play lyre; could sing beautifully and was strong in mathematics. Leonardo was often found sketching out plants and animals.

In 1468, Leonardo’s grandparents died and the family moved to Florence. After realising his son’s artistic talents, his father sent Leonardo to study with the most sought after Florence master of time. Andrea Verrocchio was a renowned sculptor, painter and goldsmith; all areas Leonardo would study while apprenticed. Leonardo learnt grinding and mixing pigments, geometry and mixing colours, preparing panels, painting, working with clay and casting bronze.

In 1472, enrolled as a master in the Company of Painter meaning apprenticeship to Verrocchio ended by then. Best remembered for painting, very few artists painted/drew as much as Leonardo. Over 10,000 drawings of people, places and things being found all over the world which seems lucky since limited numbers of paintings survived.

In 1482, Leonardo wrote to Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, listing his abilities as a designer for both civil and military machines. Since Italy was faced with many wars at the times, Leonardo had many ideas for fortifications, bridges, weapons and river diversions to flood enemies.

"A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light."
-Leonardo da Vinci

In 1500 after many years serving in Milan, Leo returned to Florence. By this stage, he was a celebrated genius in both painting and engineering. He was also known for a number of infamous failures. It was here Leo met up with Michelangelo. Michelangelo mocked Leonardo about his failures and Leonardo was deeply hurt. This lead to a never ending rivalry between the two, although they had so much in common.

In 1503, both were commissioned to produce major murals for the great council hall in Palazzo Vecchio. Neither finished. Both would also help lead the revolution in anatomy. At the stage in history doctors still relied upon textbooks and tradition. Artists, as well as doctors, changed everything by beginning to dissect bodies and recording results accurately. The work of artists and doctors during the Renaissance was often very similar. Starting about this time, Leonardo developed his dreams of flying and over the next 2 years, he filled a notebook with sketches and studies of bird flight. He also designed a parachute and a helicopter, amongst other flying machines.

Did You Know? Leonardo Da Vinci invented scissors.
Leonardo went to Rome in 1513 where he worked for Giuliano de ‘Medici. The next two years involved much illness for the artist and he was often frustrated during this period. He experimented with flight a little by attempting to attach homemade wings to a lizard; other than this most of his time was spent working on geometric and optical puzzles or creating new types of art oils and varnishes. There is little evidence that Leo painted dafter he left Rome.

In 1516, the move was made to France where Leonardo was to work for Francois I. Though still able to draw, Leonardo was very sick and his right hand was partially paralysed due to a stroke. Most of his time was a spent organising his notebooks and the King didn’t require he carry out commissions, though Leonardo had to suffer frequent royal visits and produce plans for festivals and plays. One of the items Leonardo made for him during this period was a mechanical lion with a breast that opened to reveal lilies.

On 2nd May 1519, Leonardo died just a few weeks after his 67th birthday. He was buried in the Church of Florentine, but his remains were scattered during the Wars of Religion. Even after many centuries prior to his death, Leonardo is still remembered.

In 1975, the Leonardo da Vinci Award was established by the Rotary Club of Florence as an annual international prize named after the man himself. The award is presented to young people involved in the studies of science, technology, literature and the arts.

‘Science in Their Eyes’, J.M Brice, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne, 1987
‘Leonardo, The Man, His Machines’,www.lairweb.org.nz/leonardo/,