Leonardo: the Complete Renaissance Man

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Part 2: Art and Sculpture

Leonardo was interested in painting for the rest of his life. But he also had a keen scientific mind. He decided he wanted to pursue more real-world interests and wrote a letter to the duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. In this letter, Leonardo claimed to have vast knowledge of civil engineering, the constructing of war machines, and other mathematical and scientific subjects. He also said he was a sculptor. All of these might have been true, in theory; yet Leonardo at that time had yet to produce anything to back up these claims.

But the duke was impressed and so Leonardo went to work on the duke's payroll, starting in 1482. One of the main projects of Leonardo's fancy during the nearly 20 years he worked for Sforza was a giant bronze statue of a horse. Leonardo, keenly interested in making art as realistic as possible, made drawings of a huge lifelike horse and asked the duke of set aside 70 tons of bronze to construct the sculpture. This was the famous Gran Cavallo, for which Leonardo created a life-sized clay model. Before Leonardo could get around to sculpting the horse, however, real-world events got in the way. In 1495, French forces under King Charles VIII invaded Milan. In desperation, the duke took Leonardo's 70 tons of bronze and made weapons with it. The initial attack was repulsed; but the next one, three years later, was successful. Successful French soldiers ransacked the city and used Leonardo's clay model horse for archery target practice.

During this time, also, Leonardo produced two of his most famous works, one of which is the most recognized religious painting in the world. One of these was The Virgin of the Rocks; the other was The Last Supper, a huge wall fresco that, unfortunately, used an experimental material that has not lasted too well through the centuries.

By this time, Leonardo had taken to recording all sorts of details in notebooks that he carried with him wherever he went. He had an intense interest in art, science, anatomy, botany, engineering, and many other subjects. In these notebooks, he wrote observations and made drawings. One odd feature on many of these pages is that he wrote backwards in an effort to hide his ideas from competing artists and scientists.

In 1502, Leonardo went to work for Cesare Borgia, a very important person who, among other things, was the son of the current pope, Alexander VI. Leonardo's duties including being chief engineer. He was the supervisor and chief creator of the fortresses of the pope's territories during this time and was chief engineer in several wars.

Next page > Fame and Legacy > Page 1, 2, 3

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David White