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leonardo da vinci

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Born: 1452 (Anchiano, Vinci, Republic of Florence)
Died: 1519 (Clos Lucé, Amboise, Kingdom of France)
Nationality: Italian
Movements: Renaissance
Most Prominent Works:
○ Ginvera de’ Benci (1474-1478),
Adoration of the Magi (1489-1490),
Lady with an Ermine (1489-1490),
Vitruvian Man (1490),
○ The Virgin of the Rocks (1491-1499 or 1506-1508),
The Last Supper (1495-1498),
The Mona Lisa (1503-1506),
○ The Virgin and Child with St. Anne (c. 1503),
○ Portrait of a man in red chalk / Self-portrait (c. 1512),
○ Saint John the Baptist (1513-1516).

brief summary

One of the first artists to take a scientific approach towards viewing and understanding the world, Leonardo’s legacy to the world is unquestionable. Epitomized as the Renaissance Man, the embodiment of humanism, he is seen as one of the most multifaceted individuals who has ever lived and one of the most influential artists of all time.


Leonardo da Vinci is the creator of some of the most iconic works of art of all time. As a true ‘Renaissance Man’, Leonardo’s philosophy was that a man’s personal development and expansion had no limits.  Recognized as a genius, and one of the most notorious names in the arts, he is generally considered as one of the most intriguing personalities in history. He was a prominent figure, intellectual, scientist, inventor, and an innovative artist not only during the Renaissance but also throughout the centuries that followed his lifetime. With a particular approach to the various fields, his research into the nature of things led the way to his countless innovations and inventions. Studying the laws of nature from a very young age, Leonardo’s respect and hunger for knowledge fuelled his whole life, describing his particular and unique approach to the artistic creation. The Last Supper (c. 1495-1498), The Vitruvian Man (1490) and The Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506), are just three of his most notorious and well known works. Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), Leonardo’s biographer claimed: “The most heavenly gifts seem to be showered on certain human beings. Sometimes supernaturally, marvelously, they all congregate in one individual. (…) This was seen and acknowledged by all men in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, who had  an indescribable grace in every effortless act and deed. His talent was so rare that he mastered any subject to which he turned his attention.”

The Renaissance was a time of cultural and social change, when the established rules upheld by the Catholic Church began to be questioned in search of a more profound sense of knowledge, clarity and understanding across various fields. The humanistic philosophy was extended to all the Renaissance arts as well, marked by a classical revival, the notion of pictorial three-dimensionality, and emotional realism. Leonardo emerged after artists, such as the painter Cimabue (1240-1302), the painter Giotto (1267-1337), the architect and sculptor Brunelleschi (1377-1446), the sculptor Donatello (1386-1466) and especially the painter Masaccio (1401-1428), broke with medieval, gothic tradition and paved the way for the full development of the Renaissance ideal. The advancements in the various fields of knowledge culminated in the works of Leonardo, well beyond painting, a field where he showed his mastery of illusionistic painting techniques. The High Renaissance, which can be roughly dated between 1495 and 1520 (with the death of Raphael), was a period of a special artistic proliferation, especially in Florence and Rome. Architecture, sculpture and painting all benefited from the triumphant era: the Tempietto (initiated around 1500) of Donato Bramante (1444-1514) has been said to have marked the beginning of High Renaissance in architecture; sculpture was marked by the equilibrium between motion and motionless, achieving its pinnacle with Michelangelo (1475-1564); and painting saw tremendous progress when it came to illusionistic painting and compositional techniques, such as chiaroscuro, sfumato, anatomical studies and linear perspective, exemplified in the works of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Raphael (1483-1520).

The Tempietto (c. 1500s) by Donato Bramante

Pietà (1498-1499) by Michelangelo

  • Believing in the development of human potential, in various levels, placing humanity at the centre of the world, the Renaissance man started looking to classical antiquity for answers. Renaissance humanism first developed in Italy, but quickly expanded to other parts of Western Europe between the 14th and the 16th century. These men set their beliefs in religious grounds, affirming a need for purification and renewal of Christianity, steering away from the entangçements of their current theological views, and instead rooting their ground on the New Testament’s simplicity. They looked back to the old times, a time of free men and creative progression across all fields, including the way citizens conducted themselves. These mainly followed the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) and Trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric), which compose the seven liberal arts (today known as the humanities), comprising the skills of thought (particularly exploring the realms of eloquence), in addition to the practical arts (such as physiognomy, architecture and painting).

