Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci was born was born in the town of Vinci, Italy, in 1452 on
April 15, a natural child of ser Piero. Ser Piero was a successful government
official, and his mother, Caterina, a peasant girl in service with the family.
Leonardo spent his early years on his family’s farm. Free to explore in the
fields and streams, he grew to love the outdoors and he had a keen interest in
how things worked. He was always full of questions and wonderment. By 1469
Leonardo had moved with his father to Florence, where the young man was
apprenticed to the painter and sculptor, Andrea del Verrocchio. He learned the
techniques of drawing, painting and sculpting. In the seven years or more
Leonardo spent in Verrocchio’s studio he was especially inspired by his
teacher’s imaginative sculpture. 1472 listed Leonardo as a master of the
painters’ guild. A few years later he painted such a beautiful angel that
Verrocchio, his master, is said to have, “given up painting for good.” (“The
New Book of Knowledge” page 153. L volume 11, 1967, Grolier Incorporated, New
York, New York).

After this Leonardo’s skill as a painter must have been known, because he
painted an altarpiece, The Adoration of Kings, for the monks of Saint Donate of
Scopeto in 1478. About 1482, Leonardo left Florence to enter the house of
Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. He performed a variety of services there. He
painted court portraits, supervised pageants, designed costumes, built machines
of war and even installed control heating in the palace. He also supposedly
played the lyre and sang to entertain the Duke and his friends.

While in Milan, Leonardo worked on his magnificent painting, The Last Supper,
in 1495. Before that, in 1492, he designed costumes (as I mentioned earlier) for
the wedding of Ludovico il Moro and Beatrice d’Este. Also in that time frame
there was the death of Lorenco the Magnificent and Columbus sails to the New
World. He also painted in that time a portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, Ludovico’s
mistress, a woman of wit and beauty, who for many years shone at the Milanese
Court. The severe hairstyle emphasizes the perfection of her face and striking
eyes. The white ermine she holds is a symbol of purity; its name in Greek
suggests her name.

One of Leonardo’s greatest interests was the study of the human body. At
first, like other artists of the 15th century, he studied the outward appearance
of the body. Then he became fascinated with its inner structure and dissected
corpses to find out how the body was put together. “Perhaps the most stunning
drawings in Leonardo’s notebooks are those that show his careful study of
autonomy. He did not approach anatomy as a artist, he approached anatomy as a
scientist.” (“Leonardo Da Vinci” Diane Stanley. Pg.18., 1996, William
Morrow and Company, Incorporated. New York, New York.) His studies of the heart
in particular were very advanced. Leonardo looked at plants as closely as he
looked at men and animals, and he made many discoveries about plant growth.

Soon after he arrived in Milan, Leonardo began to write down things that
interested him. His notebooks show the great variety and originality of his
scientific observations. He illustrated his theories with very beautiful and
exact drawings. By studying his drawings of machines, twentieth century
engineers, with modern materials, have been able to build models that worked
perfectly. The notebooks are hard to read because he used mirror writing. He did
not want his ideas to be stolen.

Leonardo’s life in the court of Milan was suddenly interrupted in 1499 by
the invasion of the French Army. Leonardo’s patron, Lodovico, was taken
prisoner, and Leonardo fled to Venice. He left with the mathematician, Luca
Pacioli. He was a Franciscan Friar and a man of science. He knew Leonardo in
Milan, and awakened his interests in mathematics. Leonardo stayed at Vaprio, in
Mantua, where he makes two portraits of Isabella d’Este. In March 1500, about
a year later, he went back o Florence, still an active center of art. He was
given a commission to paint an altarpiece for the church of the Annynziata. When
his full-scale drawing of the Virgin and child with St. Anne was placed on
public view, people filed by for two days and admired it enthusiastically.

In 1502, Leonardo briefly served Prince Cesare Borgia in Rome as a military
engineer and architect. This is the period of time where he studied
Fortification Systems and War Machines. He designed the catapult, cannon
foundry, large crossbow, and a design for a gun with an array of horizontal
barrels. In