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 Leonardo Da Vinci

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PostSubject: Leonardo Da Vinci   Mon Feb 28, 2011 10:37 am

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519)

One of the greatest of all Old Masters in the history of art, Leonardo da Vinci excelled as a painter, sculptor, engineer, architect and scientist. Along with Michelangelo and Raphael, he is considered to be one of the three great creators of the Italian High Renaissance of the sixteenth century (1490-1530). Renowned principally as a painter, Leonardo was a pioneer of oil painting, and also the painterly techniques of chiaroscuro (use of shadow to create a 3-D effect) and sfumato (use of glazes in slightly different tones of colour creating an almost imperceptible transition from light to dark). Both techniques are visible in his masterpiece, Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, Leonardo's creative gifts were so diverse that he completed only a handful of artistic projects. Two of his paintings, the Mona Lisa (1503-6, oil on panel, Louvre) and The Last Supper (1495-8, oil and tempera fresco, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan), are respectively the most celebrated portrait and history painting of all time. Only a fraction of his fine art painting survives (perhaps 15 pictures in all), not least because of his thirst for (often disastrous) experimentation with new techniques. Even so, these few paintings, together with a number of drawing sketchbooks crammed with figure drawings - including some of the best drawings of the Renaissance - anatomical studies, scientific diagrams, and his views on the techniques and aesthetics of painting, comprise a legacy rivalled only by Michelangelo.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Early Life and Career in Florence
Born Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci in Vinci, near Florence, he trained in the prestigious workshop of the renowned Florentine sculptor, painter and goldsmith Andrea del Verrochio (1435-88), where he received the best education available to a young artist. The studio was at the heart of the intellectual crosscurrents of Renaissance art, and a starting point for several highly talented artists including Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-94), Pietro Perugino (1450-1523), Alessandro Botticelli (1445-1510), and Lorenzo di Credi (1458-1537).

Here, Leonardo absorbed a huge range of technical skills in drawing, (including the fine points of linear perspective, in which Verrochio excelled) painting, sculpting and modelling - as well as goldsmithery, metal working and plaster casting.

Furthermore, Florence itself was at the centre of Early Renaissance activity, being home to eminent artists like Donatello (1386-1466), Paolo Uccello (1397-1475), Piero della Francesca (1415-92), Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-69) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), whose works decorated the city. The studies of light and perspective completed by Piero della Francesca, as well as Alberti's Treatise "Della Pittura" (On Painting) had a significant impact on Leonardo, as did Massaccio's treatment of light and shade to create 3-D effects in the painting Garden of Eden (1428, Brancacci Chapel, Florence). Another timely influence was the arrival in Florence of the Ghent painter Hugo van der Goes (d.1482), who brought with him a number of new oil painting techniques from Northern Europe.

As a young apprentice Leonardo showed immense talent. Indeed, after seeing his pupil's angel at the left in The Baptism of Christ (1470, Uffizi Gallery), Verrocchio allegedly resolved to stop painting altogether and focus on sculpture. Leonardo remained with Verrocchio until he established his own workshop in 1477/8, although his attachment to his teacher was such that he continued collaborating with him for some years.

By 1478, Leonardo was an independent artist, although his initial commission for an altarpiece for the Palazzo Vecchio chapel was never executed. Other works dating to this time include the Benois Madonna (c.1478, Hermitage Gallery, St Petersburg), the portrait Ginerva de' Benci (c.1474, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC), and the unfinished Saint Jerome (c.1481, Pinacoteca, Vatican).

Leonardo Da Vinci: Early Years in Milan
In 1482, restless and ambitious, Leonardo abandoned his first large-scale commission, The Adoration of the Magi (begun 1481, Uffizi), and entered the service of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, with whom he remained until the latter's fall from power in 1499. It was during this period that Leonardo reached the highpoint of his artistic career. In addition to painting and sculpting, he served Ludovico Sforza as senior engineer in numerous military adventures and was active also as an architect and festival designer. He also helped the Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli in his famous work Divina Proportione (1509).

Detail of Last Supper (Jesus in Red;
Thomas and James)

Within a couple of years of his move to Milan, his workshop was buzzing with activity. From 1485 to 1495 he completed numerous studies on painting, architecture, mechanics, and human anatomy, all of which he recorded in copiously illustrated detail in a series of notebooks.

Eventually amounting to some 13,000 pages of notes and drawings, these scientific and artistic journals (including his Treatise on Painting (1651) have since been acquired by major institutions like the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Library in London, the Paris Louvre, the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, and the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan which owns the twelve-volume Codex Atlanticus.

