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Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is the most notable of artist that existed during the Renaissance. Other than being a painter and a sculptor, Leonardo contributed to the society at his time as an architect, inventor and a chronicler of science. The artist was b...Read More

~Posted on Feb 2018

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Leonardo da Vinci is the most notable of artist t...

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is the most notable of artist that existed during the Renaissance. Other than being a painter and a sculptor, Leonardo contributed to the society at his time as an architect, inventor and a chronicler of science. The artist was born on the 15th of April 1452 to a peasant girl by the name Caterina and a prominent attorney by the name Ser Piero da Vinci in Florence (Harris & Zucker, 2015). There is nothing much know about his childhood other than the fact that he was an illegitimate son and therefore was raised by his father and several stepmothers. He spent his early years at the family estate in Vinci, a period during which he spent a better part with his uncle. His uncle loved nature and therefore influenced most of Leonard’s formative years. Other than the basic mathematical, reading and writing skills he learned during these years, Leonardo did not have much of a formal education. His father, however, recognized the artistic potential he had, and in 1467 when he was 15, his father apprenticed him to the most prominent and leading artist in Florence, Andrea del Verrocchio (History.com Staff, 2009).

Andrea del Verrocchio at the time when Leonardo was joining him was a 32years old artist who lived during the early renaissance therefore in a way; this aspect influenced his work. He also understood renaissance better than Leonardo. Verrocchio was a remarkable painter, sculptor, and goldsmith with exceptional craftsmanship (Harris & Zucker, 2015). He had a great interest in expressing human figure vitality through quality execution. It was an element significant in the foundation of Leonardo in art. Leonardo’s approach in the field of art emanated from exploiting tradition and not rebelling against it. Verrocchio in his learning years trained under the direction of Donatello who was also a great artist of his time. He also served the ruling Medici family as the official sculptor. All these attributes made Verrocchio the best teacher to Leonardo ("Leonardo da Vinci Biography ", 2017).

Leonardo spent Six years sharpening his skills from the teachings of Verrocchio and among these skills include leather arts, carpentry, painting, sculpting, and metalworking. Leonardo’s earliest paint could be traced to a drawing that reflects a feast day in his hometown. The painting manifests an attention to botanical and geological details. Most of his paintings however at the time were in collaboration with other artists. During the Renaissance, panting would be done by groups of painters under the directive of the master in charge of the painting ("Leonardo da Vinci Biography ", 2017).

It is during this period that Verrocchio was commissioned for the paint known as The Baptism of Christ presently. Leonardo had a hand in the paint where he painted the angel kneeling at the far left in the paint. It should be noted that the face and the hair of the angle in question have a light and smooth quality, nothing like the other figures of the paint. It is speculated that he could also have been responsible for the background. The assumption is because most of his paintings included natural background. It is something that would have been influenced by his formative years spent with his uncle who loved nature (Zimmermann, 2013). He also worked on the final touches of the figure of Jesus where he determined the texture of the flesh on the painting. According to his first biographer Vasari, Leonardo’s teacher Verrocchio was so impressed by Leonardo’s work on the angle that he went for an early retirement on painting and focused on sculptures. 

Leonardo also worked in the next-door workshop that belonged to the artist Antonio Pollaiuolo. Leonardo was accepted into Florence painters’ guild at the age of twenty. However, he continued working at Verrocchio’s workshop for additional five years. Through his teacher, Leonardo acquired the habit of painting girlish stylized faces with curly hair to obtain a triangular composition on all his paintings. However, with time and experience, these tendencies wore off and with that development of his style. An x-ray of The Baptism of Christ art revealed Leonardo’s brushstrokes. The stokes were way lighter than those of his Master. Most of the paintings they did were spiritual in that they depicted something biblical, for example, the angles in most of the paintings, the Virgin, John the Baptist, and the baptism of Christ (Harris & Zucker, 2015).

In 1478, Leonardo left Verrocchio’s workshop and set up his own studio in Florence still. It is the same year that the Pazzi family attempts to assassinate Giuliano and Lorenzo de Medici. Lorenzo survives, however, Giuliano does not. In the same year, Leonardo starts working on the Two Virgin Marys paint. Leonardo also paints the portrait of Ginevra de Benci around the same time. His real breakthrough as a master of his own entity does not come until 1481 when the church commissions him for an altarpiece. The piece was named the Adoration of the Magi; however, he did not get to finish it. In this art, he is, however, able to display his authenticity by using a new approach that was far more developed as compared to his predecessors ("Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo da Vinci - Uffizi Gallery", 2017).

Traditionally, a painting of this kind would have the virgin place on one side of the picture while kings approached from the other side. In Leonard’s piece, however, he placed the virgin at the center while a crowd of spectators looked at the Virgin and the child at the center with their various faces. The painting brought out a sense of continuous motion. Also traditionally renaissance artist used the rules of linear perspective where figures appeared to be smaller in proportion with the distance further away from the eyes of the spectators within the paint. In this paint, Leonardo applied the perspective of clarity where objects at a distance appeared less distinct. He also applied the perspective of color where objects at a distant were a little less bright as compared to the objects nearer to the eyes ("Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo da Vinci - Uffizi Gallery", 2017).

