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Leonardo da Vinci

A true Renaissance man; d. 1519; Leonardo was likely born at Anchiano, Italy, but was reared in Vinci, west of Florence. He was born to an unmarried peasant named Caterina, about whom little is known. He was educated at home by his father, a prominent lawyer, though much of his encyclopedic knowledge apparently came through independent study.

Serving an apprenticeship under noted Florentine artist Andrea del Verrocchio—whose patron, or financial supporter, was Lorenzo de Medici (the Magnificent)—Leonardo early demonstrated formidable talent as a painter, and through Lorenzo he became connected with many influential thinkers and artists. However, maintaining essential economic support (patronage) proved difficult for him; that, combined with the ongoing outbreak of warfare, caused him to move frequently.

In 1482, at age thirty, Leonardo relocated to design military weapons for the duke of Milan. This was not such a great leap for an artist; during the Renaissance, war was viewed as an art form, and, more significantly, Leonardo never studied an area but what he mastered it.

During his late forties, Leonardo was back in Florence after nearly two decades, but he would soon leave once more to become military engineer for the commander of the papal armies. He later returned again to Florence, then made still another move to Milan in 1506.

LEONARDO
1452 born to unmarried peasant girl, Caterina; father was well-known attorney
1469 became an apprentice under Verrocchio and acquainted with Lorenzo de Medici
1476 accused of sodomy; case dropped for lack of evidence
1476 began designing unique war machine
1482 wrote letter emphasizing his military skills; barely referenced that he was a painter; moved from Florence to Milan
1485 began designing giant crossbow; designed helicopter (aerial screw)
1487 began designing fiying machines; did first anatomical sketch; military tank, deep-sea-diving suit; drew VitruvianMan
1489 commissioned to cast largest equestrian statue ever built
1490 adopted a ten-year-old
1495 began painting TheLastSupper(later underwent numerous restorations)
1499 briefly in Venice
1500 began designing a glider; moved back to France
1502 left Florence to travel Italy with Cesare Borgia, commander of papal armies
1503 began work on Mona Lisa
1505 returned to the study of anatomy and of muscles
1506 moved back to Milan
1510 began to study respiratory system
1513 began study of the heart; began painting St.JohntheBaptist; moved to Rome; unlike Michelangelo and Raphael, was unable to find patronage
1517 moved to France, to the Loire Valley; eventually suffered a stroke
1519 died at age 67

At age sixty he fled to Rome, but younger artists (like Michelangelo and Raphael) had preceded him there for patronage, so he continued on to France. Fran˛cois I, who became his patron, was the first who seemed to fully grasp his genius. When a stroke rendered painting impossible, Leonardo continued designing until his death on May 2, 1519.

The breadth and quality of his accomplishments have caused Leonardo to be labeled ‘‘a genius of all geniuses.’’ Two of his works, Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, rank among the world’s finest and figure prominently in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code for their allegedly secret symbols. In addition, Louvre curator Jacques Saunie`re’s body is found in the posture of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man.

Leonardo’s interests were nearly innumerable: music, solar power, mathematics, architecture, anatomy, philosophy, astronomy, aviation, weaponry, et al. His notebooks contain remarkably apt drawings of helicopters, bridges, machine guns, tanks, and submarines. Virtually none of his inventive ideas was implemented, but his mind was clearly one of the most creative in human history. Ironically, his scientific writings were largely unknown until centuries later, and when he moved to France in his later years, this under-appreciated artist arrived with Mona Lisa in his baggage, certainly unaware of carrying what would become one of the world’s most prized paintings.

The Da Vinci Code portrays Leonardo as blatantly anti-Catholic or, more generally, anti-Christian. What he precisely believed is unclear, but he did perceive of science as understanding the God who had created nature. To him, God was the First Mover of all, ‘‘the Light of all things’’ who designed all things.

While most of his religious views are not well-known, and although he struggled with specific religious patterns, he was by no means an agnostic or atheist (as some have portrayed him). Allegations as to his sexual orientation are equally undemonstrated; contrary to Brown’s claims, there is no evidence that he was homosexual. He was once accused of sodomy, but the charges were dropped.

Brown states that Leonardo produced great quantities of Christian art and ‘‘hundreds of lucrative Vatican commissions’’ (DVC, 45), but Leonardo often didn’t even complete his works; excluding his drawings, he produced fewer than thirty paintings. He started far more projects than he finished—several factors (including wars and failure to secure patronage) likely contributed to this, but the primary cause was most likely his perfectionism. His genius became the enemy of completion when he was concerned he could not work flawlessly. Brown also would have us believe Leonardo was the recipient of numerous commissions for Pope Leo X, when in reality he didn’t even spend much time in Rome.

The shadow of Leonardo that permeates The Da Vinci Code is essentially cast without the mass of historical substance. See also Brown, Dan; Last Supper; Louvre; Mona Lisa; Saunie`re, Jacques; Renaissance; Roman Catholic Church; Vitruvian Man.



Printed with permission from Bethany House Publishers, South Bloomington, Minnesota from the book "The Da Vinci Codebreaker : an easy-to-use fact checker for truth seekers" by James L. Garlow.
 

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