The Codex Leicester was purchased by Microsoft's Bill Gates, and is exhibited annually in different cities around the world.

Detail of Last Supper
(Mathew, Jude and Simon)
Perhaps not unexpectedly, the sheer breadth of Da Vinci's talents and interests led to a huge number of unfinished art projects. For example, during his 17 years in Milan, he actually completed only six works, sometimes lingering over a painting for years before finishing it.

The major paintings of Leonardo's Milan period include two versions of The Virgin of the Rocks (1483-85, Louvre; 1490s to 1506-08, National Gallery, London), commissioned for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, and his masterpiece, The Last Supper (1495-Cool, a mural for the refectory of the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Alas, no sooner was the latter completed that it began to deteriorate, due to Leonardo's experimental (and technically unsound) use of oil on dry plaster. His largest commissioned work was a colossal bronze monument to Francesco Sforza, father of Ludovico, in the courtyard of Castello Sforzesco. This too was never finished and was later destroyed.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Later Years 1500-19
After the downfall of his patron Ludovico Sforza's in 1499, Leonardo spent the next 16 years travelling around Italy, working for different masters. Returning first to Florence in 1500, he stayed at the monastery of Santissima Annunziata where, according to Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) in his Lives of the Artists, Leonardo created the cartoon of The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist, a work so admired that huge crowds travelled from all over the locality to see it.

In 1502 he entered the service of Cesare Borgia, the son and leading general of Pope Alexander VI. In 1503 he was appointed to the commission of artists responsible for re-siting Michelangelo's immortal marble statue of David (1501-04, Accademia, Florence). In the same year he began designing a decorative mural for the great hall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. This too was never finished, although his full-size cartoon of the mural survives in copies, notably by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1615, Louvre). At the same time, he started work on his most famous painting - the Mona Lisa (1503-6, oil on panel, Louvre).

In 1506, Leonardo was invited to return to Milan by its French governor, Charles d'Amboise. Then in 1507 he was appointed court painter to King Louis XII of France, then resident in Milan. Ironically his major Milanese commission was for an equestrian statue of Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, the French general who ousted Leonardo's original patron Ludovico Sforza. Yet again, the project remained unfulfilled although drawings have been preserved. Over the next six years Leonardo travelled between Milan and Florence. From 1514 to 1516 Leonardo was based in Rome where he maintained a workshop and undertook a variety of projects for the Pontiff, Pope Leo X (Giovanni de Medici). However, due to his notorious inability to complete works, these papal commissions were only of minor importance.

In 1516, he was created Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King by Francis I of France, who thus became Leonardo's final patron. He received a generous allowance and was housed in the Chateau de Cloux, where he died on May 2, 1519. According to legend King Francis I cradled Leonardo's head in his arms as he died.

Leonardo Da Vinci: As an Artist
For the best part of five hundred years, Leonardo Da Vinci's reputation as an artist has rested on a handful of paintings which are considered to rank among the supreme masterpieces ever created. The virtuoso quality of these works lies in a combination of aesthetics and painterly technique, not least in his superlative skill in the relatively new medium of oil paint.

His unique draftsmanship, exemplified in his Self-Portrait (c. 1510-13, Biblioteca Reale, Turin), is also visible in his larger body of drawings, which can be seen in many of the great European art collections, notably the British Royal Art Collection at Windsor Castle in England. Unfortunately, because none of Leonardo's sculptural projects were completed, his three-dimensional art can only be assessed from his drawing. The same can be said about his architecture, where his mastery of the subject is clearly evident from his architectural designs and drawings.

Leonardo spent much of his life trying to create realistic, true-to-life paintings, in contrast to the previously highly stylized works of religious art. In depicting his Madonnas and other figures as real-life people, Leonardo demonstrated his complete mastery of painting techniques, including perspective, chiaroscuro and sfumato, all of which enabled him to create immensely realistic three-dimensional effects. This new true-to-life approach had a huge impact on succeeding generations of artists, including the iconoclastic Caravaggio (1571-1610).

Leonardo's realism owed much to his lifetime study of the human body. It began with his apprenticeship to Andrea del Verrocchio, and was furthered by his dissection of human corpses at hospitals in Florence, Milan and Rome. Later, in 1510 he collaborated with Dr Marcantonio della Torre on a theoretical work on anatomy (finally published in 1680) for which Leonardo made more than 200 drawings. Overall, Da Vinci was the first painter to study the anatomical proportions of men, women and children, and was a close observer of the effects of age and emotion on human physiology. He also sketched numerous figures suffering from facial deformities or signs of illness.

