leonardo da vinci : the codex leicester

live and works of leonardo da vinci

italy, 1451, near florence... the story begins in the summer of 1451. ser piero, the son of a notary, enjoys himself in the country with a peasant girl named catarina... nine months later...

on april 15, 1452, leonardo is born. he is the illegitimate son of ser piero da vinci and the peasant girl catarina. ser piero, however, doesn't think about taking in mother and child; in the same year he marries another woman from a good house. at first leonardo remains with his mother and grows up in the country. he develops a deep affection for nature. many years later he records a dream that he had had in early childhood. a bird flies toward him and flaps its tail feathers between his lips.

when the mother marries a lime-burner, the five year-old leonardo is accepted into the house of his father. he lives there with his stepmother and grandparents. over the course of the years eleven brothers and sisters join leonardo. not much is known about leonardo's youth except that he often plays outdoors, is a keen observer, and begins to draw. and here he very quickly demonstrates an extraordinary talent.

in the summer of 1468, the plague is raging throughout florence. a short while later ser piero rents some offices in the city. he wants to start up a notary business in florence. in 1469 ser piero becomes the notary of signorie, the city council of florence. for this reason he moves with his family to florence. and with them comes the eighteen year-old leonardo. ser piero is so impressed with leonardo's drawings that he shows them to the respected artist verrochio. the artist accepts leonardo into his workshop. leonardo is a very quick study. soon he is working together with other artists of the workshop on important paintings, including a painting of john the baptist. for this painting leonardo paints the figure of an angel and part of the landscape. according to legend verrochio was so overwhelmed by these details that he never wanted to touch a brush again.

in 1472, leonardo becomes a member of the lucas guild in florence. now he can work as a freelance painter. however, he remains in verrochio's workshop.

the first dated landscape drawing by leonardo dates from the year 1473. presumably it was drawn directly from nature and then reworked later in the studio. in 1475, leonardo is commissioned to paint a madonna with child. the benois madonna, named after an earlier owner, is located today in the hermitage in st. petersburg, russia. in april 1476, leonardo is anonymously denounced for homosexuality. although at that time it was a punishable offense in florence, an official accusation did not ensue, probably due to lack of evidence. in 1478, leonardo paints the portrait of ginevra benci. on december 28, 1479, leonardo completes a drawing of the hanged baroncelli. a year later he draws the portrait of a warrior. in march 1481 leonardo is commissioned by the monks of the monastery san donato to paint an adoration of the magi. he begins to make preliminary sketches, but soon the work comes to a standstill. on september 28 he receives the final payment without having fulfilled the commission or delivered the painting to the monks. he likewise leaves a painting of saint jerome unfinished.

in 1482, the 30 year-old leonardo goes to milan. as he is an outstanding singer and lute-player, he is to present the ruler ludovico sforza with a lute. he writes a letter to ludovico sforza offering his services. he praises his own abilities as inventor and engineer; only in passing does he mention his ability to paint and draw. ludovico at first refuses the request for work. nonetheless leonardo remains in milan.

on april 25, 1483, leonardo is commissioned to paint a madonna. because this madonna is ensconced in a harsh environment, she is today called the virgin of the rocks. cecilia gallerani had been the mistress of ludovico since 1481. in 1483 she is probably barely 20 years old, when her portrait, lady with an ermine, is painted by leonardo. the dark background of the painting is a later addition.

since 1481 leonardo has been preoccupied with the idea of creating a monumental equestrian statue. ludovico sforza plans to dedicate such a memorial to his father. from the sketches it can be seen that leonardo envisioned a gigantic horse rearing up with a horseman upon him. innumerable studies followed through the years, until in 1489 ludovico rejected the sketches for being too bold and impractical.

on march 26, 1485, leonardo observes a total solar eclipse that awakens his interest in the movement of the heavens. during 1487 and 1488 leonardo is involved in the construction of the cathedral in milan, and receives payments for a wooden model of the central tower in 1490 leonardo takes on the 28 year-old salai as pupil and assistant. he begins to investigate human anatomy systematically.

at the same time he returns to the work on the statue of the horseman. in november 1493, the clay model of the equestrian statue is completed and publicly exhibited in the corte vecchio of the sforza castle. leonardo writes that the horse will be cast in bronze on december 20, 1493, but for unknown reasons this plan is not carried out. one year later, ludovico decides to sent the bronze reserved for the memorial to his father-in-law d'este, who urgently needs cannons.

around 1495 leonardo is commissioned to create a fresco with a last supper in the refectory of the monastery santa maria de la grazia. he experiments with a new painting technique that, unfortunately, does not permanent results. his composition is finished in the summer of 1497 and admired by all, but after a few years the fresco begins to deteriorate.

in 1499 the french seize milan. in december 1499, leonardo flees milan, after the french soldiers had shot arrows at his clay model of the equestrian statue and destroyed it. he stops in mantua in february 1500, and draws a portrait of isabella d'este. afterwards he returns to milan in april by way of venice. the first version of virgin and child with st. anne probably dates from the year 1501.

1502 finds leonardo in the service of cesare borgia. he works as a military engineer and cartographer. in march 1503, leonardo returns to florence. he is commissioned by the businessman francesco del gioconda to paint a portrait of his wife: the mona lisa.

in october 1503, leonardo undertakes a huge commission. in the grand council chamber of the palazzo vecchio in florence he is to paint a monumental fresco, the battle of anghiari. at the same time the young michelangelo is working on a fresco: on the facing wall of the council chamber. in 1505, leonardo concludes his studies for the battle of angharia and begins work on the fresco. in may 1506, part of the painting is complete, but he must travel to milan briefly. yet after the three months have elapsed leonardo does not return as agreed, but remains in milan at the wish of the french governor. a year later, the french king buys off leonardo's contractual obligations in florence. leonardo paints a second version of the virgin of the rocks.

iin 1406-1407 leonardo devotes himself to studies on the topics of water, motion and stars. the book that results is today the only known continuous and completed work of writing by leonardo: the codex leicester.

the second version of the virgin and child with st. anne, which today hangs in the louvre in paris, presumably dates from the year 1508. between 1508 and 1513, leonardo intensifies his anatomical studies. he paints a painting that was later lost: leda and the swan. after the death of his milanese patron charles d'amboise, leonardo goes to rome with his new patron, giuliano de medici. in 1414--1415 leonardo works in the vatican on various scientific experiments. in rome he also paints probably his last known painting: john the baptist. when again his patron and employer - this time giuliano de medici - dies, leonardo accepts an offer from the french king francis i. he goes to france as his majesty's court painter. in the winter of 1516, he travels to cloux, where an estate is put at his disposal.

on april 23, 1519, leonardo drafts his will. he leaves his entire artistic work, paintings, sketches, drawings and studies to his two loyal friends francesco melzi and giacomo salai. leonardo dies on may 2, 1519. in accordance with his wishes, he is buried in the church of st. florentine in amboise. his grave was destroyed during the huguenot wars ...

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