As I stated earlier, I am not going to expound on merely American history but I will attempt to write on history throughout the entire world. I will admit that my strength is American history but I will try on occasion to expand my writings beyond the United States.
On April 15, 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was born in the town of Vinci which at the time was in the territory of Florence, a powerful Italian city-state.
He was the illegitimate son of a Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci who was a Florentine legal notary and Caterina who was a peasant.
Da Vinci’s full name was Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci. Surnames were not used during this time of history and “da Vinci” simply means “of Vinci.”
Much of Leonardo’s early life is surrounded by mystery. His first five years were spent in the home of his mother in the town of Anchiano.
At the age of five he moved into the home of his father and grandfather in the town of Vinci.
By this time his father had married a sixteen year old girl who loved Leonardo very much but unfortunately she died very young. There Leonardo received an education in geometry, Latin and mathematics but showed no exceptional skills in these fields.
In 1466, Leonardo was apprenticed to Andrea di Cione who was more commonly known as the painter Verrocchio. Here Leonardo was exposed to various types of skills including drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics and carpentry as well as drawing, painting, sculpting and modeling.
The story goes that Leonardo collaborated with Verrocchio on his painting The Baptism of Christ and the story goes is that the student’s skill was so far superior to the teacher that Verrocchio put down his paint brush and never painted again. This may very well be a myth but it does illustrate the scope of Leonardo’s talent.
There is further conjecture that Leonardo might have been the model of two of Verrocchio’s more popular works, the bronze statue David and the Archangel Raphael in Tobias and the Angel.
By 1472, Leonardo had qualified as a master in the Guild of St. Luke which was a guild of artists and doctors of medicine. His father set him up in his own workshop but Leonardo still collaborated with Verrocchio. Leonardo’s earliest known work was a drawing in pen and ink of the Arno Valley and it was dated August 5, 1473.
In 1478 he received his first commission to paint the altarpiece at the Chapel of St. Bernard in the Palazzo Vecchio.
In 1481, Leonardo painted The Adoration of the Magi for the monks of San Donato a Scopeto.
Leonardo was working in Milan between the years of 1482 and 1499. Here he was commissioned to paint the Virgin of the Rocks for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception and The Last Supper for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
While in Milan, Leonardo worked on many projects including several floats for various pageants and parades. He also worked on various designs for the dome of the cathedral in Milan.
In 1499, at the beginning of the Second Italian War, Leonardo fled Milan ahead of advancing French troops and settled in Venice.
In Venice he was employed as a military architect and engineer. Leonardo worked on building fortifications and devising strategies to defend Venice from naval bombardments.
In 1500, he returned to Florence and was provided a workshop by the monks of the monastery of Santissima Annunziata. Here he created the cartoon The Virgin and Child With St. Anne and John the Baptist.
In 1502, Leonardo travelled to Cesena where he started working with Cesare Borgia, who was the son of Pope Alexander VI. He was employed as a military architect and travelled throughout Italy with Cesare.
While under Cesare’s employ, Leonardo produced a map of Cesare’s stronghold, the town of Imola.
Maps at this time were very rare. Cesare was so impressed with it that he hired Leonardo to be his chief military architect and engineer.
He also produced another map, this one of the Chiana Valley in Tuscany. This gave Cesare a good overlay of the topography and helped him build a strategic defense of the area.
Along with this map in a related project, Leonardo constructed a dam from the sea to Florence which enabled a supply of water to fill the canal in all seasons.
On October 18, 1503, Leonardo returned to Florence and rejoined the Guild of St. Luke. Here he designed and painted the mural of The Battle of Anghiari.
Between the years 1513-1516, Leonardo spent most of his time at the Vatican. At the same time the artists Raphael and Michelangelo were also living there. In October of 1515, Francis I of France captured Milan. In a meeting between Francis I and Pope Leo X, he was commissioned by Francis I to make a mechanical lion which could walk forward, then open its chest to reveal a cluster of lilies.
Leonardo travelled to France to work on this project and he resided near the king at the Château d’ Amboise. Here he became a very close friend of the French king.
Leonardo da Vinci died on May 2, 1519 at Clos Lucé. According to legend, Francis I held Leonardo in his arms as he died and there have been several paintings describing this. This very well may only be legend to sooth the French romantic spirit of the time.
In accordance with his will, sixty beggars followed his casket as it proceeded to the cemetery. He was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in Château d’ Amboise, France.
Leonardo da Vinci was not only an artist. He was a physician, an architect, an inventor and an all around genius. He was a true epitome of the Renaissance Era and Leonardo would be the perfect definition of what is called a “Renaissance Man.” There have been few if any since Leonardo’s time that can equal his talent and intelligence.