The piece was a representation of the birth of a new era of Christianity with the birth of Christ and the triumph over paganism. Paganism in the paint is represented by the background where the buildings are crumbling. It could be a representation of the Basilica of Maxentius which is said to have crumbled down on the night when Christ was born. The piece was, however, left unfinished as he was invited to Milan to work as court artist to the Duke of Milan. It was a trend for most of the artist of the time to be invited to Milan after gaining lots of experience in the field (Harris & Zucker, 2015).

The Adoration of the Magi was not the only piece Leonardo left unfinished; others were left due to several reasons. One of the reasons was that Leonardo experimented a lot on new techniques of painting and if he felt like the paint would not become a masterpiece, he would leave it at the point and move on to another piece leaving the one unfinished ("Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo da Vinci - Uffizi Gallery", 2017). An example of a piece left undone because he was experimenting with techniques was the fresco that depicted the Battle of Anghiari. The piece was unable to withstand the environmental forces like rain such that by the fourteenth year after its painting, a better part of it was destroyed. The destruction could be attributed to the trial and error technique Leonardo used. Vasari tried to fix it, but he could not be able to capture the original look of the piece. The other reason for leaving unfinished pieces was that Leonardo had doubts about the aesthetic results. He always wanted to capture the best of all his pieces and therefore, if he felt that a painting would not capture what he wanted, he would leave it and move on to the next.

Leonardo used a revolutionary style which he named sfumato. Other artists used the technique, but he was the first to use it on a large scale. Sfumato is an Italian word where Fumo means smoke. The sfumato technique meant “without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane.” Due to his study of animal and human anatomy, Leonardo was able to paint the piece and make the figures look more real than any other piece that had ever been painted before by him and his predecessors (Andrei, 2017).

In Milan, he worked as an engineer, architect, sculptor and painter for the ruling dynasty of Sforza. Before moving to Milan, Leonard was quite dissatisfied with his life and his need to move to Milan was to quencher his need to explore more on studying. In his quest, Leonardo made numerous strides in the study of the human body where he learned to dissect human corpse where he would sketch diagrams which portrayed the most advanced research into the human body prior the twentieth century (Harris & Zucker, 2015). He not only recorded almost all the known structures of the body and their function but he also made some discoveries about the anatomy of the human body which counteract the contemporary medical beliefs. His interest in the subject continued for the entirety of his life. At some point, he intended to collect all his findings in a single book by the name Of the Human Figure, but due to the same reasons as to why most of his paintings were unfinished, he could not see the book come to be (Andrei, 2017).

Even with his interest in human anatomy, Leonardo was still as much interested in painting as from the beginning because on his arrival in Milan he painted the famous Virgin of the Rocks painting. On the painting, he placed the virgin on the rocks a unique aspect of his creation. The painting appeared to be set in a rocky cave in its background and an opening to a hazy landscape. Another unique aspect of Leonardo’s painting and could be seen in this one was the fact that he used rocky, hazy and botanical background. Unlike the other virgin paints, the virgin on this one appeared to be more mature. The maturity was portrayed by more natural and longer face rather than the round face seen in the other pieces. There is an angel seated on her left, John the Baptist as a toddler at her right and Jesus also as a toddler seated at her feet (History.com Staff, 2009). They all form a triangle like the one seen from his previous art Adoration of the Magi. Other than the Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo worked on other pieces at the time which included the Portrait of a Musician and the Lady with an Ermine. It was also at this period that he started working on the bronze horse that he was contracted by the illegitimate ruler of Milan. The ruler wanted to contract a statue in honor of his father that would remain in the town to remind his subjects of his authority and heritage.

Leonardo’s plan for the statue was a horse that stood about twenty feet tall and would weigh about 200,000 pounds of bronze. There had never been seen a statue like this in history, but Leonardo would not also see the project through to the end. From the mid-1480s through to the late 1490s, Leonardo was working on various designs, models, and molds of how the statue would appear. The project took up most of his time, and it was never to be since the in 1499, the French invaded Milan forcing the project to come to a halt. Archers would later use the model for crossbow practice(History.com Staff, 2009).

Between 1495 and 1499, Leonardo work of the famous Last Supper piece. In this piece, Leonardo wanted to obtain an optical illusion. Just like in the other paints Jesus on the paint formed a triangle with his body. The hands of the disciple in the paint counteracted the motion of their bodies giving the whole picture a flow that always led back to the center where Jesus was. The uniqueness of Leonardo’s paint brought a new perspective in the most clichéd scenarios painted throughout the Renaissance. Leonardo was not versed in wall painting, and therefore he painted the Last Supper with oil paint that did not last for long but instead deteriorated a little while after being painted (History.com Staff, 2009).

After the invasion of the French in Milan, Leonardo traveled back to Florence and then later returned to Milan for the second time then went to Rome and lastly France where he spent his last years. It is during this period that Leonardo worked on another remarkable piece, Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa has become the most significant representation of the renaissance in the world today (Harris & Zucker, 2015).

Leonardo existed at a time when the dark ages had just ended, and art was something that was encouraged in the society. He used his talent to invent more techniques in the world of art with the few resources available at the time. Even with his little knowledge of chemistry and physics, he was able to introduce something in the world of art that had not been seen before. He was a significant contribution to the recovery of present-day Italy from the dark ages. Although the wars of conquering states that took place during his time did not influence his work, he was much influenced by the renaissance which was characterized by restoration of the principalities from the dark ages through art as part of it.

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