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Leonardo da Vinci turns 555
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“Since we know that painting embraces the surfaces, colours and shapes of every single thing created by nature or resulting from the fortuitous actions of men - in short, all that the eye can see- he who can only do a single thing well seems to me but a poor master.”

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Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in the town of Vinci, not far from Florence.

Leonardo Davinci Mona Lisa Portrait of Lisa del GiocondoBeing an illegitimate child, Leonardo could not benefit from the educational opportunities that were granted to aristocrats, and was therefore not exposed to classical Greek manuscripts in his early years of education. Thus, with his sharp mind and endless curiosity, Leonardo began to re-discover his environment with his own observations, and with the method of “tabula rasa”(1) he found the chance to develop his own point of view on every matter…

Leonardo’s ease and talent in drawing attracted attention from his early years on and at the same time the perfection of his figures proved that he was a unique talent. According to historian Vasari, Leonardo’s father Piero showed the drawings to his close friend, artist Andrea del Verrocchio. Verrocchio was fascinated by the drawings of the young Leonardo and so at the age of 17 Leonardo began an apprenticeship in the workshop of Verrocchio. As a general evaluation of the drawings Leonardo made from his early years on until the last years of his life, one can say that with his observations on environment, objects and living things he was in fact exploring the mysteries of life.

Head and Shoulders of an Older Man, c.1510-1515Character Head of an Older Man and Sketch of a Lions Head, c.1505-1510Studies of an Old Man and a Youth (Salai?) in Profile, Facing each Other, c.1500-1505Character Head of an Old Man, c.1505 Head of an Old Man in Profile, c.1485-1490

Head of an Old Man in Profile, c.1490Madonna of the Yarnwinder, 1501Torso of a Man in Profile, the Head Squared for Proportion, and Sketches of Two Horseman, c. 1490 and c.1504St. Hieronymous, c. 1480-1482St. Hieronymous, 1480-1482 Detail

Study for the last supper St. James and Architectural Studies, 1495Study for the Last Supper (Peter?), c. 1495Study for the Last Supper (the Disciple Philip), c. 1495Judas Priest. The table study for the last supper of jesus christ. Grotesque Head of an Old Man with a Hat, Seen in Profile, c.1490

Bearded Old Man in Profile, c. 1472Study of a Bearded Old Man in Profile, c. 1513Head of a Bearded Man (so-called Self-portrait), c.1510-1515Grotesque Head of an Old Man with a Hat, Seen in Profile, c.1485-1490Profile Study of an Old Man with a Beard and Braided Hair, c.

Bust of an Older Man in Profile (Gian Giacomo Trivulzio?) c.1510Head and Shoulders of a Youth in Profile (Salai?), c. 1510Studies of Heads in Profile, c. 1478-1480The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Madonna BenoisLitta Meryemi, 1490Madonna Litta, Detail 1, 1490Head of a Warrior Leonardo Da Vinci 1452-1519 Florentine British Museum London

Portrait of Lisa del Giocondo (Mona Lisa), 1503-1506Portrait of Lisa del Giocondo (Mona Lisa), detail 1 face and eyes 1503-1506Portrait of Lisa del Giocondo (Mona Lisa), detail 2  hands 1503-1506Portrait of Lisa del Giocondo (Mona Lisa), detail 3 background 1503-1506Portrait of Lisa del Giocondo (Mona Lisa), detail 4  background 1503-1506

Adoration of the Magi - Adoration of the kings 1481-1482The Annunciation 1452 – 1519 detailThe Annunciation detail 2 1472-1475

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Andrea del Verrocchio - 1472-75 Baptism of Christ (Uffizi)Leonardo Da Vinci The Last Supper 1495–1498Andrea del Verrochio

Bald Man in Profile, c.1495 Bald Man in Profile 2, c.1495The Virgin of the Rocks (Mary with Christ, the infant St. John and an angel), 1483-1486Leonardo Da Vinci The Virgin of the Rocks (Mary with Christ, the infant St. John and an angel), detail 1 1483-1486Leonardo Da Vinci The Virgin of the Rocks (Mary with Christ, the infant St. John and an angel), detail 2 1483-1486

Madonna Benois, 1475-1478, Benois Meryemi, Bakire Benois, Karanfilli MeryemLeonardo Da Vinci Madonna with the Carnation detail 1475-1478Leonardo Da Vinci Madonna with the Carnation detail 2 1475-1478Leonardo daVinci The portrait of unknow woman La Belle Ferroniere, 1490Leonardo daVinci The portrait of unknow woman La Belle Ferroniere, detail 1490

