Leonardo Da Vinci
Essay title: Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci: scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, and writer remains a subject of fascination despite his death over 450 years ago. His paintings are some of the most easily recognized artwork in the world today, such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Some of his scientific designs were so visionary, they weren’t able to be realized in his time. Even today, he remains a subject of fascination for millions of people, even having a recent bestseller capitalizing on his name. The question I’d like to examine is “why?”. Why are people so fascinated by the life and accomplishments of da Vinci rather than some of his contemporaries such as Michaelangelo , Raphael, or Botticelli? I intend to investigate his life and works and illustrate some of the ways he revolutionized the fields to which he applied himself to provide some answers.
Leonardo da Vinci was born out of wedlock in 1452 to a peasant woman named Caterina and a gentleman of means named Ser Piero da Vinci in the pastoral setting of the Florentine town of Vinci. The information on Leonardo’s mother is sparse, most sources state she was a woman of low station, perhaps the daughter of a woodcutter. The fact that her birth is not included in the town census records (or Catasto) is cited as evidence of her poor birth. Her relationship with Ser Piero can only be speculated. Whether their passion was fleeting or if it was true love is immaterial given the nature of marital alliances and the differences of their financial station. Ser Piero carried through with an arranged marriage 8 months after Leonardo’s birth and his mother eventually married a mercenary (presumptively arranged by Leonardo’s grandfather). At the age of 5 years, he moved in with his father.
The information on Leonardo’s early life is sparse. There are 2 instances that were significant enough for Leonardo to record and reflect upon. The first was an incident where a hawk swooped out of the sky above his cradle and dipped his tail feathers in Leonardo’s mouth. There have been many attempts to psychoanalyze this particular fantasy,, drawing in the likes of Sigmund Freud (whose analysis was inherently flawed because he misinterpeted the word “vulture” for “hawk”, and thus the vulture symbolism is immaterial) The other was of him discovering a cave and recorded his emotions at being, on one hand, terrified that some great monster might lurk there and on the other, driven by curiosity to find out what was inside. Not a lot of detail is to be had for the next 10 years of Leonardo’s life beyond the fact that he received very little “formal” education. Vasari makes a short comment and described Leonardo as a distractable student:
He would have been very proficient in his early lessons if he had not been so volatile and unstable. He set himself to learn many things only to abandon them almost immediately. When he began to learn arithmetic, in a few months he made such progress that he bombarded the master who was teaching him, and very often outwitted him.
This “volatility” and “instability” is evidenced throughout his life simply by looking at his sketchbooks. It seems as if he moved from interest to interest as he conceived them, leaving many unfinished thoughts, drawings, and projects when a new thought or design caught his attention.
Sometime, around the age of 15, Ser Piero showed some of Leonardo’s sketches to a master in Florence named Andrea Del Verrocchio. Verrocchio was a well respected painter, sculptor, goldsmith, and most importantly, a great teacher. He recognized Leonardo’s genius immediately and accepted him as an apprentice in 1470. It is in this studio where Leonardo began to from friendships with contemporaries like Perugino, Botticelli, and Lorenzo di Credi. This is where Leonardo learned the fundamentals that would serve him so well for the rest of his life. One of the first pieces of artwork Leonardo is credited with working on was created around this time. It was the piece The Baptism of Christ (1472-1475) designed by Verrocchio for the monks of Vallombrosa. According to Vasari, Leonardo painted the angel on the left, kneeling with drapery over its right arm. While this may be true, Vasari next claimed that Verrocchio