Friday, January 27, 2012

Leonardo Da Vinci: The Early Years and Beyond, Part 1





Some time ago I received an email from  Byter Tobye after an earlier post which mentioned the incredible talents of  Leonardo Da Vinci: 

Otto, you're not going to leave us here, are you? How did Leonardo get educated? Did his wealthy father acknowledge and succour him? He was such a success, he must have had some help!
Please sir...can we have some more?
Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, the bio which follows is largely taken from Wikipedia. 

For those who anticipate it to be boring, or for those who do read it and find it boring, let me give the item a Hollywood style opening . . .

Born of an affair between a wealthy noble and a peasant girl, he rose to become the greatest genius who ever lived, yet a man who had to hide his love...


Leonardo.


Childhood, 1452–1466

Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452 (Old Style), "at the third hour of the night" in the Tuscan hill town of Vinci, in the lower valley of the Arno River in the territory of the Medici-ruled Republic of Florence.  He was the out-of-wedlock son of the wealthy Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, a Florentine legal notary, and Caterina, a peasant.  Leonardo had no surname in the modern sense, “da Vinci” simply meaning “of Vinci”: his full birth name was "Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci", meaning "Leonardo, (son) of (Mes)ser Piero from Vinci". The inclusion of the title "ser" indicated that Leonardo's father was a gentleman.
  
Little is known about Leonardo's early life. He spent his first five years in the hamlet of Anchiano in the home of his mother, then from 1457 he lived in the household of his father, grandparents and uncle, Francesco, in the small town of Vinci. His father had married a sixteen-year-old girl named Albiera, who loved Leonardo but died young. When Leonardo was sixteen his father married again, to twenty-year-old Francesca Lanfredini. It was not until his third and fourth marriages that Ser Piero produced legitimate heirs.

Leonardo’s childhood home at Anchiano

Leonardo received an informal education in Latin, geometry and mathematics. In later life, Leonardo only recorded two childhood incidents. One, which he regarded as an omen, was when a kite [a large bird similar to an eagle] dropped from the sky and hovered over his cradle, its tail feathers brushing his face. The second occurred while exploring in the mountains. He discovered a cave and was both terrified that some great monster might lurk there and driven by curiosity to find out what was inside.

Leonardo's early life has been the subject of historical conjecture. Vasari, the 16th-century biographer of Renaissance painters tells of how a local peasant made himself a round shield and requested that Ser Piero have it painted for him. Leonardo responded with a painting of a monster spitting fire which was so terrifying that Ser Piero sold it to a Florentine art dealer, who sold it to the Duke of Milan. Meanwhile, having made a profit, Ser Piero bought a shield decorated with a heart pierced by an arrow, which he gave to the peasant.

Verrocchio's workshop, 1466–1476
In 1466, at the age of fourteen, Leonardo was apprenticed to the artist Andrea di Cione, known as Verocchio, whose workshop was "one of the finest in Florence". Other famous painters apprenticed or associated with the workshop include Domenico Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Botticelli, and Lorenzo di Credi. Leonardo would have been exposed to both theoretical training and a vast range of technical skills including drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics and carpentry as well as the artistic skills of drawing, painting, sculpting and modelling.

The Baptism of Christ (1472–1475) by Verrocchio and Leonardo

Much of the painted production of Verrocchio's workshop was done by his employees. According to Vasari, Leonardo collaborated with Verrocchio on his Baptism of Christ, painting the young angel holding Jesus’s' robe in a manner that was so far superior to his master's that Verrocchio put down his brush and never painted again.  On close examination, the painting reveals much that has been painted or touched up over the tempera using the new technique of oil paint, with the landscape, the rocks that can be seen through the brown mountain stream and much of the figure of Jesus bearing witness to the hand of Leonardo. Leonardo may have been the model for two works by Verrocchio: the bronze statue of David in the Bargello and the Archangel Raphael in Tobias and the Angel.

David by Verrochio

Tobias and the Angel by Verrochio

By 1472, at the age of twenty, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of St Luke, the guild of artists and doctors of medicine, but even after his father set him up in his own workshop, his attachment to Verrocchio was such that he continued to collaborate with him. Leonardo's earliest known dated work is a drawing in pen and ink of the Arno valley, drawn on August 5, 1473.

  Leonardo's earliest known drawing, the Arno Valley (1473)


Professional life, 1476–1513

Florentine court records of 1476 show that Leonardo and three other young men were charged with sodomy and acquitted.  From that date until 1478 there is no record of his work or even of his whereabouts. In 1478 he left Verrocchio's studio and was no longer resident at his father's house. One writer, the "Anonimo" Gaddiano claims that in 1480 he was living with the Medici and working in the Garden of the Piazza San Marco in Florence, a Neo-Platonic academy of artists, poets and philosophers that the Medici had established. In January 1478, he received his first of two independent commissions: to paint an altarpiece for the Chapel of St. Bernard in the Palazzo and, in March 1481, The Aoration of the Magi for the Monks of San Donato a Scopeto. Neither commission was completed, the second being interrupted when Leonardo went to Milan.

The Adoration of the Magi, 1481

In 1482 Leonardo, who according to Vasari was a most talented musician, created a silver lyre in the shape of a horse's head. Lorenzo de’ Medici sent Leonardo to Milan, bearing the lyre as a gift, to secure peace with Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan. At this time Leonardo wrote an often-quoted letter describing the many marvellous and diverse things that he could achieve in the field of engineering and informing Ludovico that he could also paint.
  
Leonardo worked in Milan from 1482 until 1499.




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