Leonardo Da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, and naturalist. He was born in Vinci, Tuscany and was the son of a notary. He studied painting with Verrocchio in Florence. He worked at Ludovico Sforza’s court in Milan as an architect, military engineer, inventor, theatrical designer, sculptor, musician, scientist, art theorist, and painter.
Leonardo wanted his paintings to express the laws of light and space and of sciences like anatomy, botany, and geology. He often accompanied condemned criminals to their execution to study the expressions on their faces and he dissected thirty cadavers to perfect his knowledge of anatomy. He was fascinated with the dynamic movement to be found in nature. He was considered a genius and a very handsome man and is still thought of as on e of the most gifted men in the human race.
One of the things that fascinated everyone about him was the enticing smile he painted on the faces of some women. It was called “more divine than human” and seemed to move before our eyes. The mystery of the smile is most often associated with the Mona Lisa, one of the world’s most famous images, but it first appeared 20 years before in the angel from The Madonna of the Rocks.
There are several theories as to whose smile cast such a spell on Leonardo. One of them is Cecilia Gallerani, who was celebrated for her beauty and was painted by Leonardo when she was seventeen. However, no one knows where that portrait is. It is said that he painted her again as Lady with an Ermine and then as the angel in The Madonna of the Rocks. He seems to have loved the painting of the angel so much that he kept it for himself and painted another one.
Another theory is that, previous to Leonardo, painters outlined their figures, so that they stood away from the background in stiff, immobile poses. He deliberately omitted outlines, blurred and softened the corners of the eyes and mouth, blending light into shadow, giving life to his figures.
Lastly, during the Renaissance, well-born maidens were carefully schooled to “charm”. Women were advised to close their mouths from time to time at the right corner with a suave movement, and open it slightly at the left as if you were smiling secretly and perhaps Leonardo was just painting the way a thousand well-born ladies smiled in his day.
As for his paintings, he had many great masterpieces. One of which was the Mona Lisa. It is well known for its mastery of technical innovations and for the mysteriousness of its legendary smiling subject. It is an example of sfumato and chiaroscuro of which Leonardo was a master at. It was highly praised and often imitated by many artists. Another one is the Last Supper, which depicts the exact moment when Christ tells his disciples that one of them will betray him. Others argue that Leonardo’s greatest masterpiece is a piece of clay sculpture that no longer survives, except in model drawings where he set some ideas down on paper. It was an equestrian monument and the full scale model stood in the Corte Vecchia of the Castello.
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 seemed 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 Chateau de Cloux, near Amboise, where he died in 1519.