Leonardo da Vinci: Biography

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  • 0:07 Early Years of da Vinci
  • 1:42 Da Vinci Uses Perspective
  • 3:12 The Scientist and the Inventor
  • 4:26 The Study of Anatomy
  • 6:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will focus on the life of Leonardo da Vinci. It will highlight his career as an artist, an inventor, a scientist and a student of the human form. It will also include many of his most famous works.

Early Years of da Vinci

Some people are really good at math. Some people are really great at drawing. Some people are really great at math and drawing. And then there are some people who are just about great at everything. One of those people, Leonardo da Vinci, is the subject of today's lesson.

Da Vinci began studying art under the instruction of Verrocchio.
daVinci Apprenticeship with Verrocchio

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in a small village on the Tuscan hillside. His father, a public official, and his mother, a peasant girl, were never married. There are very few accurate accounts of his early years, but history records that da Vinci began apprenticing for the well-known artist, Verrocchio, while still in his teens. Verrocchio was known as a true craftsman. Working by his side in the artistic hub of Florence, Leonardo learned the importance of quality and execution when representing the human body.

Upon completing his apprenticeship, da Vinci continued with Verrocchio. With Verrocchio at the helm, they collaborated to complete Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ. Although some may disagree, it is commonly held that Leonardo is responsible for the young angel holding the robe of Christ, as well as some of the landscape. No matter which part he actually contributed, legend holds that upon seeing the work of Leonardo, Verrocchio was so overcome by the young artist's talent he put down his own brush and vowed never to paint again!

Da Vinci Uses Perspective

Somewhere around the year 1478, Leonardo branched out on his own. In 1481, he landed a major church commission, or the hiring and payment for the creation of a piece. The commission was for The Adoration of the Magi. In this unfinished work, Leonardo set himself apart by placing the Virgin and the Child in the center of the painting. Up to this point, paintings done of the sacred pair traditionally saw them at the side of the picture, not the center.

Like those of several other artists of the time period, da Vinci's works employed the use of linear perspective, in which objects appear smaller in proportion as they are further away. However, Leonardo, being the master he was, took this a step further by adding perspective of clarity, in which distant objects are less distinct, and perspective of color, in which distant objects are more muted in their colors. These concepts can be seen in his later work, The Virgin and the Child with St. Anne. Notice how the mountains are almost blurred, and the colors are muted, almost bland.

Da Vinci
The Virgin and the Child with St. Anne

Toward the end of the 15th century, Leonardo moved his craft to Milan. During this period, he gave history The Last Supper. Take a look at this revered masterpiece. Notice how the back wall is represented to show distance, while the outside scenery is muted and blurred.

Paintings such as The Last Supper show his use of perspective.
Last Supper Background Images

The Scientist and the Inventor

Around the year 1500, Leonardo returned to Florence. During this period, he created the Mona Lisa. This lovely lady is still shrouded in mystery, but no matter who she is, or who she isn't, she is one of the most famous art works of all time.

During this time, Leonardo also used his scientific knowledge as a military engineer for the infamous Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI. This is a great place to diverge from Leonardo the artist to Leonardo the scientist and inventor. Throughout his life, Leonardo had fantastic ideas that were way ahead of his time. He sketched precursors to the helicopter, the armored car and even something akin to a robot! All of these things are now reality in one form or another. Speaking of reality, he also proposed creating a bridge at the Golden Horn Inlet of Istanbul to modern-day Pera, Turkey. This proposal was quickly rejected as impossible. However, in 2001, a bridge very similar to that of da Vinci's design was completed in Norway.

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