Leonardo da Vinci

 

It is assumed that Leonardo had his own workshop in Florence between 1476 and 1481, though there is no record of his work or even his whereabouts between 1476 and 1478.[14] In 1478 he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the Chapel of St Bernard and in 1481 by the Monks at Scopeto for The Adoration of the Magi. In 1482 Leonardo, whom Vasari tells us was a most talented musician, created a silver lyre in the shape of a horse's head. Lorenzo de’ Medici was so impressed with this that he decided to send both the lyre and its maker to Milan, in order to secure peace with Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan.[15] At this time Leonardo wrote an often-quoted letter to Ludovico, describing the many marvellous and diverse things that he could achieve in the field of engineering and informing the Lord that he could also paint.
Between 1482 and 1499, when Louis XII of France occupied Milan, much of Leonardo’s work was in that city. It was here that he was commissioned to paint two of his most famous works, 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 living in Milan between 1493 and 1495 Leonardo listed a woman called Caterina as among his dependants in his taxation documents. When she died in 1495, the detailed list of expenditure on her funeral suggests that she was his mother rather than a servant girl.
 
 
Study of horse from Leonardo's journals.
For Ludovico, he worked on many different projects which included the preparation of floats and pageants for special occasions, designs for a dome for Milan Cathedral and a model for a huge equestrian monument to Francesco Sforza, Ludovico’s predecessor. Leonardo modelled a huge horse in clay, which became known as the "Gran Cavallo". It surpassed in size the only two large equestrian statues of the Renaissance, Donatello’s statue of Gattemelata in Padova and Verrocchio’s Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice. Seventy tons of bronze were set aside for casting it. The monument remained unfinished for several years, which was not in the least unusual for Leonardo. Michelangelo rudely implied that he was unable to cast it.[7] In 1495 the bronze was used for cannons to defend the city from invasion under Charles VIII.
In 1478 Leonardo became an independent master. His first commission, to paint an altarpiece for the chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio, the Florentine town hall, was never executed. His first large painting, The Adoration of the Magi (begun 1481, Uffizi), left unfinished, was ordered in 1481 for the Monastery of San Donato a Scopeto, Florence. Other works ascribed to his youth are the so-called Benois Madonna (c. 1478, Hermitage, Saint Petersburg), the portrait Ginerva de' Benci (c. 1474, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.), and the unfinished Saint Jerome (c. 1481, Pinacoteca, Vatican).
About 1482 Leonardo entered the service of the duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, having written the duke an astonishing letter in which he stated that he could build portable bridges; that he knew the techniques of constructing bombardments and of making cannons; that he could build ships as well as armored vehicles, catapults, and other war machines; and that he could execute sculpture in marble, bronze, and clay. He served as principal engineer in the duke's numerous military enterprises and was active also as an architect. In addition, he assisted the Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli in the celebrated work Divina Proportione (1509).
Evidence indicates that Leonardo had apprentices and pupils in Milan, for whom he probably wrote the various texts later compiled as Treatise on Painting (1651; trans. 1956). The most important of his own paintings during the early Milan period was The Virgin of the Rocks, two versions of which exist (1483-85, Louvre, Paris; 1490s to 1506-08, National Gallery, London); he worked on the compositions for a long time, as was his custom, seemingly unwilling to finish what he had begun. From 1495 to 1497 Leonardo labored on his masterpiece, The Last Supper, a mural in the refectory of the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Unfortunately, his experimental use of oil on dry plaster (on what was the thin outer wall of a space designed for serving food) was technically unsound, and by 1500 its deterioration had begun. Since 1726 attempts have been made, unsuccessfully, to restore it; a concerted restoration and conservation program, making use of the latest technology, was begun in 1977 and is reversing some of the damage. Although much of the original surface is gone, the majesty of the composition and the penetrating characterization of the figures give a fleeting vision of its vanished splendor. During his long stay in Milan, Leonardo also produced other paintings and drawings (most of which have been lost), theater designs, architectural drawings, and models for the dome of Milan Cathedral. His largest commission was for a colossal bronze monument to Francesco Sforza, father of Ludovico, in the courtyard of Castello Sforzesco. In December 1499, however, the Sforza family was driven from Milan by French forces; Leonardo left the statue unfinished (it was destroyed by French archers, who used it as a target) and he returned to Florence in 1500.

The French returned to invade Milan in 1498 under Louis XII and the invading French used the life-size clay model for the "Gran Cavallo" for target practice.
With Ludovico Sforza overthrown, Leonardo, with his assistant Salaino and friend, the mathematician Luca Pacioli, fled Milan for Venice. In Venice he was employed as a military architect and engineer, devising methods to defend the city from naval attack.

Returning to Florence in 1500, he entered the services of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, acting as a military architect and engineer and travelling throughout Italy with his patron. In Forlì he met Caterina Sforza, of whom it is speculated by some that the Mona Lisa may be a portrait. At Cesenatico he designed the port. In 1506 he returned to Milan, which was in the hands of Maximilian Sforza after Swiss mercenaries had driven out the French. Many of Leonardo’s most prominent pupils or followers in painting either knew or worked with him in Milan, including Bernardino Luini, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio and Marco D'Oggione[16]
In 1506 Leonardo went again to Milan, at the summons of its French governor, Charles d'Amboise. The following year he was named court painter to King Louis XII of France, who was then residing in Milan. For the next six years Leonardo divided his time between Milan and Florence, where he often visited his half brothers and half sisters and looked after his inheritance. In Milan he continued his engineering projects and worked on an equestrian figure for a monument to Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, commander of the French forces in the city; although the project was not completed, drawings and studies have been preserved. From 1514 to 1516 Leonardo lived in Rome under the patronage of Pope Leo X: he was housed in the Palazzo Belvedere in the Vatican and seems to have been occupied principally with scientific experimentation. In 1516 he traveled to France to enter the service of King Francis I. He spent his last years at the Château de Cloux, near Amboise, where he died on May 2, 1519.

 

 

 
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