leonardo da vinci famous works
For centuries after his death, thousands of pages from his private journals with notes, drawings, observations and scientific theories have surfaced and provided a fuller measure of the true “Renaissance man.”
He abandoned the “Battle of Anghiari” project after two years when the mural began to deteriorate before he had a chance to finish it.
Many art historians identify the youthful woman in Lady with an Ermine as Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Leonardo’s patron, Ludovico Sforza, duke of Milan. The ermine was often used as an emblem for the duke. The woman turns her head to the right, her bright eyes seemingly directed toward something outside the frame. Although the painting has been heavily overpainted, notably the dark background, it nonetheless reveals Leonardo’s knowledge of anatomy and his ability to represent character in posture and expression. He captures the girl’s youth and genial nature in her guileless features, attentive gaze, and tender embrace of the ermine, which sits with its head cocked regally and alert. Her slender hand reveals the complicated bone structure beneath the skin, just as the head of the ermine suggests the skull underneath the finely rendered fur.
Long regarded as a self-portrait, the red chalk drawing of an old man with long wavy hair and a beard has been reproduced to such an extent that it defines how most people think of Leonardo’s appearance. Yet some scholars argue that the figure, with its craggy features, furrowed brow, and downcast eyes, appears much older than the age Leonardo ever reached; Leonardo died at age 67. They propose that the drawing may be one of his grotesque drawings, sketches he habitually made in his notebooks of people with eccentric features. Whomever the portrait represents, it is a departure from Leonardo’s often captivating subjects, yet he managed to imbue the figure with the nobility and wisdom of a mature age.
Leonardo da Vinci was born in a Tuscan hamlet near Vinci. He began a nine-year apprenticeship at the age of 14 to Andrea del Verrocchio, a popular sculptor, painter and goldsmith who was an important figure in the art world of the day. At Verrocchio’s busy Florence studio, the young Leonardo likely met such masters as Sandro Botticelli while working beside fellow apprentices Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pietro Perugino and Lorenzo di Credi.
Upon the French invasion of Milan, the artist returned home, via Venice and Mantua, to Florence. His reputation preceded him, and he was lauded by old friends and up-and-coming artists captivated with his innovations in art. During this final era of his life, da Vinci completed a greater number of paintings than he had thus far. When he resettled in Florence in 1500, the artist made preliminary progress on his painting, Virgin and Child with Saint Anne,” which he would set aside unfinished, not to be completed for another 10 years.
The Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda, is said to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant named Francesco del Gioconda. The innovative half-length portrayal shows the woman, seated on a chair with one arm resting on the chair and one hand resting on her arm. The use of sfumato creates a sense of soft calmness, which emanates from her being, and infuses the background landscape with a deep realism. Chiaroscuro creates a profound depth in this piece, which keeps the eye moving across the painting. But it is her enigmatic smile that magnetizes the viewer, along with the mystery of what’s behind that famous smile.
This painting presents the Madonna with infant versions of Christ and John the Baptist, along with the archangel Gabriel. The quartet sits amongst a mystical, imagined landscape that exemplifies Leonardo’s acuity with depth of perspective. Juxtaposed with the intimate group in the foreground, the fully imagined environment of desolate rocks and water lends a dreamlike quality both infusing the viewer with the sense of merging with the heavenly as well as witnessing a resonant experience of human-like tenderness. St. John was the patron saint of Florence and his depiction in this piece was important. According to Florentine tradition, he was a playmate of Christ, but he was also aware of Christ’s future sacrifice for mankind. Like other artists of the time, Leonardo was interested in presenting known religious narratives in an un-idealized way, thus humanizing the secular.
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519) was an Italian polymath, having been a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. Born as the illegitimate son of a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant girl, Caterina, at Vinci in the region of Florence, Leonardo was educated in the studio of the renowned Florentine painter, Verrocchio. Much of his earlier working life was spent in the service of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna and Venice, spending his final years in France at the home given to him by King François I.
(April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519)