LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-1519, Italian)


Leonardo da Vinci is known today as an extremely talented Renaissance man who was interested in a variety of subjects. His fame as a painter is due to his portrait of the Mona Lisa and his work The Last Supper. Many will also be familiar with his drawing of Vitruvian Man. Surprisingly only about 15 of his paintings have survived.

Leonardo was born out of wedlock to a peasant woman in the small hill town of Vinci in the region of Florence. In school he studied Latin, geometry and mathematics. At a young age, the painter Verrocchio took him into his studio and educated him; however, in 1478 he left the studio. It is thought that he went to live under the Medicis. In January 1478, he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the Chapel of St. Bernard in the Palazzo Vecchio and, in March 1481, The Adoration of the Magi for the monks of San Donato a Scopeto. Neither commission was completed, the second being interrupted when Leonardo went to Milan. Leonardo did hundreds of sketches and included the cat in some, and in particular with the Virgin Mary. He is quoted as saying, “The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”

Leonardo went on to work in Rome, Bologna, Milan and Venice spending his last years in France in a home given to him by Francis I.  Leonardo died at Clos Lucé, on May 2, 1519. Francis I held Leonardo in high esteem and had also become his friend. In his last days, Leonardo asked for a priest to give his confession. In his will, he requested that sixty beggars follow his coffin. His other money and belongings were given to his pupils, brothers and his servants. Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in Château d’Amboise, in France.

The French philosopher Hippolyte Taine wrote in 1866, “There may not be in the world an example of another genius so universal, so incapable of fulfilment, so full of yearning for the infinite, so naturally refined, so far ahead of his own century and the following centuries.” Today Leonardo da Vinci is recognized as one of the most diversely talented individuals in all of Western civilization as well as a central figure in Western art.