People Who Kick Buts: Leonardo Da Vinci
Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.
- Born on April 15, 1452 and passed by May 2, 1519.
- His genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal.
- Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance Man, a man of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination”.
- He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.
- According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent and “his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote”.
- Born out of wedlock to a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant woman, Caterina, at Vinci in the region of Florence, Leonardo was educated in the studio of the renowned Florentine painter, Verrocchio.
- Much of his earlier working life was spent in the service of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna and Venice, and he spent his last years in France at the home awarded him by Francis I.
- Leonardo was and is renowned primarily as a painter. Among his works, the Mona Lisa is the most famous and most parodied portrait.
- Leonardo is revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualised a helicopter, a tank, concentrated solar power, a calculator, and the double hull, and he outlined a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics.
- Relatively few of his designs were constructed or were even feasible during his lifetime, but some of his smaller inventions, such as an automated bobbin winder and a machine for testing the tensile strength of wire, entered the world of manufacturing unheralded.
- He made important discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, optics, and hydrodynamics, but he did not publish his findings and they had no direct influence on later science.
- Little is known about Leonardo’s early life. He spent his first five years in the hamlet of Anchiano in the home of his mother, then from 1457 he lived in the household of his father, grandparents and uncle, Francesco, in the small town of Vinci. His father had married a sixteen-year-old girl named Albiera, who loved Leonardo but died young. When Leonardo was sixteen his father married again, to twenty-year-old Francesca Lanfredini. It was not until his third and fourth marriages that Ser Piero produced legitimate heirs.
- Leonardo received an informal education in Latin, geometry and mathematics. In later life, Leonardo recorded only two childhood incidents. One, which he regarded as an omen, was when a kite dropped from the sky and hovered over his cradle, its tail feathers brushing his face. The second occurred while exploring in the mountains. He discovered a cave and was both terrified that some great monster might lurk there and driven by curiosity to find out what was inside.
- In 1466, at the age of fourteen, Leonardo was apprenticed to the artist Andrea di Cione, known as Verrocchio, whose workshop was “one of the finest in Florence”.
- Florentine court records of 1476 show that Leonardo and three other young men were charged with sodomy and acquitted.
Beyond friendship, Leonardo kept his private life secret. His sexuality has been the subject of satire, analysis, and speculation. This trend began in the mid-16th century and was revived in the 19th and 20th centuries, most notably by Sigmund Freud.
Leonardo’s most intimate relationships were perhaps with his pupils Salai and Melzi. Melzi, writing to inform Leonardo’s brothers of his death, described Leonardo’s feelings for his pupils as both loving and passionate. It has been claimed since the 16th century that these relationships were of a sexual or erotic nature. Court records of 1476, when he was aged twenty-four, show that Leonardo and three other young men were charged with sodomy in an incident involving a well-known male prostitute. The charges were dismissed for lack of evidence, and there is speculation that since one of the accused, Lionardo de Tornabuoni, was related to Lorenzo de’ Medici, the family exerted its influence to secure the dismissal.
Since that date much has been written about his presumed homosexuality and its role in his art, particularly in the androgyny and eroticism manifested in John the Baptist and Bacchus and more explicitly in a number of erotic drawings.