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Leonardo Da Vinci

The natural desire of good men is knowledge.

Leonardo Da Vinci, an Italian Polymath

In 1476, Leonardo Da Vinci and three other men were anonymously accused of sodomy which was at that time punishable by death in Italy. Among those people arrested with Da Vinci was a cousin of a Medici official in Florence. While he and others who were accused were all released with the milder punishment of a beating, Leonardo and some others accused were kept under surveillance by Florence's "Officers of the Night," a type of Renaissance cop squad, during the trial. By 1478, Leonardo left Verrocchio because of the incident. After narrowly avoiding this death sentence and paranoid of being reported anonymously again, Da Vinci stopped being cheerful and trusting others. Instead, he began looking inward towards himself and his work.

In 1480, Leonardo was employed by the wealthy and influential Medici family for his first major project. His first independent work, to paint the altar in the Chapel of Saint Bernard and also, to paint the famous "The Adoration of the Magi" for the Augustinian monks, which he left unfinished because he left for Milan in 1482. When he came to Milan, he was employed with the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. Leonardo was also a marvelous lute player, so he was recommended by Medici to the Sforza on the account of being a great musician and an even better painter.

While working with the Duke of Milan, Leonardo had more time to dedicate to his research and inventions. He was paid very little when he began. His job when he started was to organize parties and events for the Duke. Later in his life, however, he become employed as an engineer and as a painter for the family. It was during this time that he completed the famous "Last Supper" on the walls of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. After a long time working for the Duke, who wasn't impressed by the inventions and creations that Leonardo offered him, Da Vinci had a great idea.

He decided to sculpt an enormous statue of a horse in the hopes that he would really impress the Duke. Ludovico was obsessed with the idea, and after a huge amount of bronze was set aside for the monument, a huge clay model was completed. Unfortunately, the bronze was originally purposed for creating a cannon that would be used during the French invasion. In the end, when the French attacked Italy, they captured the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, and ended up using the clay monument for target practice. Leonardo managed to escape the city with his assistant and traveled to Venice.

When Leonardo entered Venice, a fleet of many Turkish ships were preparing to attack the city. When he arrived, Leonardo was immediately employed by the city council to devise a method for defense. He then showed the Venetians his plan for the first diving suit. He believed that if divers could approach the ships covertly underwater, they could drill holes in all the hulls of the boats secretly, in turn, sinking all the ships without any bloodshed. However, this invention was never created or used. Fortunately for the Venetians, the Turks called all of their ships away because they were needed elsewhere. As a result, the outskirts of Venice were left unscathed.

When Leonardo returned to Florence in 1500, he started living with monks who gave him lodging and a personal workshop. There, he created "The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist", which became very popular at the time. This colossal image was created by drawing with charcoal and chalk. Then, eight pieces of glued paper were combined together to create the large masterpiece.

In 1502, Da Vinci served under the warlord Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI. Cesare Borgia was considered a horrible and cruel man who was known for slaying his brother, executing his friends and having intimate relationships with his sister. Leonardo wasn't pleased to serve under Cesare but he did so for the better conditions provided for his personal work. He began drawing maps of the surrounding region and gave them to Cesare. The warlord was so impressed that he immediately hired Leonardo as his chief military engineer. The maps that Leonardo made more than 500 years ago are still impressively accurate today. While Da Vinci expressed himself as a pacifist, he created multiple war machine designs under the employ of Cesare Borgia. When one of Da Vinci's friends, a Borgia lieutenant, was strangled by Borgia's guards over dinner, Leonardo left the Borgia employ. In 1503, he returned to Florence to find further work.

Once Leonardo had returned to Florence, he once again joined the Guild of Saint Luke and began painting again in earnest. For two years, Leonardo slaved over the famous mural, "The Battle of Anghairi," while Michelangelo worked on its counterpart, "The Battle of Cascina."

In 1506, Leonardo decided to return to Milan where many of his friends, followers or formal pupils resided. During this time, he created the only remaining of Leonardo, a wax figure of the equestrian figure of Charles II d'Amboise.

Final Years of the Master Polymath

In 1513, Leonardo began working for Pope Leo X and was living in the Vatican in Rome. By 1515, French King Francis I captured Milan. At this time, Leonardo had an opportunity to meet him on one of his diplomatic meetings with the Pope. The French King was so impressed with Leonardo that he personally hired him and invited him to live in the manor near the castle. During this time, he was paid handsomely and spent the last three years of his life in the company of the French King. Leonardo and King Francis I became very close. As a result, young King Francis I was so impressed with Leonardo's wisdom that he could spend hours in conversing with him. Under the manor "Clos Luce", where Leonardo lived, underground passages can still be found leading directly to the castle. It is speculated that King Francis I was using these tunnels to visit Leonardo in late hours of the night to converse and discuss various philosophical topics of interest.

When Leonardo died, on May 2, 1519, King Francis I grieved greatly over the loss of his great friend. The image of the French King lost in grief was painted by many French artists. However, some speculate that this image is just a legend and that the King privately mourned his loss. Instead, it shows the love that the French people had for such an amazing mastermind.

On his deathbed, Leonardo, who wasn't very religious during his life, had a last minute change of heart and called a priest for a last confession. In Leonardo's will, he asked for his casket to be followed by sixty beggars and that multiple services would be held in various Churches at the same time to honor his passing. Upon Leonardo's death, all projects were left to Leonardo's partner, the painter Francesco Melzi, his pupil Salai and his servant Battista. This included a large part of Leonardo's vineyards and some artworks. Leonardo's brother received all Da Vinci's land. His serving woman received a high quality fur cloak, so she could attend the funeral dressed properly without her needing to spend money for formal clothes. Leonardo was buried in Chapel of Saint Hubert in France.

St. John the Baptist, 1513-16 by Leonardo Da Vinci
The Litta Madonna, 1490 by Leonardo Da Vinci
Head of the Saviour by Leonardo Da Vinci

Da Vinci's Portraits

Trying to capture and perfect the beauty and eloquence of the human face, Da Vinci painted numerous portraits. Using subtle lighting and detailed shading to create unique facial features, Da Vinci recreates an interesting character for each of the people featured in his portrait(Read More...)

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