Thursday - April 20

Leonardo da Vinci

  • Leonardo da Vinci - timeline

1452 Leonardo is born in the village of Anchiano, near Vinci, on April 15.
1467 His father sends him to Florence to learn painting from Andrea de Verrocchio.
1472 He becomes a member of the Florentine painters’ guild. He paints the angel and the landscape of Verrocchio’s The Baptism of Christ.
1476 He is accused of sodomy but the charges are dropped.
1478 He paints The Annunciation (some scholars believe this painting is not by him but by Lorenzo di Credi) and the portrait of Ginevra de Benci.
1481 He begins The Adoration of the Magi for the friars of the Monastery of San Donato in Scopeto. He never finished it.
1482 He moves to Milan and starts to work for Duke Ludovico Sforza.
1483 He paints The Virgin of the Rocks.
1485 He paints Lady with an Ermine.
1492 He begins a giant bronze equestrian statue for Duke Ludovico
1495 He begins The Last Supper for the friars of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. He finishes it in 1498.
1499 He flees Milan because his patron Ludovico is expelled and he goes to Venice.
1500 He begins The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.
1500 He returns to Florence.
1502 He begins to work for Cesare Borgia as his senior military architect and general engineer.
1503 Il Giocondo gives him the commission to paint his wife, The Mona Lisa.
1503 The Florentine mayor (Gonfalonier) gives him the commission to paint a mural for the council hall in the Palazzo Vecchio. He starts The Battle of Anghiari but spoils it by adding oil to his colors.
1515 He paints St. John the Baptist.
1516 He goes to France to serve King Francis I at Amboise.
1519 Leonardo dies at Cloux, France, on May 2.

  • Leonardo's letter

In 1482 Leonardo, who according to Vasari was a most talented musician, created a silver lyre in the shape of a horse's head. Lorenzo de’ Medici sent Leonardo, bearing the lyre as a gift, to Milan, to secure peace with Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan. At this time Leonardo wrote an often-quoted letter to Ludovico, describing the many marvellous and diverse things that he could achieve in the field of engineering and informing the Lord that he could also paint.

TO: Duke Ludovico Sforza
FROM: Leonardo da Vinci
DATE: ca. 1482

Having, most illustrious lord, seen and considered the experiments of all those who pose as masters in the art of inventing instruments of war, and finding that their inventions differ in no way from those in common use, I am emboldened, without prejudice to anyone, to solicit an appointment of acquainting your Excellency with certain of my secrets.

1. I can construct bridges which are very light and strong and very portable, with which to pursue and defeat the enemy; and others more solid, which resist fire or assault, yet are easily removed and placed in position; and I can also burn and destroy those of the enemy.

2. In case of a siege I can cut off water from the trenches and make pontoons and scaling ladders and other similar contrivances.

3. If by reason of the elevation or the strength of its position a place cannot be bombarded, I can demolish every fortress if its foundations have not been set on stone.

4. I can also make a kind of cannon which is light and easy of transport, with which to hurl small stones like hail, and of which the smoke causes great terror to the enemy, so that they suffer heavy loss and confusion.

5. I can noiselessly construct to any prescribed point subterranean passages either straight or winding, passing if necessary underneath trenches or a river.

6. I can make armoured wagons carrying artillery, which shall break through the most serried ranks of the enemy, and so open a safe passage for his infantry.

7. If occasion should arise, I can construct cannon and mortars and light ordnance in shape both ornamental and useful and different from those in common use.

8. When it is impossible to use cannon I can supply in their stead catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other instruments of admirable efficiency not in general use—I short, as the occasion requires I can supply infinite means of attack and defense.

9. And if the fight should take place upon the sea I can construct many engines most suitable either for attack or defense and ships which can resist the fire of the heaviest cannon, and powders or weapons.

10. In time of peace, I believe that I can give you as complete satisfaction as anyone else in the construction of buildings both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to another.

I can further execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, also in painting I can do as much as anyone else, whoever he may be.

Moreover, I would undertake the commission of the bronze horse, which shall endue with immortal glory and eternal honour the auspicious memory of your father and of the illustrious house of Sforza.—

And if any of the aforesaid things should seem to anyone impossible or impracticable, I offer myself as ready to make trial of them in your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.

