Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest inventor-scientist of recorded history. His
genius was unbounded by time and technology, and was driven by his insatiable curiosity,
and his intuitive sense of the laws of nature.
Da Vinci was dedicated to discovery of truth and the mysteries of nature, and
his insightful contributions to science and technology were legendary. As the archetypical
Renaissance man, Leonardo helped set an ignorant and superstitous world on a course of
reason, science, learning, and tolerance. He was an internationally renowned inventor,
scientists, engineer, architect, painter, sculptor, musician, mathematician, anatomist,
astronomer, geologists, biologist, and philosopher in his time.
Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in the small Tuscan town of Vinci, near Florence. He
was the son of a wealthy Florentine notary and a peasant woman.
He was sent to Florence in his teens to apprentice as a painter under Andrea
del Verrocchio. He quickly developed his own artistic style which was unique and contrary
to tradition, even going so far as to devised his own special formula of paint. His style
was characterized by diffuse shadows and subtle hues and marked the beginning of the High
Renaissance period. Like many great original efforts, da Vinci's artistic style was
largely unpopular for the next quarter century.
Later Da Vinci became the court artist for the duke of Milan. Throughout his life he also
served various other roles, including civil engineer and architect (designing mechanical
structures such as bridges and aqueducts), and military planner and weapons designer
(designing rudimentary tanks, catapults, machine guns, and even navel weapons).
Da Vinci's creative, analytic, and visionary inventiveness has yet to be matched.
Although Leonardo produced a relatively small number of paintings, many of
which remained unfinished, he was nevertheless an extraordinarily innovative and
influential artist. During his early years, his style closely paralleled that of
Verrocchio, but he gradually moved away from his teacher's stiff, tight, and somewhat
rigid treatment of figures to develop a more evocative and atmospheric handling of
composition. The early The Adoration of the Magi introduced a new approach to composition,
in which the main figures are grouped in the foreground, while the background consists of
distant views of imaginary ruins and battle scenes.
Leonardo's stylistic innovations are even more apparent in The Last Supper, in which he
re-created a traditional theme in an entirely new way. Instead of showing the 12 apostles
as individual figures, he grouped them in dynamic compositional units of three, framing
the figure of Christ, who is isolated in the center of the picture. Seated before a pale
distant landscape seen through a rectangular opening in the wall, Christ-who is about to
announce that one of those present will betray him-represents a calm nucleus while the
others respond with animated gestures. In the monumentality of the scene and the
weightiness of the figures, Leonardo reintroduced a style pioneered more than a generation
earlier by Masaccio, the father of Florentine painting.
The Mona Lisa, Leonardo's most famous work, is as well known for its mastery of technical
innovations as for the mysteriousness of its legendary smiling subject. This work is a
consummate example of two techniques-sfumato and chiaroscuro-of which Leonardo was one of
the first great masters. Sfumato is characterized by subtle, almost infinitesimal
transitions between color areas, creating a delicately atmospheric haze or smoky effect;
it is especially evident in the delicate gauzy robes worn by the sitter and in her
enigmatic smile. Chiaroscuro is the technique of modeling and defining forms through
contrasts of light and shadow; the sensitive hands of the sitter are portrayed with a
luminous modulation of light and shade, while color contrast is used only sparingly.