Famous Painters and Paintings: Biography of Leonardo da Vinci
About the famous renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci, history and biography of the artist.
THE PAINTER: LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-1519)
Legends developed about Da Vinci even during his own lifetime: about his handsome face and figure, his strength, his gentleness toward animals and birds, his brilliance of mind, and the variety and scope of his talents. For Leonardo was one of the most gifted men who ever lived. He was 1st of all a painter, but he was also an architect, sculptor, engineer, and musician. He was accepted as an equal by the most learned men of his time, was friend to the rulers of Florence, Milan, and Rome, and died in the service of the King of France.
Called by the name of the little town of Vinci where he was born, Leonardo grew up in Florence. His education was modest, but in the workshop of Verrocchio, the painter and sculptor under whom he served his apprenticeship, he had an opportunity not only to learn his craft but to listen to the scholars and noblemen who came to order works of art. He tired of this after a few years and, wishing to try his hand at engineering, moved to Milan where he remained for almost 16 years. He founded a very successful atelier where he taught painting and sculpting when not busy with his blueprints and drawing board.
Leonardo traveled from one end of Italy to the other as well as into France, working on but seldom completing projects in engineering, fortification, painting, and sculpture. He was dogged by complaining letters and lawsuits for not fulfilling his contracts. In the spring of 1506, he obtained a 3 months' leave of absence from his Florentine employer to return to Milan and work for the viceroy ruling in the name of the King of France. That initial 3-month period was extended several times until 1507, when King Louis XII personally hired Leonardo as his official court painter and engineer-in-chief. But Leonardo's restless soul could not endure the restrictions placed upon him by his official duties, and he moved to Rome, where Pope Julius II had started to work on St. Peter's. Raphael, Bramante, and Michelangelo were already present, and now Leonardo joined them.
Leonardo was 61 years old, Michelangelo only 38, and Raphael another 8 years younger. The inevitable conflict between older and younger generation took place, and Leonardo felt he was no longer wanted. When King Francis I of France offered Leonardo anything he desired if he would leave Rome and move to France to live at the royal court, Leonardo began a new life on foreign soil at an age which most of his contemporaries had failed to reach. He had already suffered a paralyzing stroke which had lamed his right arm but that meant nothing to him for he soon learned to paint with his left hand.
On May 2, 1519, he died peacefully in the arms of his benefactor, who followed his remains to the cloister of St. Florentin, where Leonardo had wished to sleep his final sleep.
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