Vitruvian Man (c.1492)
The Vitruvian Man (now in the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice) is a world-famous drawing with accompanying notes created by Leonardo da Vinci around the year 1492 as recorded in one of his journals. It portrays a nude male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart within a circle and square. Sometimes referred to as the Canon of Proportions, it was created as a study of the proportions of the (male) human body as described by Vitruvius. It remains one of the most copied images in the world today.

The Last Supper (1495-7)
The Last Supper (Italian: Il Cenacolo or L'Ultima Cena), now in the dining hall at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, is a Renaissance wall-painting - probably the most famous example of the genre of history painting - which displays the dramatic movement and chiaroscuro (depiction of light and shade) that characterizes Leonardo's mature style. The work depicts the scene of the Last Supper from the final days of Jesus as narrated in the Gospel of John 1:21, just after Jesus has announced that one of his twelve apostles would betray him. It shows the reactions of each disciple to the news.

From left to right (see main picture, above):

• Bartholomew, James and Andrew are surprised.
• Judas Iscariot is quiet, Peter is angry, John swoons.
• Thomas is upset; James is stunned. Philip seeks an explanation.
• Matthew, Jude and Simon comprise the final group of three. Jude and Matthew turn to Simon, as if requesting an explanation.

The painting contains several allusions to the number 3, (perhaps the Holy Trinity). The disciples are seated in groups of three; there are three windows; and Jesus' figure resembles a triangle.

The accounts of Leonardo's painstaking execution of The Last Supper led many to regard him as the originator of the idea of the painter as a contemplative and creative thinker, rather than a mere tradesman whose job was to cover so many square yards a day. This notion concerning the dignity of the artist was taken up and developed further by Michelangelo and other sixteenth century painters.

The Last Supper is not a true fresco painting since it was painted on a dry wall rather than on wet plaster, and Da Vinci sealed the stone wall with a layer of pitch, gesso and mastic, then painted over it with tempera. This painting-method has led to noticeable deterioration over the years.

The painting has been the subject of endless interpretation (eg. in the novel, the Da Vinci Code), but most speculation is unconfirmed by scientific study.

The Mona Lisa (c.1503-6)
This exquisite item of High Renaissance portrait art is named after its subject, Lisa del Giocondo, born Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant. ('Mona' is a polite form of address like 'Madam' or 'my lady'). Note the detail of the face, showing the subtle shading effect of sfumato, particularly in the shadows around the eyes and mouth. The picture was a favourite of Leonardo's and it accompanied him on all his subsequent travels.

• X-ray tests have established that there are three versions of the Mona Lisa hidden under the present one.
• About 6 million people view the painting each year.
• The Mona Lisa was stolen for 2 years in 1911-13, doused in acid and attacked with a rock in 1956.
• According to Dr. Lillian Schwartz of Bell Labs, the Mona Lisa is actually a self-portrait of Leonardo himself. Digital analysis of Leonardo's face and the Mona Lisa shows that both faces align perfectly.
• Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, alleges that the name Mona Lisa derives from an anagram of Amon, Egyptian god of male fertility, and L'Isa, the French term for Isis, Egyptian goddess of female fertility.

The Mona Lisa is the central exhibit in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Some art curators value it in the region of $1 billion. It's beauty and visual effect lies in the oil painting technique (known as sfumato), created by Leonardo, which allowed him to execute the sort of subtle atmospheric shading which was impossible to produce with the egg-based tempera paint used by his contemporaries.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Paintings
- The Annunciation (c.1472–1475) Oil on panel, Uffizi, Florence
- Benois Madonna (1478) Oil on canvas, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
- Madonna of the Carnation (1478–1480) Oil on panel, Alte Pinakothek, Munich
- St. Jerome in the Wilderness (c.1480) Tempera/oil on panel, Vatican
- Adoration of the Magi (1481) Underpainting on panel, Uffizi, Florence
- Virgin of the Rocks (1483–1486) Oil on panel (moved to canvas) Louvre.
- Lady with an Ermine (1485) Oil on wood panel, Czartoryski Museum, Krakow
- The Last Supper (1495–1498) tempera on gesso, Sta. Maria delle Grazie
- Virgin of the Rocks (1495–1508) Oil on panel, National Gallery, London
- Sala delle Asse ceiling frescoes (c.1498–1499) Castello Sforzesco, Milan
- The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist (c.1499–1500) Charcoal, black and white chalk on tinted paper, National Gallery, London
- Mona Lisa (c.1503–1506) Oil on cottonwood, Louvre, Paris
- The Virgin and Child with St. Anne (c.1510) Oil on panel, Louvre, Paris
- St. John the Baptist (1513–1516) Oil on walnut wood, Louvre, Paris
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