Leonardo DA VINCI (b. 1452, Vinci, Republic of Florence [now in Italy]--d. May 2, 1519, Cloux, Fr.), Italian painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, and engineer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. His Last Supper (1495-97) and Mona Lisa (1503-06) are among the most widely popular and influential paintings of the Renaissance. His notebooks reveal a spirit of scientific inquiry and a mechanical inventiveness that were centuries ahead of his time.
By a happy chance, a common theme links the lives of four of the famous masters of the High Renaissance -- Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. Each began his artistic career with an apprenticeship to a painter who was already of good standing, and each took the same path of first accepting, then transcending, the influence of his first master. The first of these, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), was the elder of the two Florentine masters. He was taught by Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-88), an engaging painter whose great achievement was his sculpture.
Verrochio also had considerable influence on the early work of Michelangelo. Verrocchio's best-known painting is the famous Baptism of Christ, famous because the youthful Leonardo is said to have painted the dreamy and romantic angel on the far left, who compares more than favorably with the stubby lack of distinction in the master's owm angel immediately beside him.
Leonardo: Renaissance polymath
There has never been an artist who was more fittingly, and without qualification, described as a genius. Like Shakespeare, Leonardo came from an insignificant background and rose to universal acclaim. Leonardo was the illegitimate son of a local lawyer in the small town of Vinci in the Tuscan region. His father acknowledged him and paid for his training, but we may wonder whether the strangely self-sufficient tone of Leonardo's mind was not perhaps affected by his early ambiguity of status. The definitive polymath, he had almost too many gifts, including superlative male beauty, a splendid singing voice, magnificent physique, mathematical excellence, scientific daring... the list is endless. This overabundance of talents caused him to treat his artistry lightly, seldom finishing a picture, and sometimes making rash technical experiments. The Last Supper, in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, for example, has almost vanished, so inadequate were his innovations in fresco preparation.Yet the works what we have salvaged remain the most dazzingly poetic pictures ever created. The Mona Lisa has the innocent disavantage of being too famous. It can only be seen behind thick glass in a heaving crowd of awe-stuck sightseers. It has been reproduced in every conceivable medium: it remains intact in its magic, for ever defying the human insistence on comprehending. It is a work that we can only gaze at in silence.