Leonardo da Vinci
Michelangelo and Raphael were probably the three greatest
artists of the Italian Renaissance. They were also great rivals and at times
competed with each other.
da Vinci is seen as the perfect example of a ‘Renaissance - man’. That
is to say he was an all rounder and showed a great interest in every aspect of
life. His skills range - from not-only being, a great artist but also a
successful inventor, architect, musician, botanist, mathematician and
was born near Florence in 1452. He attended school between the ages of
five and 12 but seems to have found it unchallenging and spent
much of his time drawing sketches. The quality of these drawings convinced his
father that Leonardo should consider becoming a full time artist. He showed
the sketches to Andrea del Verocchio, a well known artist in Florence,
who agreed to take the 14 year old Leonardo as one of his apprentices.
Verocchio was not only an artist but a gifted sculptor and goldsmith as well.
He had a great influence on the young Leonardo. It was he who insisted that
Leonardo study anatomy (the study of how the human body works) so that
he could paint portraits and sculpt in a more realistic manner.
Leonardo was born in Vinci, near
Florence. He lived in Florence, Milan and Rome
helped Verocchio to paint The Baptism of Christ for the friars of Vallombrosa.
Leonardo painted the angel at the front of the picture and the landscape in
the background. The difference between the style and quality of the work was
soon recognised, leading to offers for Leonardo to paint on his own. In June
1472 Leonardo was accepted as a member of the painters’ guild in Florence.
This meant that; his apprenticeship was over and he was now free to work for
anyone he chose.
The Baptism of Christ by Andrea del
Verocchio and Leonardo da Vinci
The Milan Years
to 1499 Leonardo moved to Milan to work for his new patron Duke Ludovico
Sforza. These were the most productive years of Leonardo’s artistic
career. The Duke gave Leonardo free rein to work on any project he chose.
Leonardo had so many ideas that he often planned and drew sketches for great
works of art only to leave them unfinished, as he moved on to his next
project. Only 17 of his paintings survive. Among his great works of art during
this period are The Virgin on the Rocks (1494) and The Last Supper (1498)
which is painted on the wall in the dining room of a monastery in Milan.
Supper by Leonardo da Vinci
as being a gifted artist Leonardo da Vinci was also a brilliant inventor.
It was during his time in Milan that Leonardo drew many sketches of machines.
Leonardo was fascinated by the ability of birds to fly. He produced a number
of sketches including a helicopter, a hand glider and a parachute. Leonardo
also acted as a military engineer for Duke Sforza. Accordingly, many of his
drawings in his notebooks include plans for such things as machine guns, an
armoured tank and a cannon that fired mortar bombs.
Throughout his lifetime Leonardo kept his notebooks secret. He a1so used
mirror writing in his diaries, that is he wrote from right o left and
reversed every letter. This may have been done to prevent hi ideas from being
copied by other. He would also have been aware that people were suspicious of
scientific explanations, especially the Church, and that this could place him
Here is a sample of Leonardo's writing as it appears in his
This is how it would look reversed by a mirror.
Try it yourself!
continued with his interest in anatomy during his time in Milan.
Throughout his working life he dissected up to 30 bodies of both men and women
of different ages. He drew images of the lung, heart, brain and various
muscles. He had discovered that the heart included a number of valves but was
unaware that it acted as a pump for the circulation of blood throughout the
The Vitruvian Man by
Leonardo da Vinci
Ludovico Sforza lost control of Milan following a war with France, forcing
Leonardo to leave the city in search of a new patron. Leonardo moved back to
Florence. It was here that he painted his most famous painting — the Mora
Lisa. It is believed that the Mona Lisa is a painting of the wife of a wealthy
silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, and that the painting was commissioned
to celebrate the birth of their second child. The painting is famous because
of its use of sfumato and the woman’s strange smile. She also
seems to be looking at you from whichever angle you view the portrait.
Lisa, also known as La Gioconda, by Leonardo da Vinci
is the Italian term for a painting technique which overlays translucent layers
of colour to create perceptions of depth, volume and form. In particular, it
refers to the blending of colours or tones so subtly that there is no
to 1516 Leonardo moved to Rome where he hoped to work for the Pope. However he
was disappointed to discover that two of his rivals, Michelangelo and Raphael,
were already working in the Vatican and there was no great demand for his
services. In 1516 Leonardo accepted an invitation from King Francis I of
France to come and live at the royal palace at Chateau Amboise. He lived there
until his death in 1519. He took three paintings, including the Mona Lisa,
with him. The Monad Lisa can be seen today in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Throughout his entire life Leonardo da Vinci raised many questions for which
he sought answers. For instance, it was he who discovered that the age of a
tree can be measured by counting its rings. Although he left behind 120
notebooks with over 7000 pages of notes and diagrams, most of his plans were
not or could not be invented during his lifetime. However, many subsequent
inventions and teachings were based to a certain extent on some of his designs
and theories, and he is therefore considered to be ‘a man before his time’.
I. Why is Leonardo da Vinci considered to be the perfect example of a
2. How did Andrea del Verocchio influence Leonardo da Vinci?
3. Name two paintings Leonardo did in Milan.
4. Read the source below and answer the questions that follow. This is an
extract from a letter sent by Leonardo da Vinci to Duke Sforza of Milan in
1581 seeking work.
construct bridges very light and strong, capable of easy transportation, and
with them you may pursue, and on occasion, flee from the enemy.
When a place is besieged I know how to remove the water from the moats. I have
also plans of mortars most convenient and easy to carry, with which to hurl
small stones similar to a storm, and with their smoke cause great terror to
the enemy and great damage and confusion.
And should it happen that the fight were at sea I have plans for many
instruments capable of offence and defence, and vessels which will resist the
fire of the largest cannon, powder and smoke.
Also I will make covered cars, safe and unassailable (free from attack) which
will enter among the enemy with their artillery and break up the largest body
Also I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze or clay; similarly, in
pointing I can do whatever caa be done as well as any other, whoever he may
(a) Is this letter a primary or secondary source? Explain your answer.
(b) How does Leonardo suggest that he has the methods to end a siege?
(c) Mention two weapons that Leonardo proposes to build for the duke.
(d) Apart from building military weapons, mention two other skills that
Leonardo claimed to have.
(e) Do you think that Leonardo is exaggerating the level of his skills in this
letter? Explain your answer.
two reasons why Leonardo used mirror writing in his notebooks.
6. Mention one medical discovery made by Leonardo as a result of his study of
7. Give two reasons why the Mona Lisa is such a famous painting.
8. Why did Leonardo da Vinci move to France in 1516?
Set up a
Powerpoint presentation which include a short biography of Michelangelo and
Raphael (about ten lines) and their most important artworks (painting,