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LEONARDO DA VINCI

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an Italian artist and possibly the most versatile genius who ever lived. The illegitimate son of a Florentine lawyer, Leonardo was the embodiment of what came to be called Renaissance man - one skilled in a wide range of activities. His fields of research included anatomy, botany, hydraulics, engineering, mathematics and philosophy, as well as sculpture and painting. Very few of Leonardo's paintings, however, were completed. He left The Adoration of the Magi (1481) unfinished in Florence and went to Milan, where he produced his most famous early work, the Last Supper (c. 1497). In c.1503 he painted the enigmatic Mona Lisa - the world's most famous portrait. Supposedly of a Florentine official's wife, the portrait was painted between about 1503 and 1507, and is sometimes thought to be a self-portrait. The painting was one of the few works that Leonardo completed. It broke new ground by portraying the subject's features with more naturalism and subtlety than had previously been achieved.

Leonardo experimented with different techniques and mediums and perfected a subtle method for differentiating light and shade known as sfumato. The word means 'smoky', and it refers to a subtle blending of tones which makes the transition from light to dark imperceptible. This technique was one of the distinctive innovations of the Renaissance. Leonardo said that light and shade should blend 'without borders or lines, in the manner of smoke'.

His notebooks contain sketches of flowers and animals, studies of human anatomy, and architectural and technical drawings, including a design for a helicopter. Leonardo understood the principles of flight 400 years before the first planes. He called it an 'air gyroscope'; his design, if built, would have risen into the air and then dropped. He designed machines called ornithopters, which he thought would carry people through the air if they flapped the wings as birds do. In another sketch of a flying machine, a man flaps four wings with a system of pulleys and treadles.

Leonardo also designed a sophisticated water turbine engine. He designed locks for the Languedoc Canal in France, which was completed in 1681. He was a pioneer of anatomy, and produced amazing drawings, such as a foetus in its mother's womb.

His influence on the development of art, and on other artists of his age such as Michelangelo and Raphael, was immense.



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