Grotesque Portrait Studies of Two Men, c.1487-1490Leonardo da Vinci a grotesque old womanLeonardo Da Vinci Grotesque Portrait Studies with a caricature of Dante (bottom right), c.1492Leonardo Da Vinci Profile Study of a Grotesque Male Head, c.1485-1490


Grotesque Portrait Study of a Man, c.1500-1505Leonardo Da Vinci Profile Study of a Grotesque Head, c.1500-1505Portrait of Ginevra de Benci c. 1478-1480Portrait of Ginevra deBenci detail c. 1478-1480Study of a Young Woman in Profile, c.1511/12

Portrait of a Young Man (Portrait of the Musician Franchino Gaffurio?), c. 1490Leonardo Da Vinci Portrait of a Young Man Portrait of the Musician Franchino Gaffurio detail 1, c. 1490Leonardo Da Vinci Portrait of a Young Man Portrait of the Musician Franchino Gaffurio detail 2 1490Leonardo da Vinci study of the head 1489Five Grotesque Heads, c.1494Profile of a man and study of two riders, 1490Profile Study of an Old Man with a Laurel Wreath, c.1506-1508

Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with an Ermine)Leonardo Da Vinci Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with an Ermine) detailBurlington House Cartoon (Mary, Christ, St. Anne and the Infant St. John)Burlington House Cartoon (Mary, Christ, St. Anne and the Infant St. John) DetailProfile Study of a Youth (Salai), c.1510


Who is Leonardo da VinciSome of the drawings and notes in his sketchbooks show that he was the first person to make autopsies with a systematic and scientific approach. He observed the functioning of the “machinery” of humans and of all living creatures, especially birds, as well as the changes that are caused in these organisms by ageing. And so, 500 years ago, he found some cause and effect relations which are still valid today. For example he came to the conclusion that rich and heavy food cause atherosclerosis as one gets older. Sigmund Freud emphasizes the fact that Leonardo never lost his childish and curious vision by saying, “Indeed the great Leonardo remained like a child for the whole of his life in more than one way; it is said that all great men are bound to retain some infantile part. Even as an adult he continued to play, and this was another reason why he often appeared uncanny and incomprehensible to his contemporaries.”

Leonardo da Vinci biography life

The artist has also often used the power of his observation talent on the people around him; his piercing gaze would penetrate through the masks people use to hide behind. This researching, relentless, curious and passionate perception has also left behind an unforgettable “gallery of types” showing various human types of Renaissance Italy.

A major part of these human drawings are sketches of figures necessary for the creation of portrait and composition orders. Another part of the drawings are of citizens of Renaissance Italy, who with their striking and extraordinary physical features attracted da Vinci’s attention and so had the privilege of entering his sketchbooks. These were people from Florence, Rome, Milan, people from the artist’s social environment, employers, their wives, sketches of portraits of members of the church, and various human portraits of beautiful, ugly, old, young, females and males.

The Renaissance period in which Leonardo lived was a time of continuous agitation, conflict, wars and riots. When searching for sponsors, Leonardo has therefore emphasized his engineering skills –his expertise in war machinery and methods– in his letters of application. It is no surprise that the male figures in Leonardo’s portraits stand out with their warrior, gruesome, grotesque features. It is also remarkable that the majority of the female figures he used in his religious paintings and portrait orders have an idealized beauty. Important exceptions to this conclusion are of course the “Portrait of a Grotesque Old Woman” which is thought to have been copied from Leonardo by Francesko Melzi in 1490/91 and the “Grotesque Portrait Studies” estimated to have been made in 1492.

But in general one can say that the women in his paintings such as “Mona Lisa” (Portrait of Lisa del Giocondo), “The Madonna of the Carnation”, “Annunciation”, “Portrait of Ginevra de' Benci”, “Virgin of the Rocks”, “Portrait of an Unknown Woman” dated 1490, “The Virgin and Child with St Anne” and “Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with an Ermine)” have been idealized with smooth and radiant complexions and fully symmetric and geometric facial proportions.  One can also assume that the warrior rulers and other powerful men of Renaissance Italy got married to much younger women than themselves and therefore the majority of Leonardo’s models were young and beautiful women.

The inner organs of the human being in Leonardo’s anatomy drawings are more closely interconnected than they are in 0reality; this reflects his concept of the deep complexity of human nature. Leonardo believed that different parts of the body had emotional functions; for instance tears came directly from the heart, the seat of all feeling. In line with the idea that the human face is a direct reflection of an individual’s underlying character and momentary sensations, da Vinci gave expressions to the faces of the people he observed according to his opinion of them and to the role he gave them.

