Leonardo da Vinci was a leading artist and intellectual of the Italian Renaissance who’s known for his enduring works “The Last Supper” and the “Mona Lisa.”
Who Was Leonardo da Vinci?
Leonardo da Vinci (April 15, 1452, to May 2, 1519) was a painter, sculptor, architect, inventor, military engineer and draftsman — the epitome of a “Renaissance man.” With a curious mind and keen intellect, da Vinci studied the laws of science and nature, which greatly informed his work. His ideas and body of work have influenced countless artists and made da Vinci a leading light of the Italian Renaissance.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Paintings and Artwork
Although da Vinci is known for his artistic abilities, fewer than two-dozen paintings attributed to him exist. One reason is that his interests were so varied that he wasn’t a prolific painter. Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous works include the “Vitruvian Man,” “The Last Supper” and the “Mona Lisa.”
Art and science intersected perfectly in da Vinci’s sketch of “Vitruvian Man,” drawn in 1490, which depicted a male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart inside both a square and a circle. The sketch represents Leonardo’s study of proportion as well as his desire to relate man to nature.
‘The Last Supper’
Around 1495, Ludovico Sforza, then the Duke of Milan, commissioned da Vinci to paint “The Last Supper” on the back wall of the dining hall inside the monastery of Milan’s Santa Maria Delle Grazie. The masterpiece, which took approximately three years to complete, captures the drama of the moment when Jesus informs the Twelve Apostles gathered for Passover dinner that one of them would soon betray him. The range of facial expressions and the body language of the figures around the table bring the masterful composition to life.
The decision by da Vinci to paint with tempera and oil on dried plaster instead of painting a fresco on fresh plaster led to the quick deterioration and flaking of “The Last Supper.” Although an improper restoration caused further damage to the mural, it has now been stabilized using modern conservation techniques.
In 1503, da Vinci started working on what would become his most well-known painting — and arguably the most famous painting in the world —the “Mona Lisa.” The privately commissioned work is characterized by the enigmatic smile of the woman in the half-portrait, which derives from da Vinci’s sfumato technique.
Adding to the allure of the “Mona Lisa” is the mystery surrounding the identity of the subject. Princess Isabella of Naples, an unnamed courtesan, and da Vinci’s own mother have all been put forth as potential sitters for the masterpiece. It has even been speculated that the subject wasn’t a female at all but da Vinci’s longtime apprentice Salai dressed in women’s clothing. Based on accounts from an early biographer, however, the “Mona Lisa” is a picture of Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant. The painting’s original Italian name — “La Gioconda” — supports the theory, but it’s far from certain. Some art historians believe the merchant commissioned the portrait to celebrate the pending birth of the couple’s next child, which means the subject could have been pregnant at the time of the painting.
If the Giocondo family did indeed commission the painting, they never received it. For da Vinci, the “Mona Lisa” was forever a work in progress, as it was his attempt at perfection, and he never parted with the painting. Today, the “Mona Lisa” hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, secured behind bulletproof glass and regarded as a priceless national treasure seen by millions of visitors each year.
1 “One has no right to love or hate anything if one has not acquired a thorough knowledge of its nature.”
2 “Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”
3 “I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.”
4 “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”
5 “As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.”
6 “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
7 “One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.”
8 “Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.”
9 “The deeper the feeling, the greater the pain.”
10 “In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.”