-Leonardo Da Vinci

  • Leonardo - 'on painting...'

Selected notes on Painting

The Difference between Painting and Sculpture
"The painter must keep ten things in mind to ensure the success of his work.- namely, light, shadow, colour, volume, form, placing, distance, proximity movement and repose."

"The sculptor must consider only volume, form, placing, movement and repose. He does not have to concern himself with light or shadow, for nature produces them herself in his sculptures. Nor with colour. As to distance and proximity, he attends to them only a little. He uses linear perspective, not that of the colours, in spite of variations in colour and sharpness of the contours according to their distance from the eye."

"Sculpture is a simpler form of statement and requires less mental effort than painting."

Literature and drawing
"What words can you find, 0 writer, to equal in your description the complete figure rendered here by drawing? Because of your ignorance of the latter, you have only a confused description and can give only a feeble idea of the true form of things,, you are deluded when you think that you can fully satisfy your audience when it comes to evoking a mass enveloped by a surface."

"I enjoin you not to encumber yourself with words, unless you address yourself to the blind; - if you want to address yourself through words to the ear, and not to the eye, discuss such things as substance and nature; - do not trouble yourself with things of the eye, to try and make them pass through the ear; - you would be far surpassed in this by painting."

"With which words would you describe this heart without filling an entire volume? The more detail you give, the more confusion you will create in your audience,, you will need commentaries or references to experience, but in your case there is not much of it, and it touches on only a few aspects of the subject you would encompass completely."

"He who despises painting loves neither knowledge nor nature."

"If you despise painting, which alone can imitate all that is visible in nature, you most certainly despise a subtle invention which, by its complex and philosophical reasoning, examines the quality of forms, oceans, places, plants, animals, grass, flowers, all bathed in light and shadow. And this knowledge is truly the legitimate daughter of nature, for it was engendered by nature, but, to be exact, we shall call it the granddaughter of nature, for nature has produced all visible things, and from them painting is born. We shall therefore rightly call it the granddaughter of nature, related to God."

Variety of characters in compositions with figures
"In compositions with figures, the characters must differ in complexion, age, colour, attitude, corpulence, build, fat, thin, tall, short, proud, courteous, old, young, strong and muscular, weak and with few muscles, happy, melancholic, with curly or straight hair, short or long; - with alert or vulgar movements; - and vary the costumes and colours and all other things necessary for this composition. It is a cardinal sin for the painter to create faces that look alike, and the repetition of gestures is also a great fault."

The mirror is the painters' master
"To see if your painting conforms to what you are depicting, take a mirror and look at the reflection of the model in it, then compare this reflection with your painting, and examine closely the entire surface to see if the two objects are similar. Since the mirror can, through line, light and shadow create an illusion of relief, you, who have among your paints, shadows and light that are stronger than those in the mirror, if you know how to combine them, your work will doubtless appear similar to reality as seen in a large mirror."

Painting and its elements
"Painting consists of two main parts: the first is form, that is to say, the line which defines the forms of bodies and their details; - and the second is colour which is enclosed by line borders."

"Painting consists of two main parts; - the outline which surrounds the forms and painted objects, which we call drawing,- and shadow. But drawing is of such excellence that it explores not only the works of nature, but also an infinity of others beyond it... Thus we would conclude that drawing is not only knowledge but also the divine power capable of reproducing all of the Almighty's works that are visible."

Against the Greek manner
"The most praiseworthy form of painting is the one that most resembles what it imitates. I say this against painters who presume to correct the works of nature, those, for example, who depict a one-year-old infant, whose head should be one fifth of its height, and who make it one eighth; - and while the width of its shoulders is equal to that of the head, they make the head half as wide as the shoulders, and in this way, they endow a small one-year-old child with the proportions of a man of thirty. And they have so often seen and practised this error, and its use has become so ingrained in their corrupt judgement that they persuade themselves that nature and those who imitate nature are guilty of a gross error for not doing as they do."

Light and shadow
"Shadow is the absence of light or simply the opposition of opaque bodies that intercept the rays of light. Shadow is of the nature of darkness; - light is of the nature of splendour. They are always combined on the body, and shadow is more powerful than light, for it can completely exclude light and deprive bodies of it entirely while light can never eliminate all shadows from bodies, at least from opaque bodies."

