Leonardo Da Vinci

In an age of exploration, Leonardo was the boldest explorer of all. As Cooper writes, while his fellow countryman Christopher Columbus was discovering America, Leonardo in a sense was discovering the world (3). Leonardo had one of the greatest minds of the Renaissance. His inventions were ahead of his time. His art set the standard for later Renaissance artists. Most impressive is his variety of talents and achievements. He mastered all his subjects of study. He is the symbol of the Renaissance spirit.
Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452 in Vinci, near Florence. This is why Leonardo’s name was “Leonardo Da Vinci.” This simply means, “Leonardo from Vinci.” Leonardo’s father, Piero, was a respected legal specialist and notary, and his mother, Caterina, was a peasant woman. Because their relationship was an affair, they lived apart. (MacLeish 296).
In the village of Vinci, it is easy to see how Leonardo could have become so interested in nature. On the rolling hills of Vinci Leonardo would study all that his eyes could see. He was interested in everything. These early interests stayed with him until the latter part of his life. He would run along the rolling hills studying every plant. This is considered his first recorded observations, because not only did he study them; he also drew them. It is said that Leonardo took several small dead animals to his study and drew them with such intensity, ignoring the smell. (Mathe 8).
At first, Leonardo lived with his mother. He later moved to live with his father to acquire a modest education. This moving from place to place started very young, and continued throughout his life. Around 1469 Leonardo’s father took Leonardo to Florence, where he was educated by Lorenzo De Medici, who had “established an aristocracy to literate intellectuals where all acts of art were honored” (MacLeish 300). Here Leonardo was apprenticed to Andrea Del Verrochio, one of the most famous artists in Florence. In this apprenticeship, he would get the chance to improve upon his art.
While in Florence, Leonardo met with geniuses of his own time. This brought his art to maturity (MacLeish 300). Leonardo’s first major work was with Verrochio on the “Baptism of Christ” in 1472. While in the studio, Leonardo proved better than the other students, and proved himself a better painter than his master. Verrochio noticed that Leonardo was easily bored, and never finished any of his assignments (MacLeish 310). This problem stayed with Leonardo for the rest of his life. It became a signature of his works (MacLeish 310).
In 1472, at the age of twenty, Leonardo was accepted into the guild of painters, allowing him to seek independent commissions. After four years, in 1476, Leonardo opened his own studio in Florence. It wasn’t as successful as he had hoped. He was not in official favor because he kept out of politics, also because he was charged with being a homosexual, and was ignored by Medicis. (MacLeish 311). Because of his problems with the Medicis, he went out to seek protection from others. While in Florence he made sketches in 1478, which helped create his famous “Adoration of the Magi” for which he received a commission in 1481 (MacLeish 311). Although he left his “signature” on the piece, he never finished it. Leonardo left Florence in 1482 at the age of thirty. He stayed away for eighteen years.
In 1482, Leonardo went to Milan with the powerful Duke Ludovico Sforza. He stayed under the wing of the powerful duke for twenty years, during which time he achieved the fame and success for which he is remembered today (Mathe 10). Having been given the title of Military Engineer by Sforza, he worked on everything. To feed his thirst for knowledge he turned to mathematics, geometry, optics, astronomy, and painting.
In 1485, he started his notebooks. Leonardo was always jotting ideas on scraps of paper, inspired by what he saw, what he knew, and by what he dreamed. He was known to follow a person all day, looking and observing them from every angle. Then he would go home and draw a perfect likeness of them (MacLeish 301). When words failed, Leonardo drew. Alone in the day, he would analyze the working parts of machines and reconstruct them in new ways