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The Life of Leonardo da Vinci, Italian Renaissance Artist

 Self-Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci

Self-Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci
c. 1512; red chalk on paper,
333 x 213 mm
Biblioteca Reale, Turin

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Few men have inspired so much speculation in the world of art over the past five hundred years as has the quintessential Renaissance man, Italian Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). Unique among Italian Renaissance artists, art historians know da Vinci as a multi-talented individual, a polymath, skilled as a painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, and engineer. The words “scientist” and “thinker” should surely be added to that list as well.

Popular still today, the paintings and drawings created during the life of Leonardo da Vinci are often seen in art prints and reproductions. Da Vinci’s study of human proportion, Vitruvian Man, graces the pages of books written in many fields, a testament to the wide-reaching thoughts the image inspires not only to Italian Renaissance art lovers, but to mankind as well.

His art works attest to Leonardo da Vinci’s lifelong study of man and nature. Like Italian Renaissance artist, Michelangelo, da Vinci sometimes dissected corpses secretly to perfect his understanding of anatomy and improve his fine art skills. He also dissected animals, human dissection not being readily available and strongly prohibited by the church during the time of this Italian Renaissance artist. Da Vinci’s claim to be an expert in military engineering and weapons may even have offered opportunity for human study on the battlefield.

During the life of Leonardo da Vinci, patronage never seemed to be lacking, although his patronwere not exclusively interested in only sponsoring his art. According to Giorgio Vasari, biographer and historian of many prominent Italian Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael, da Vinci was as much sought out for his wit and charm as for his mastery of art painting. The city of Florence, where da Vinci spent his early adulthood was a cultural maelstrom of craftsmen, artists, and wealthy patrons. It is no surprise then that it was here that so many Italian Renaissance artists arose. Leonardo himself was apprenticed at a young age to master goldsmith and sculptor Andrea Verrocchio.

Brenda Harness, Art Historian

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