"Shadows can be infinitely obscure or display an infinity of nuances in the light tones."

"Shadows are the manifestation by bodies of their forms."

"The forms of bodies would not show their particularities without shadow."

"Shadows should always partake of the colour of the bodies they conceal."

"No object appears to us in its natural whiteness, because the place in which it is seen makes it, for the eye, seem more or less white according to whether the place is more or less dark. We learn this, for example, from the moon, which in daytime appears with so little brightness in the sky, and at night with such brightness that it disperses darkness like the sun or daylight. This is due to two things- the tendency of nature to show coloured images more perfectly, the more different the colours,' and, secondly the pupil is larger at night than in daytime, as has been proved..."

Linear perspective
"Perspective is the rational law according to which experience shows us that all ob ects send their images to the eye following pyramidal trajectories,- and bodies of the same size will make more or less narrow pyramids according to their respective distances. I call "pyramidal trajectories" the lines which come from the surfaces and contours of bodies and arrive, after a long distance, at a small common point - a point is something that cannot be divided in any way, and this point, situated in the eye, brings together the summits of all of the pyramids."

The blue in the distance
"There is another kind of perspective which I call aerial, for the differences of the colour of the air can make us distinguish the respective distances of many buildings, the bases of which are cut by a single straight line, as when we see them above and beyond a wall,- let us assume that they appear to be all the same size, and that you want to show that some are more distant than others, and represent them in a fairly dense atmosphere. You know that in such an atmosphere, the most distant objects, such as mountains, appear, because of the great quantity of air that lies between them and your eye, as blue as the air when the sun rises. You will therefore give the nearest building above the wall its real colour, and the more distant one you will make less distinct and bluer. And the one that you want to show even farther, that one you will make even bluer; - and the one which lies five times more distant, make it five times bluer And with this rule, it will be obvious which of the buildings that appear to be the same size is the more distant and so (in reality) larger than the others."

Tone and value
"Different colours can receive from the same shadow an equal degree of darkness. It is possible for colours of all sorts to be transformed, by a given shadow, into the colour of this shadow."

"This is proved by the darkness of a cloudy night, in which no form or colour of any object can be distinguished; , and since the darkness is only the deprivation of incident or reflected light which allows us to distinguish all the forms and colours of bodies, it is inevitable, when light is entirely eliminated as a cause, that the effect or perception of the colours and forms of these bodies also disappears."

The ideal lighting for each colour
"You must observe under which aspect a colour appears at its finest in nature; - when it receives reflections, or when it is lit, or when it has medium shadows, or when they are dark, or when it is transparent."

"This depends on the colour in question, for different colours are at their most beautiful under different aspects, thus we see that blacks have the most beauty in shadow, whites in the light, and the blues, greens and browns in medium shadow, the yellows and reds in the light, the gold in reflections, and the lakes in medium shadow."

The beauty of colours
"To make a beautiful green colour take the green (in powdered form) and mix it with bitumen and in this way you will make the shadows darker. Then, for lighter greens, mix green and ochre, and for those even lighter, green and yellow, and for brilliance, take pure yellow. Then take some green and Indian saffron together and make a veil of it to cover the whole."

"To make a beautiful red, take some cinnabar or red chalk or burnt ochre for the dark shadows, and for the light shadows red chalk and vermilion, and for brightness pure vermilion, and veil it with a delicate lacquer."

"To make oil good for painting: one part oil and one part turpentine (distilled once), and another part of twice distilled turpentine."

"If you want to give colours their greatest beauty, first make a preparation of very pure white; - and I say this for transparent colours, for in the case of those which should not be transparent, the white preparation is useless. This can be learned for example from a coloured glass which, when placed between the eye and air in the light, is of great beauty, - this does not occur when they are seen against darkened air or something black."

How to recognize a good painting and by which qualities
"The first thing to consider, if you wish to recognize a good painting, is whether the movement is appropriate to the state of mind of the person who is moving; - secondly whether the more or less pronounced relief of objects placed in the shadow is adjusted to the distance; - thirdly, whether the proportions of the parts (of the body) correspond to those of the whole; - fourthly, whether the choice of positions is appropriate to the type of actions; - fifthly whether the detail of the figures corresponds to their character, that is, delicate limbs for delicate people, strong for the strong, fat for the fat, etc."

