Leonardo da Vinci was a true renaissance man. He was involved with medicine, anatomy, art, science, mechanics and war machines. The movie “The Da Vinci Code” is centered around him and even one ninja turtle is named after him. He seems to be a household name but there are so many small details about him that are in equal parts surprising and less known.
His full name was Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, He was born on April 15th 1452 in a village called Vinci near Florence and this “da Vinci” literally means “from Vinci”. So the name by which he was known is simply “Leonardo from Vinci” because in his time family names were not is use.
Leonardo’s parents were notary Piero da Vinci, and a young peasant girl Caterina. However, his parents were not married so he was born out of wedlock.
When Leonardo was 12 years old he was sent to apprenticeship with Verrochio, a renowned sculptor, goldsmith and painter of the time.
Leonardo didn’t have a close relationship with his father, but was much closer to his uncle. In the end, Leonardo was disinherited by his father, but his uncle made him his sole heir.
When Leonardo was 22 years old, court records show that he was anonymously accused of sodomy and homosexual interaction, both of which were a crime at the time. Due to the lack of witnesses and evidence, he was acquitted.
The very first painting recognized as having Leonardo’s work in it is “The Baptism of Christ ” finished around 1475 by Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo’s mentor. This is the painting.
Almost all of it was done by Verrochio, Leonardo’s teacher. However, the blonde angel on the left and part of the landscape behind him have been confirmed under X-rays to have been painted by a different hand and different set of pigments – the ones of Leonardo. He was about 23 at the time.
Interestingly, Leonardo’s angel doesn’t appear under X-rays. His mentor Verrochio used pigments containing lead for his paints which makes all figures he painted visible under X-rays. However, Leonardo used different pigments, containing no lead. No one knows why he would use different paints than his mentor. In each case, the end result is that parts of the painting done by Leonardo simply do not show up on the X-ray.
There is a “gap” in Leonardo’s life from 1476 to 1478. No one knows why would a 24 year old artist simply disappear for two years and never mention that in any of his numerous diaries.
Giuliano de Medici commissioned Leonardo to make a mechanical lion as a present to Francois I, the newly crowned king of France. This full sized mechanical lion walked across the hall, stopped in front of the king and opened its chest to reveal a bouquet of lilies. These flowers were chosen because they were a symbol of France and french monarchy.
After this, Leonardo entered the service of the French king and became his close friend. Leonardo was given the use of manor house Clos Lucé where he died three years later. According to Vasari, Leonardo biographer, King Francis I held Leonardo’s head as he passed away.