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Renaissance Artist: Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci made his appearance on the artistic platform during the Renaissance in the 15th century. He was the personification as the Renaissance man: painter, architect, costume designer, author, botanist, musician, engineer, inventor and mathematician all these and more. He is remembered as the creator of the world famous master piece – Mona Lisa. Though his early works were created during the early Renaissance but most of his best pieces of art belonged to the high Renaissance period.

Da Vinci as his name implies was born in a small town of Vinci near Tuscany, west of Florence. He was born on April 15, 1942. Like most young men Leonardo’s schooling included reading, writing, mathematics and a smattering of Latin. As a young boy Leonardo was fascinated by mathematics. Much has been said about Leonardo’s writings which cannot be read properly without using a mirror. Whether his backward style was an attempt at secrecy or simply an easy way for a left-handed person to write is not known.

When the artist was fifteen years old his father recognized his talent and arranged for him to become an apprentice in workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, one of the leading artists in Italy. Vasari says, “That he laboured much more by his word than in fact or by deed” . Leonardo found a place for himself at the studio of Verrocchio where he met other artists, craftsmen, metal workers, sculptors who were genius as well as versatile but he on the contrary outstripped his colleagues and at the age of twenty in 1472 he got himself admitted in the Guild of Florentine Painters.

Leonardo’s master Verrocchio had many different types of commissions like painting, jewelry designing, costume designing and so on. Leonardo under his six years of customary apprenticeship learnt bits and pieces of the various genres of his master’s commissions. His first artistic endeavor was working on a copper ball and cross that was placed on the dome of a cathedral.

During these years he worked with his master on a number of artistic pieces like the Baptism of Christ, where he worked on the angle in the extreme right which stood out like a sore thumb which according to popular folklores lead his master to put down his brush as he was so awed by his pupil’s skill. In the same year Leonardo with his talents in a nascent state created the Annunciation which is preserved at the Louvre was subjected to a lot of criticism and contemplation by European critics but it finally made its way as one of the artistic endeavor of Da Vinci.

In 1973 Leonardo created a pen and ink drawing – A wide view over a plain which shed’s light on the artist’s handwriting which is considered to be one of it’s kind as it could only be read with the help of a mirror. In 1477 or 1478 young and aspiring artist of the Renaissance age set up his own workshop. In the next fiver years the works executed in his workshop were namely – The adoration of the Magi which had been commissioned by a monastery near Florence but was never completed.

At around 1482 Leonardo left Florence to serve the Duke of Milan entered Ludovico Sforza, writing a letter listing his abilities to his future patron in the following terms:–“Having, most illustrious lord, seen and pondered over the experiments made by those who pass as masters in the art of inventing instruments of war, and having satisfied myself that they in no way differ from those in general use, I make so bold as to solicit, without prejudice to any one, an opportunity of informing your Excellency of some of my own secrets. “

From 1483 to 1499 Leonardo shifted his base to Milan. His celebrated “Treatise on Painting” was recommenced on the colossal equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, which was without a question one of his utmost achievements as a sculptor. At Milan he created several portraits, a model of a gigantic horse, costume designs for festivals, theatre actors and so on. The most famous piece of work during this period was the Last Supper which he began in 1495. This was commissioned for the large wall in the refectory of the Dominician monastery of Santa Maris delle Grazie.

Among the last of his works while he stayed at Milan towards the end of 1499 was, the excellent cartoon of “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John,” . This large cartoon drawing, little known to the public was on stiff paper which portray’s Leonardo’s command over draughtsmanship With the invasion of the French army in 1499 Leonardo fled to Mantua at the invitation of Isabella d’Este, to paint her portrait but after finishing the preliminary drawing he moved back to Florence in 1500. At Florence he extensively indulged himself on academic areas like mathematics, studies of birds and various sections in scientific field.

For a while he also rendered his service to Cesare Borgia as a military engineer. The famous Mona Lisa was painted by him during this period itself and also accepted the work to paint a large wall painting for the city of Florence, to be called the Battle of Anghiari, which was never completed and was thought to be destroyed but actually it was painted over by some other artist. Mona Lisa’s original name was Lisa di Anton Maria di Noldo Gherardini, daughter of Antonio Gherardini. “Vasari is probably inaccurate in saying that Leonardo loitered over it for four years, and finally left it unfinished.

” . He had taken up this work in the spring of 1501 but due to his prior commitments to military service and in 1504 he finally completed the work after the battle of Anghiari. At the peek of his complete maturity of his talent Leonardo painted this awe inspiring portrait which influenced and created a marvelous impression on the people who laid their eyes on it in the sixteenth century. Mona Lisa was not famous for her smile but as a subject chosen by Leonardo, as commoners were not painted during that period.

The breaking away from the contemporary style of that age ushered in a new era which says that a painter has its own free will and imagination to portray his or her feelings leading to truly define Leonardo as the Renaissance Man. However in 1504 Leonardo was appointed to a committee of approximately thirty artists and was asked to choose the location for Michelangelo’s David. Leonardo made his appearance at Milan once again on the request of Charle d’Ambroise, the French governor, to act as a technical advisor during the war against Venice.

In accordance with his military works he designed and organized festivals and at the same time continuing studies to produce extensive treaties on anatomy. His creativity in different fields other than painting continued to flourish during this period. The “Virgin of the Rocks” corresponds exactly with a painting by Leonardo which was described by Lomazzo about 1584 as being in the Chapel of the Conception in the Church of St. Francesco at Milan. In 1506 Leonardo was back in Milan to serve the French King and it was during this period that he created with the help of assistants the Madonna, the Infant Christ and Saint Anne.