This must also be the reason why his gallery of human portraits stands out with grotesque and caricaturized images. In his illustrations of some emotional moments in Christian mythology, the artist tends to illustrate the people he isn’t fond of uglier than they are. On Leonardo da Vinci The Last Supperthe other hand, he would use all his talent to illustrate the people he is interested in or has special feelings towards -for example the noble women whose portraits he made- mysterious and emotional. His foremost work of this sort was surely the “Mona Lisa”, a painting he always carried by his side, until the day he died. da Vinci is mainly acknowledged and identified with the “Mona Lisa” portrait.

Using ink pens, Leonardo has illustrated the people he chose for his “human types gallery” in various positions -in side view, from the front and half way turned around- and with different facial expressions… We know that some of these drawings have been used for the figures in some of the few oil paintings he made on canvas. These works that complete each other are therefore a good indication of how, by using different painting materials and techniques, the same human face can have various superior and peculiar strengths of expression.

Vinci’s human illustrations take us right into the crowded streets of Renaissance Italy. The princes, priests, merchants, warriors, noblemen, women and children are the forerunner of the modern man, the individual, who has emerged in the atmosphere of freedom subsequent to the medieval.

555 years after his birth, we honor the big master Leonardo da Vinci with respect, as he is the one who has granted us this awareness by keeping a visual recollection of that period.


Leonardo got his start as an artist around 1469, when his father apprenticed him to the fabled workshop of Verocchio. Verocchio's specialty was perspective, which artists had only recently begun to get the hang of, and Leonardo quickly mastered its challenges. In fact, Leonardo quickly surpassed Verocchio, and by the time he was in his early twenties he was downright famous.

Renaissance Italy was centuries away from our culture of photographs and cinema, but Leonardo nevertheless sought a universal language in painting. With perspective and other realistic elements, Leonardo tried to create faithful renditions of life. In a culture previously dominated by highly figurative and downright strange religious paintings, Leonardo's desire to paint things realistically was bold and fresh. This call to objectivity became the standard for painters who followed in the 16th century.

No slouch when it came to the techniques of the day, Leonardo went beyond his teaching by making a scientific study of light and shadow in nature. It dawned on him that objects were not comprised of outlines, but were actually three-dimensional bodies defined by light and shadow. Known as chiaroscuro, this technique gave his paintings the soft, lifelike quality that made older paintings look cartoony and flat. He also saw that an object's detail and color changed as it receded in the distance. This technique, called sfumato, was originally developed by Flemish and Venetian painters, but of course Super-Genius Leonardo transformed it into a powerful tool for creating atmosphere and depth.

Ever the perfectionist, Leonardo turned to science in the quest to improve his artwork. His study of nature and anatomy emerged in his stunningly realistic paintings, and his dissections of the human body paved the way for remarkably accurate figures. He was the first artist to study the physical proportions of men, women and children and to use these studies to determine the "ideal" human figure. Unlike many of his contemporaries -- Michelangelo for example -- he didn't get carried away and paint ludicrously muscular bodies, which he referred to as "bags of nuts."

All in all, Leonardo believed that the artist must know not just the rules of perspective, but all the laws of nature. The eye, he believed, was the perfect instrument for learning these laws, and the artist the perfect person to illustrate them.
Leonardo Da Vinci index
Adoration of the Magi, Anatomical Drawing of Hearts, Anatomical Studies, Anatomical Study, Annunciation, Archimedes Screws, Caricature Head Study, Caricature Of The Head Of An Old Man, Codex Hammer, Codex Madrid Design, Design for Two-Wheeled Hoist, Female Head in Profile, Fin Spindle, Flying Machine, Giant Catapult, Head of a Child, Head of a Warrior, Head of a Woman, Head of a Young Woman, Head of the Saviour, Hydraulic Water Pump, La Belle Ferronniere, Lady with the Ermine, Last Supper, Madonna of the Rocks, Mona Lisa, Page From Quaderni D'Anatomia, Portrait of a Bearded Man, Portrait of Isabella d'Este, Six Figures, Sketch of a Horse, St. John the Baptist, Study for 'Adoration of the Magi', Study for Adoration, Study for an Apostle, Study for Horse Sculpture, Study for the Battle of Anghiari, Study for the Virgin and Child, Study of a Child's Head, Study of a Hand, Study of Arms, Study of Drapery, Study of Flowers, Two Heads, Unicorn Dipping its Horn, Virgin and Child, Virgin and Child with St Anne ink oil, Virgin of the Rocks, Vitruvian Man

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