Leonardo da Vinci: A Man of Many Talents

A question for you: Who had two fathers, five mothers, eighteen brothers and yet was a ‘bastard’ within the family he grew up in?

The answer (as you might expect from the title) is Leonardo da Vinci. Vinci is the name of the village where he was born and da is equal in English to the word, ‘of’. So, there you have it, Leonardo da Vinci.

Born in the town of Vinci on 15th April 1452, he became a man of many talents primarily concerned in the beginning not with art, painting or frescoing, but science and engineering.

His experiments by the time he was in his 30’s included a machine for breathing underwater, parachutes, clocks and war machinery for the ruler of Milan. He invented a canon and worked out how to divert rivers and create alternative waterways for them.

THE LAST SUPPER

The Last Supper
The Last Supper

Whatever scientific or engineering work he was engaged in he never gave up his artistry and was, in the 1490’s, commissioned to paint a wall mural in the refectory of a Milanese convent, the Santa Maria delle Grazie.

It is this work of art, apart from the Mona Lisa, which we will come to shortly, that he is most famed for. It depicts The Last Supper and was high up on the refectory wall of the convent.

The painting represents the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, as it is told in the Gospel of John, 13:21. Leonardo has depicted the consternation that occurred among the Twelve Apostles when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him.

It survived the bombing during World War II as it had been protected with scaffolding and padding.

MONA LISA

Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous of his paintings and now hangs in the Louvre. This is special in its own way.

If you look closely there appears to be three vanishing points. One is to the right hand shoulder (as you look at her from the front). There is a bridge in clear view. By her right shoulder there is a road that winds up to a lake. Another lake appears higher up on the right which from a perspective view point is in a rather odd place. She has no eyelashes or eyebrows and yet when you look at her it doesn’t matter what angle you are looking from her eyes will have followed you.

With her enigmatic smile and the awe-inspiring way she gazes at her viewers she is surely worth the value put on her as recently as $830 million USD. At only 77 x 53 cm in size, you can tuck her under your arm and walk away with her as a thief did in 1911. She was displayed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York City at the behest of Jackie Kennedy. Mona Lisa has been attacked with acid, a rock, spray paint and a coffee cup. Bulletproof glass prevented damage by these last two although the rock left its mark.

Heritage law in France prevents the painting from being sold or bought and she now belongs to the public. She has received many flowers and letters from her fans and has her own mailbox.

Just how Vinci developed his skill with the brush, perspective acumen and artistry is not known but he has certainly left us with the mystery of what she was thinking. Both the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper are examples of an extra ordinary man, with an extra ordinary ability to communicate and let the viewer form their own opinion as to just what they are looking at and what the picture says to them.

Susanne Lawrence
Art Historian