Leonardo da Vinci


Born on April 15th 1452 from the somewhat irregular relationship between Caterina, a woman who pegged low in society, and Ser Piero, a successful notary, Leonardo spent his childhood in a small village near Vinci, hence his name da Vinci, literally from Vinci. In his early teens he was sent to Florence to be apprenticed in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio but in a few years he overshadowed his master who stopped painting to focus on sculpting.
Around the age of 20, Leonardo enrolled in the Guild of St. Luke as an independent artist and in 1482, when he turned 30, endorsed by Lorenzo de’ Medici, he moved to Milano to put his many skills at the service of Ludovico Maria Sforza, known as il Moro, the ruler and future Duke of the Milanese State.
Employed maybe at first as a musician he soon applied himself to military engineering projects - largely appreciated in a State that thrived on the production of weapons and armoury - pageants, architecture, and last but not least to painting. In just a few years time, thanks to his versatile nature and proficiency in many diverse fields, Leonardo became the most important artist at the Milanese court.
From 1483 - when with the De Predis brothers as partners, he signs his first Milanese contract for the first version of The Virgin of the Rocks, an altarpiece for the chapel of the Immaculate Conception in the Church of St. Francis – to 1499 when his patron, Ludovico Sforza is dramatically ousted from power and imprisoned in France, Leonardo executes almost all of his most praised paintings, now dispersed in museums across the world. From The Lady with the Ermine (Czartoryski Museum, Cracow) to The Belle Ferroniere (Musée du Louvre Paris), The Musician (Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan) to the recently rediscovered La Bella Principessa (Private Collection), The Madonna Litta (The State Hermitage – St. Petersburg) to The Burlington House Cartoon (National Gallery, London).
As ironic as it may seem of all the works carried out by Leonardo da Vinci in Milano during his 24-year stay only a few are still left in Milano, in their original premises. With the exception of the Last Supper at St. Maria delle Grazie, the Hall of Boards at the Sforza Castle, the Codex Atlanticus and The Musician at Pinacoteca & Biblioteca Ambrosiana, his oeuvre is scattered, but it is a great pride for the city of Milano to have provided the perfect setting for such a talent to develop.
Leonardo’s unparalleled skills and his multiform genius belong to mankind and go far beyond geographical borders. His insistence in the observation of natural phenomena and in the gathering of factual knowledge imbue his works of art and represent the most modern aspect of his output. Thanks to Leonardo and to his scientific approach to visual arts the gap between manual ability and craftsmanship and art as an expression of the intellect was finally bridged, ushering western civilization into a new era.
From 1499 to 1506 when he returns to Milano, now well established under French rule, Leonardo travels to Venice, Rome and Florence, executing two portraits of Isabella d’Este, the renown Monna Lisa and the lost Battle of Anghiari. In 1516, at the age of 64, revered as the greatest living master he leaves Milano for Amboise, France, accompanied by his friend and assistant Francesco Melzi. At the Castle of Cloux , near the Royal residence, he spends the last three fruitful years of a miraculous and unique career devoting his services to engineering projects for king Francis I.
He dies in Amboise on 2nd May 1519 leaving all his sketches and notebooks to the loyal Francesco Melzi.