How to study human movement
Human movement may be understood through knowledge of the parts of the body and the entire series of the positions of limbs and articulations,- then, set down by means of some stenographic notation the actions of people, with their particulars, without them noticing that you are observing them; - for if they realized it, this would intrigue them and the act in which before they were completely absorbed will lose some of its force; - for example, when two angry men are in the midst of an argument, each thinking that he is right, they agitate their eyebrows and arms and other limbs with much vehemence, making gestures that are appropriate to their words and intentions. You would not be able to obtain this result if you asked them to act out this anger or some other passion like laughing, crying, pain, surprise, fear, etc. And so take care always to carry with you a sketchbook of gelatine-coated paper and with a silverpoint briskly note these movements, and note also the attitudes of the bystanders and their positions, - and this will teach you how to make compositions. And when your sketchbook is full, lay it aside and keep it for your projects, then take another one and continue. And this will be very useful for the art of composition, on the subject of which I shall write a separate book which will pursue the study of the figures and the separate limbs and their various articulations."

Of laughter and tears and what distinguishes them
"You will not give to the face of someone crying the same movements as to the face of someone who is laughing, even though (in reality) they often look alike, - for the right method is to differentiate them, as the emotion of laughing is different from the emotion of crying."

"With those who weep, the eyebrows and mouth change according to the different causes of their tears,- for the one is crying out of anger the other out of fear, and some out of joy or a tender feeling, others out of anxiety, for pain or sorrow, and yet others out of pity or grief from having lost a relation or friend, and among these weepers, some seem desperate, others restrained, - some only shed tears, others cry out, and some lift their eyes skyward and lower their hands with the fingers joined, some are timid, their shoulders hunched to their ears, and so on, according to the causes mentioned."

"The one shedding tears raises his eyebrows on the inner side, and contracts them, and creates wrinkles between and above them, - the corners of the mouth are turned down, but the one laughing has them turned up and his eyebrows are separate and raised."

How to paint fabrics
"Figures wearing a coat must not let their forms show through so that the coat appears to rest on the flesh (unless you want to make it appear so); - but you must consider that in between the coat and flesh there are other pieces of clothing which prevent the naked forms of the limbs from appearing or from being visible through the coat. As for the limbs that show through, make them thicker, so that the clothing under the coat is evident you will reveal the exact dimensions of the limbs only in the case of nymphs or angels, which are represented draped in fine cloth, adhering to and moulding their limbs in the wind."

- From "Leonardo on Painting"

  • The Last Supper


  • The Last Supper - Annotated

last supper_leonardo_annotated.jpg

  • Questions / prompts

Art History / Mr. Walker
Renaissance Unit / Leonardo da Vinci
Study Guide Questions

Name: Date:

  1. List five of Leonardo da Vinci’s areas of knowledge.


  1. How and why did Leonardo study anatomy?

  1. What aspect of Leonardo’s personality made it difficult for him to complete many of his art works?

  1. The United States has only one painting by Leonardo da Vinci. What is its name and what museum would you have to visit to see the painting?

_ _

  1. The Italian Renaissance roughly spans from the th to the th Century.

  1. What does the word “Renaissance” mean?

  1. The Italian Renaissance was the time period in which Europeans celebrated the rebirth of what? (be specific; clue, the answer is not “art”)

_ _

  1. In which Italian city did the Renaissance take root and most successfully flourish?


  1. During the Renaissance, the cultural base of Europe shifted from to


  1. Leonardo was born in in 1452 and was apprentice to the master named

, where he learned the art of painting.

11. In a letter, Leonardo advertised his talents in the areas of military and civil engineering to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of .

  1. Explain the problem Leonardo encountered while planning and completing the painting Last Supper.

  1. Name and describe the technique Leonardo used while painting Mona Lisa, in which layers of “smoke-like” glazes are build up to create a misty atmospheric quality. (hint: this is an Italian word)

  1. 13. Why is the Monastery of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan famous?

  1. Who carried the painting of Mona Lisa to France?

  1. List four reasons the painting of Mona Lisa is art-historically important.


15. Who was Francesco del Giocondo’s wife?