Leonardo da Vinci
A Famous Italian Artist and Inventor
Leonardo da Vinci
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The name 'da Vinci' actually means 'from Vinci' because Vinci is the name of the village, near to Florence, where Leonardo was born. The first part of his name, Leonardo di ser Piero , means 'Leonardo the son of Mr. Peter.'
Leonardo's mother was called Caterina and she was a peasant-girl. She was not married to Leonardo's father.
Poor Caterina was made to marry a farmer and the baby was looked after by his grandparents: the parents of
When Leonardo was about five years old, it became obvious that his father's young wife was unable to have children, so the boy was taken from his grandparents' home and went to live with his father and stepmother.
Soon, everyone could see that the boy was very talented. As a child, he played the lyre, sang beautifully, was excellent at maths and enjoyed drawing animals and nature.
At the age of fourteen, he was sent to Florence to work with Verrocchio who was a very well-known and highly-considered artist, sculptor and goldsmith.
Just like his fellow artist Michelangelo, Leonardo was chosen to join the Medici family's select group of artists who practised in the gardens of their palace in Florence. The garden of San Marco had many classical Greek and Roman statues. Artists, including Michelangelo, would go there for art lessons and to be inspired by the artistic environment.
One of Leonardo's most famous paintings is The Last Supper (1498). In Italian, it is called Il Cenacolo. It is the most reproduced painting in the world. It is painted on a wall inside the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. This method of painting is called 'fresco'. In Italian it is 'affresco' - meaning 'fresh'.
Another famous painting by Leonardo is the Mona Lisa. Mona means 'my lady'. The painting is called La Gioconda in Italian. The woman in the painting is generally believed to be Lisa Gherardini and she was the wife of a wealthy businessman called Francesco del Giocondo, from Florence. It is said that the painting was requested by the Giocondo family to decorate their new home and to celebrate the birth of their second son.
The portrait was nicknamed La Gioconda because of a double meaning:-
Leonardo started to paint the Mona Lisa around 1502 and he spent many years working on it. It belongs to the French Government. It can be seen at Le Musée du Louvre, Paris.
Leonardo's most famous drawing is The Vitruvian Man (around 1487). It is kept in the Gallerie dell' Accademia in Venice and is displayed only on special occasions. The drawing was a study of proportion and geometry in the human shape. The drawing is named after the Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius who had studied geometry and had also applied geometry to study the human shape.
Leonardo wrote lots of notes in 'mirror writing'. This means that they can only be read by holding them in front of a mirror and reading the reflection. As Leonardo was left-handed, he had the ability to write from the right side of the page towards the left. Leonardo was also known to write notes in code.
In the early 1500s, Leonardo dreamed of being able to build 'a flying machine.' He sketched ideas for a parachute, helicopter and made observations of how birds fly. In an experiment, he attached home-made wings to a lizard in an attempt to make it fly! Below is one of Leonardo's designs for a flying machine.
He had amazingly original ideas and drew up designs for lots of inventions - including automobiles, submarines, battle machines, two-tiered bridges and weapons. It is quite fascinating to think that those ideas that seemed weird or impossible then, now exist as normal objects that are used everyday.
In 1516, Leonardo moved to France where he was asked to paint for the French King Francis I. He took the unfinished Mona Lisa with him and worked on it until shortly before he died. King Francis bought the painting from Leonardo for 4000 écus. It has belonged to France ever since! Below is a portrait of Francis I.
Leonardo never married and did not have any children. He died in France on 2 May 1519 at the royal manor house called Clos Lucé (below) where he had resided as a guest of the King Francis I throughout his years in France.
King Francis had become a close friend and was at Leonardo's bedside when he died. Below is a painting by Ménageot, depicting the death of Leonardo in the presence of the French king.
At Leonardo's funeral, sixty beggars followed the procession. (This had been one of Leonardo's requests.)