He also composed a number of oil paintings. From 1513 to 1516, Leonardo spent his days at Rome and continued to work on his notebooks. His thousands of pages of notebooks reveal all sorts of inventions. At one point, he planned to divert the course of a river for military purpose. The notebooks also indicate his goals in paintings: to create an illusion of three dimensions where only two exist and to illustrate the soul through the motions of the body. In 1517, he again shifted his base to France to live at Ambroise.

He was given a house and a pension to sustain his life and at the age of sixty seven Leonardo made his finally departure to heaven and was buried in Ambroise. Leonardo was the first to incorporate the laws of light and shade in his works of arts. He was a keen observer and paid strict attention to accuracy. Soon after his arrival at Milan, Leonardo painted The Lady with the Ermine, it portrays Cecilia Gallerani, mistress of the Duke of Millan. Leonardo took great care of details in this picture which deserves a mention. Layers of paints were used to help define her sensitive face.

The ermine, a member of the mink family, has been painted with full musculature. Every hair is shown, even the thin whiskers. The portrait was executed in the shape of a pyramid. The keen study of the Last Supper indicates the amount of work that went into the planning for the painting. The Last Supper is considered by many to be a painting of the High Renaissance period as it has all the characteristics of the era. The work is intellectual and full of strains and tensions which only go on to prove the genius of an artist’s mind. Leonardo’s cartoonist side can is very well depicted in his work – St.

Anne and the Virgin Cartoon. The work represents an early stage in Leonardo’s preoccupation with the theme of the Virgin and the Child with St. Anne. It is considered to be one of the most impressive works of the artist. In contrast to his other works his sense of shapes and geometry is seen clearly. Some of his works were subjected to lot of controversies one of which was Ginevra de’Benci which deserves a mention. Those who believe that the work was created by Leonardo himself point out to the juniper tree in the background. The artist has also painted a reflecting pond and hinted at a city skyline.

Everything beyond the tree is wrapped in mist similar to the background in many of Leonardo’s later works. The painting known as the Madonna with Carnations is another work which art scholars differ. The Litta Madonna takes it names from one of its owner, Count Litta of Millan. Art scholars are divided on whether or not it was painted by Leonardo. There are quite a few theories as to its source. The painting known as the Portrait of a Women shown as the member of a Milanese court wearing exquisite jewelry is the reason that many art scholars question that whether it is Leonardo’s painting or not.

One of Leonardo’s works which shows his transition from an amateur artist to master painter was that of Benois Madonna. The piece has been heavenly over painted, the idealized faces of Madonna and the chubby infant hold promise of his later works. Madonna’s delighted smile and the concentration of the Christ child give the painting a very natural quality. At the same time, the halos remind the viewer that this is no ordinary mother and child. The technical expertise of Da Vinci which deserve a mention and which is clearly portrayed in the study of Drapery for Kneeling figure which reveals his concern with drapery.

He did many a sort of drawing depicting various ways in which a garment could be draped. Leonardo remains as much a mystery as the smile on his Mona Lisa. A man who seemingly has every gift god can bestow on a man, was lonely all his life. Despite his extraordinary artistic talents, he was not especially prolific. Many of his works remained unfinished. It almost as if his mind worked too quickly to stay very long on any one subject. Once the problem was solved, he moved on to other things. The majority of his paintings were created early in his life.

As he grew older, he seemed to be interested in other, more scientific problems. Perhaps in his later life he felt he had solved every artistic problem. Leonardo Da Vinci worked extensively on nature and its various aspects like rocks, water plants, light and so on. Various laws of physics were depicted in his sketches of mechanical devices. Leonardo visualized nature in its various forms and expressions with the mind of an artist and expressed them in his work. Leonardo was an observer of animals, people, landscapes and his paintings represented the scenes he observed in a realistic veneer.

To this he added a vivacity and life like touch to his portraits. He was one of the first to tread the scientific path towards understanding how the world around us works and how we perceive it. He was the first to successfully apply linear perspective to achieve a realistic portrayal of the world as we know. In an age when using the left hand was considered to be the work of a devils Leonardo remained a south paw. It is often suggested that it was this difference which added a touch of genius to his work.

Since being out of the ordinary allowed him to go beyond what was ordinary. It is believed that Leonardo wanted to publish his note book to benefit the public domain. Unfortunately they remain in oblivion until the nineteenth century. Keneth Clark who devoted much of his life studying Leonardo writes “Leonardo was the hamlet of art history who each of us must recreate for himself and although I have tried to interpret his work as impersonally as possible I recognise that the result is largely subjective” .

Vasari observes Leonardo had “terrible strength in argument sustained by intelligence and memory”, subtlety of his mind “which never ceased to devise inventions” . Questions arise to whether Leonardo’s scientific perspective was correct. But taking into account the very limited scientific tools and knowledge prevalent during his times one cannot but admit that he was truly a genius with a remarkable insight. Adept in almost all the branches of art a pathfinder in most branches of science and an inventor in various methods and technologies, Vinci more than anyone else was a universal man.

List of References Kaufman, Elizabeth Elias. Leonardo. USA: Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc. , 1980 Richter, Jean Paul. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Mineola, New York, USA: Dover Publication, Inc, 1883 Brockwell, Maurice W. Leonardo Da Vinci. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004 Leonardo Da Vinci By Francesca Romei. Minneapolis,MN: The Oliver Press, Inc. , 2008 Farago, Claire. Leonardo da Vinci: selected scholarship. London, England: Taylor&Francis, 1999 Bramly, Serge. The Artist and the Man. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd. , 1994

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