01 November, 2018

Leonardo Da Vinci - The Renaissance Man

A polymath, and the most versatile of the Renaissance creatives such as Raphael and Michaelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci's curiosity covered a range of disciplines ranging from painting to mechanical engineering. 

Born in 1452, his ideas and thoughts were so ahead of his time, they weren't invented until 400 years later!

He composed these ideas and inventions into journals now called 'Codexes'. Now widely available, they are able to illustrate why he is called 'The Renaissance Man'.

Early Life

Not much is said about his early life but he spent time in Anchiano before living with his father and members of his family in Vinci. 

His father realised his potential and apprenticed the 14-year-old Da Vinci to noted sculptor and painter, Andrea del Verrocchio.

Now living in Florence, he spent around 10 years here developing his craft for painting, sculpting, leather, metalworking and carpentry. In addition to expanding his creative skills. 

It wasn't until 1476 that Da Vinci became an independent master and spent the majority of his career in Florence, Milan, Rome, Venice and France.


Da Vinci secured his first commission from Augustinian monks of San Donato to be called 'The Adoration of The Magi'. The painting was left unfinished, a common theme in Da Vinci's career. 

Trivia - The painting is located in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

He left Florence for Milan a year later in 1482 after receiving an invitation from the ruling Sforza family.

Florence was a centre of The High Renaissance, you can read more about the period here: Artist Spotlight: Raphael.


The Sforza family invited Da Vinci to work for them as a painter, engineer, sculptor, architect and designer. It was here where Da Vinci received one of his most infamous commissions, a 16-foot equestrian statue made out of bronze.

Honouring their founder, Francesco Sforza, Da Vinci worked on it for 12 years but never completed the work. Known as the 'Grand Cavallo', a clay model was created in 1492. However, the 70 tons of bronze set aside for it was used to make cannonballs to aid war efforts against France.

When the French won the war in 1499, and the Sforza duke was overthrown, Da Vinci fled and the French used the clay model as target practice!

During this time, Da Vinci spent time in Venice, Florence and Rome and created a series of paintings, mainly portraits. There's one which is still celebrated 500 years later but that's not all Da Vinci is famous for.

Famous Works

Here are some famous works by Da Vinci. Did you know he created all of them?

Mona Lisa (1506)

When Da Vinci fled Milan, he didn't return for 7 years. He spent time in Venice and Florence and painted portraits. One, in particular, became one of history's most talked about paintings, the Mona Lisa.

The identity of the subject had been in question for centuries but it's believed to be Lisa Gherardini. Now found in the Louvre Museum, France, she attracts over 6 million visitors each year! You can read more about her climate-controlled room here: How much is the Mona Lisa worth?

The Last Supper (1498)  

Da Vinci's last Fresco! It was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza in 1495. It was painted on a refectory wall inside the Santa Maria Delle Grazie, Milan.

Taking three years to complete, you can see the how Da Vinci depicted the moment Jesus informed the Twelve Apostles that one of them would betray him. The emotion of each apostle is one of the hallmarks of the painting.

Trivia - It's also known as 'The Cenacle' and measures 15 by 29 feet.

Vitruvian Man (1485) 

This drawing illustrates Da Vinci's curious mind. He depicts a man in two superimposed positions.

Da Vinci used this sketch to explain volumes, circumferences and the way human anatomy proportions itself to it.

  • The volume of a square - The man's legs are together with his arms stretched out.
  • The Circumference of a circle - The man's legs are stood apart and his arms are extended to show the circumference of a circle.

Inspired by Roman architect Vitruvius, Da Vinci sought to study proportions under Vitruvius's principles of balance, proportion and symmetry using the volume of a square and the circumference of a circle.

Virgin of The Rocks (1483-1486)

This artwork shows the Madonna with Gabriel and an infant Christ and John the Baptist amongst a mystic landscape.

Illustrating Da Vinci's perspective and depth, you become immersed in two worlds.

For example, the water and rocks in the background and this human element front and centre.  

Salvator Mundi - Is it a Da Vinci?

A controversial painting, The Salvator Mundi sold in 2017 for around $450m and became the most expensive painting in the world.

You can read more about it here: Most Expensive Artworks Ever Sold - William George & Co.

The painting depicts Christ with a raised right hand and holding a crystal orb with his left hand.

Despite missing provenance totalling over 250 years, accusations it wasn't painted by him and extensive restorations, it was authenticated as a Da Vinci, the first since 1909. Selling for this colossal amount, it sits in the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Final Words

Da Vinci spent his last years in France after leaving Italy in 1516, Francis I gave him the title of “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect to the King”.

The big selling point was the freedom to paint or draw whenever he wanted from a country manor house called, the Château of Cloux, near Amboise.

He died in 1519 and was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, Amboise. However, The French Revolution almost destroyed the church and its ruins were demolished in the 1800s which makes it almost impossible to find Da Vinci's final resting place.

Trivia - His will stated that sixty beggars follow his casket.

Da Vinci's estate was split up among friends and family.

  • Melzi, a trusted student, inherited paintings, tools and personal items.
  • Salai, another student, and his servant Battista di Vilussis inherited half of Da Vinci's vineyards.
  • Da Vinci's brothers received land.

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Artist Spotlight - Leonardo Da Vinci
Artist Spotlight - Leonardo Da Vinci
Artist Spotlight - Leonardo Da Vinci
Artist Spotlight - Leonardo Da Vinci
Artist Spotlight - Leonardo Da Vinci
Artist Spotlight - Leonardo Da Vinci
Artist Spotlight - Leonardo Da Vinci