up in his father's Vinci home, Leonardo had access to scholarly texts
owned by family and friends. He was also exposed to Vinci's longstanding
painting tradition, and when he was about 15 his father apprenticed
him to the renowned workshop of Andrea del Verrochio in Florence.
Even as an apprentice, Leonardo demonstrated his colossal talent.
Indeed, his genius seems to have seeped into a number of pieces produced
by the Verrocchio's workshop from the period 1470 to 1475. For example,
one of Leonardo's first big breaks was to paint an angel in Verrochio's
"Baptism of Christ," and Leonardo was so much better than
his master's that Verrochio allegedly resolved never to paint again.
Leonardo stayed in the Verrocchio workshop until 1477 when he set
up a shingle for himself.
search of new challenges and the big bucks, he entered the service
of the Duke of Milan in 1482, abandoning his first commission in Florence,
"The Adoration of the Magi". He spent 17 years in Milan,
leaving only after Duke Ludovico Sforza's fall from power in 1499.
It was during these years that Leonardo hit his stride, reaching new
heights of scientific and artistic achievement.
Duke kept Leonardo busy painting and sculpting and designing elaborate
court festivals, but he also put Leonardo to work designing weapons,
buildings and machinery. From 1485 to 1490, Leonardo produced a studies
on loads of subjects, including nature, flying machines, geometry,
mechanics, municipal construction, canals and architecture (designing
everything from churches to fortresses). His studies from this period
contain designs for advanced weapons, including a tank and other war
vehicles, various combat devices, and submarines. Also during this
period, Leonardo produced his first anatomical studies. His Milan
workshop was a veritable hive of activity, buzzing with apprentices
Leonardo's interests were so broad, and he was so often compelled
by new subjects, that he usually failed to finish what he started.
This lack of "stick-to-it-ness" resulted in his completing
only about six works in these 17 years, including "The Last Supper"
and "The Virgin on the Rocks," and he left dozens of paintings
and projects unfinished or unrealized (see "Big Horse" in
sidebar). He spent most of his time studying science, either by going
out into nature and observing things or by locking himself away in
his workshop cutting up bodies or pondering universal truths.
1490 and 1495 he developed his habit of recording his studies in meticulously
illustrated notebooks. His work covered four main themes: painting,
architecture, the elements of mechanics, and human anatomy. These
studies and sketches were collected into various codices and manuscripts,
which are now hungrily collected by museums and individuals (Bill
Gates recently plunked down $30 million for the Codex Leicester!).
to Milan... after the invasion by the French and Ludovico Sforza's
fall from power in 1499, Leonardo was left to search for a new patron.
Over the next 16 years, Leonardo worked and traveled throughout Italy
for a number of employers, including the dastardly Cesare Borgia.
He traveled for a year with Borgia's army as a military engineer and
even met Niccolo Machiavelli, author of "The Prince." Leonardo
also designed a bridge to span the "golden horn" in Constantinople
during this period and received a commission, with the help of Machiavelli,
to paint the "Battle of Anghiari."
1503, Leonardo reportedly began work on the "Mona Lisa."
On July 9, 1504, he received notice of the death of his father, Ser
Piero. Through the contrivances of his meddling half brothers and
sisters, Leonardo was deprived of any inheritance. The death of a
beloved uncle also resulted in a scuffle over inheritance, but this
time Leonardo beat out his scheming siblings and wound up with use
of the uncle's land and money.
1513 to 1516, he worked in Rome, maintaining a workshop and undertaking
a variety of projects for the Pope. He continued his studies of human
anatomy and physiology, but the Pope forbade him from dissecting cadavers,
which truly cramped his style.
the death of his patron Giuliano de' Medici in March of 1516, he was
offered the title of Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of
the King by Francis I in France. His last and perhaps most generous
patron, Francis I provided Leonardo with a cushy job, including a
stipend and manor house near the royal chateau at Amboise.
suffering from a paralysis of the right hand, Leonardo was still able
to draw and teach. He produced studies for the Virgin Mary from "The
Virgin and Child with St. Anne", studies of cats, horses, dragons,
St. George, anatomical studies, studies on the nature of water, drawings
of the Deluge, and of various machines.