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Leonardo: The Complete Renaissance Man

More of this Feature

• Part 2: Art and Sculpture
• 
Part 3: Fame and Legacy

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Part 1: The Early Years

If Leonardo had lived today, we might have classified him as having Attention Deficit Disorder. He was such a brilliant man that he often got bored or impatient with what he was doing and moved on to something. His brain was always working, and it usually was working on many things at once. He is famous as an inventor, painter, engineer, scientist, thinker, and much more. He is the very essence of a Renaissance Man.

Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in the town of Vinci, in Tuscany. His family took its name from the town, as was the custom in those days. Also in those days, Italy was by no means a united country. Rather, it was a collection of city-states. The nearest big city to Vinci was Florence.

Leonardo's family was rather well off, and so the boy had a good education. He was good at music and art and science, but he proved himself a troublesome student to some instructors who wanted him to follow the rules all of the time.

His first taste of great art was as an apprentice to Andrea del Verrocchio, a painter and sculptor who worked in Florence. Verrocchio was famous in his own right, but he became even more famous as the artist who "discovered" Leonardo.

Leonardo did all the things that apprentices did in those days, mixing paints and preparing canvases and absorbing everything that his master taught him about painting and sculpture. He also posed for several paintings. Leonardo worked his way up to helping his master paint. The most famous of these collaborations is Baptism of Christ, in which Leonardo painted a kneeling angel. This angel clearly stands out from the rest of the painting.

This painting was made public in 1470. Leonardo served as Verrocchio's apprentice and assistant for eight more years before branching out on his own. He got his first important assignment not long thereafter. He never finished it, a pattern that would follow him for the rest of his life. (One such painting was Adoration of the Magi, a stunning work that is nonetheless not finished.) Some of the most famous works of art the world has ever seen came from Leonardo's fertile imagination and deft hands, yet he was always thinking about the next project and often had trouble concentrating on what was going on in the present day.

Next page > Art and Sculpture > Page 1, 2, 3

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