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Leonardo da Vinci



Leonardo da Vinci<BR> Enlarge

Leonardo da Vinci (lay oh NAHR doe dah VEEN chee) was born in a small village called Vinci in the country of Italy. He was raised by his grandparents and even as a boy showed signs of genius. He could work hard mathematics problems and was a very good artist.

His father Piero recognized that he had artistic talent and sent him to Florence to study with the artist Verrocchio (və RAWK ih oh). In addition to art he also learned sculpture and engineering. Soon he was a better artist than his teacher. At age 20 he was accepted into the painters' guild in Florence.

About ten years later he was hired by Sforza, who later became Duke of Milan. It was during this time he painted The Last Supper. He painted it in the dining room in the Santa Maria delle Grazie monastery in Milan, Italy. The monks viewed it every time they sat down to eat.

The composition shows the apostles in four groups of three. From left to right the first group is made up of Bartholomew, James the Less and Andrew. In the second group we see Judas, Peter and John with Judas holding the bag of money. Jesus sits calmly in the middle. In the third group are Thomas, James, and Philip. Matthew, Thaddeus and Simon complete the picture. Jesus has just announced to them that one of them is going to betray Him and they are animated and visibly upset over His words.

Artists through the centuries had used egg tempera as the base for their paint, but Leonardo wanted to try something new, so he applied plaster to the wall and painted on the dried plaster. Unfortunately within 20 years the plaster began to flake off and the painting has required much repair through the years. The most recent restoration was completed in May 1999.

The Last Supper before restoration

The Last Supper after restoration

When the French army captured Milan, the duke had to flee, and Leonardo went back to Florence. It was here he painted the portrait of the wife of a merchant named Giocondo. It is called La Giocando, or Mona Lisa. Legend has it he hired musicians to play while he painted the portrait so his subject would stay in a good mood. Numerous words have been written about the painting and it remains one of the most recognizable paintings in the world.

Da Vinci used a painting technique called sfumato (sfoo-MAH-toe). He described it as "without lines or borders". The subject of the painting is blended into the background so that it becomes one with the background. We see this in the Mona Lisa which is our study for this lesson. If two objects were side by side, he would blur the line between them.

He was a musician who invented musical instruments. He would compose, then play and sing his own songs.

Probably of greater importance than his paintings are the contributions Leonardo made in the areas of engineering and architecture. He along with Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bramante designed St. Peter's Church in Rome as well as other buildings in the Vatican.

Leonardo kept books of sketches he made. He studied human anatomy and drew sketches of the body. He had ideas for inventions that would not be developed for hundreds of years. He had an idea for a flying machine, a propeller, and for weapons of war. He designed and built bridges, canals and locks to carry water and move ships. He built a helicopter which wouldn't take off and a glider which injured one of his pupils who was trying to fly it, so he quit trying to build the flying machines he was designing.

Crossbow by Leonardo da Vinci

Flying Machine by Leonardo da Vinci

Ship Locks by Leonardo Da Vinci

He could write with both his right and left hands. We say such a person is ambidextrous. He wrote his notes backwards with his left hand. Those who read Italian can hold them up to a mirror and read them. It took people years to figure this out. Nearly 7,000 pages of his notes still exist today.

Leonardo was much more than an artist. He was a student of the human body, of biology, and the stars. He made hundreds of inventions. Prince Sforza hired him to work for him building catapults, bridges, and cannons. French King Francois I called him "painter, architect, and mechanic to the king". Leonardo Da Vinci was truly a man ahead of his time.

This biography was written by Patsy Stevens, a retired teacher.


Kostner, Thomas, and Lars Roper. 50 Artists You Should Know. New York: Prestel, 2006.

Wilder, Jesse Bryant. Art History for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing Inc, 2007.

Byrd, Robert. Leonardo, Beautiful Dreamer, New York: Dutton Children's Books, 2003.

Barter, James. Artists of the Renaissance, San Diego: Lucent Books, 1946.

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Art Gallery Famous Paintings Volume 1

Art Gallery Famous Paintings Volume 2

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Research Links

The Day the Mona Lisa Was Stolen

"The Last Supper"
at Olga's Gallery

Restoration of "The Last Supper"

Leonardo Da Vinci
Online book by Maurice W. Brockwell

Mona Lisa
art project for children

Leonardo da Vinci
biography with audio version

The Parachute (audio)
Leonardo's Bike (audio)
Engines of Our Ingenuity.


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Leonardo da Vinci: Renaissance Genius
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Leonardo da Vinci: The Genius Who Defined the Renaissance (National Geographic)
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Leonardo's Horse
by Jean Fritz, Hudson Talbott (no preview) Order

Leonardo da Vinci: Young artist, writer, and inventor
by George Edward Stanley (selected pages) Order here

Leonardo and His Times
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Leonardo da Vinci
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by By Maria Teresa Zanobini Leoni, Maria Teresa Leoni Zanobini (selected pages) Order here

Leonardo da Vinci For Kids: his life and ideas : 21 activities
by Janis Herbert (selected pages) Order here

The Machines of Leonardo da Vinci and Franz Reuleaux
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Leonardo 16 Art Stickers
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Leonardo and the Flying Boy
by Laurence Anholt (selected pages) Order here

Leonardo da Vinci
by Maurice Walter Brockwell (selected pages) Order here

Art History for Dummies
by Jesse Bryant Wilder (selected pages) Order

50 Artists You Should Know
by Thomas Koster, Lars Roper (review, no preview) Order

Leonardo da Vinci
by Robert Henry Hobart Cust 1908 (full view)

Great Scientists and Discoveries
by Ron Shaw (selected pages) Order here

The Life and Works of Leonardo da Vinci
by Sean Connolly (selected pages)

Art Masters: Leonardo da Vinci
by (selected pages)

Giants of Science: Leonardo da Vinci
by (selected pages)

Leonardo da Vinci
by Barbara Witteman (selected pages)

Great Scientists: Leonardo da Vinci
by John Malam (selected pages)

Great Artists: Leonardo da Vinci
by Joanne Mattern (selected pages)

Leonardo Da Vinci: A Nonfiction Companion to Monday with a Mad Genius
by Mary Pope Osborne, Natalie Pope Boyce, Sal Murdocca (selected pages)

Monday With a Mad Genius (Magic Tree House #38)
by Mary Pope Osborne, Sal Murdocca (selected pages) Order here

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The life of a person is a gift.
Loved it! Thanks for the facts!
Blade Avery
This is a nice post about The Mona Lisa.
The Last Supper
Thank you very much because of your good webpage.
thank you so much for all the facts!
When was in Paris in 2005, I couldn't but visit Louvre. But to Louvre came with sound recording equipment which was provided kindly by French. I found "Mona Lisa" and I began to write down the sound background created by numerous visitors, come to look at a masterpiece. The logic was simple. I will dare to note that any masterpiece possesses property of the high-structured information field. The person is too, in the basis, field structure. There is a contact of two field structures - the person and a masterpiece. In it probably art force. Those sounds, which people published, being in a masterpiece field (conversations, a shuffling of feet, etc.), were very valuable to me, they korrelyativno were connected with it. Having subjected these records to the most difficult transformational processing, I managed to receive absolutely improbable soundings. They brought many into shock, - in these sounds accurate identification with "Mona Lisa's" portrait was observed. I made similar records and at the well-known sculpture of Venus. As a result, on to basis of these records, at me three works - "Knowledge", "Stream" and "Communication" were born.
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