School of Athens (1511) by Raphael

Da Vinci was a curious individual with a unique ability of observing and illustrating what he would see in nature. It is believed that  he had great manners, was a very charming, out-going and calm personality; greatly popular, he was somewhat of a dandy, often dressing in purple and pink colors. He was a workaholic, a perfectionist; fastidious to the point of neuroticism. Extremely sensitive with a very active mind. Curiously, Leonardo wasn’t a productive painter because he was also a chronic procrastinator; in fact, due to his varied interests, he would often fail to finish his paintings and projects. Leonardo also had a profound desire for knowledge, which defined most of his inquiry towards man and nature; he often claimed that “Learning never exhausts the mind”. He would often spend  his time performing scientific experiments, dissecting human and animal corpses, filling his notebooks with inventions, observations and theories, or simply immersed in nature. He is known for being imaginative and curious, trying to understand how things were made, and why they acted the way they did. He was a firm believer in visual observation, and found himself observing nature often, drawing innovative conclusions about the inner workings of things. Leonardo was a vegetarian and had a loving nature towards animals, often times being very vocal about animal rights; every weekend he bought all the pigeons that were kept in cages at the local market and set them all free;  “My body will not be a tomb for other creatures,” da Vinci wrote in his notebooks. He would wake up early in the darkness, whilst everyone else was all still asleep. Able to write with one hand and draw with another at the same time, Leonardo was ambidextrous. He would also often write from right to left, so you’d need a mirror to read it properly. Unsurprisingly, da Vinci had a gift for music. In his own writings he considered music to be closely connected to the visual arts as they depend upon one of the 5 senses. He also played the lyre and the flute, often performing at gatherings of the nobility and at the houses of his patrons. His rivalry with Michelangelo was well known at the time, and they were considered to be polar opposites in personalities (Michelangelo was reclusive and shy, whereas Leonardo was outgoing and social).

Studies of crabs (15th century)

Cats, Lions and a Dragon (c. 1517-1518)

Aerial screw, from the Paris Manuscripts (1488-1505)

Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 in Vinci, Italy, as an illegitimate child. His birth name, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, means “Leonardo, (son) of ser Piero from Vinci.”, however, to his contemporaries he was merely known as Leonardo or “Il Florentine”,  as he was born and lived in the town near Florence. As an illegitimate child, he was free to choose his profession in the arts rather than following in his father’s footsteps and becoming notary, as was expected of male sons. When he was 14 years old, he began his apprenticeship in Andrea del Verrocchio’s (1435-1488) workshop. This steady foundation lasted until he was 20 years old, when he left the workshop to apply for a membership as a master artist in Florence’s Guild of Saint Luke, in order to open his own workshop. With Verrochio, Leonardo learnt various techniques in multiple mediums, including carving, painting, sculpting, and drawing, all of which he had incorporated into his way of thinking and creating.  When working on his own workshop, in 1476, Leonardo (along with three other men) were charged with the crime of sodomy after an incident involving a male prostitute. It was a serious accusation, but the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. In the aftermath Leonardo laid low, re-emerging two years later in Florence, to complete a commission at a chapel.

Portrait of Verrocchio (1682) by Nicolas de Larmessin

In 1482, Leonardo was commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici (1449-1492) to create for the Duke of Monaco as a peace offering; this commission led Leonardo to offer his services as a court painter, which was accepted and became his leading artistic role at the time, working for the court from 1482 up until 1499. It was during this time that he painted The Last Supper (1495-1498). A few years later, between 1505 to 1507, Leonardo painted various private works, creating some of his most iconic and well known works of art, including the Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506). During this time, he travelled back and forth between Florence and Milan. Leonardo left Italy for good when King Francis I of France (1494-1547), a trusted friend of Leonard’s, offered him the title of “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect to the King”, in 1515. He ended up spending his final years in France, having passed away at the age of 67, four years after. A few months earlier he had left the majority of his collection to his pupil and companion Francesco Melzi (1491-1570). Vasari claimed that King Francis held his head in his arms as he died.

Detail of the Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule (Lorenzo de Medici – middle) (1483-1485) by Domenico Ghirlandaio

François I, king of France (1527-1530) by Jean Clouet

Portrait of a Man Wearing a Hat (Francesco Melzi) (c. 1510-1511) by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio



His artistic evolution can be roughly organized in three or four segments or parts, according to the main locations, and developed specific works in each place/area. The records show that he began his career in Florence, where he lived from 1472 to 1482. Since this early stage of his career, da Vinci already executed preparatory studies for his works, studies that range from human anatomy and draperies, to landscape and specific aspects of nature. One of his first early works, developed in the 1480’s was Saint Jerome in the Wilderness (c. 1480); although it was left unfinished the commission possessed a very unique composition. After he moved to Milan, staying there until 1499, Leonardo completed the Last Supper (1495-1498), which was instantly considered a masterpiece, and, despite the fact that it would deteriorate very quickly, it remained an iconic masterpiece. In 1500 he returned to Florence, staging there until 1508, and began applying the sfumato technique, specially applying it to the Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506). He also painted The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (c. 1503) and The Battle of Anghiari (1505), which defined a new type of aesthetics with its dynamic multi-figure composition and complex background. In addition, during this period the artist particularly devoted himself to military architecture and engineering. In 1508 he returned to Milan, where he stayed until 1513, and lastly, spent the last years of his life in Rome (1513–16) and France (1516–1519), pursuing the development of new mediums, such as varnish, and mechanical projects.

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness (c. 1480)

La Bella Principessa (1495–1496).

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (c. 1503).

Although Da Vinci has only 15 paintings attributed to his name, most of his works are iconic masterpieces that have become imprinted in the collective memory. Leonardo never signed his paintings, which creates an even greater confusion as to the authorship of some of his works.  It is generally believed that Leonardo’s painting career was unfortunately cut short due to a stroke that left his right hand paralysed, however this is merely a speculation. He wanted to create a relatable painting style and seeked to design truthful reflections of the world, with perspective and other realistic foundations. Leonardo viewed painting very systematically. He claimed that  “Painting is concerned with all the 10 attributes of sight, which are: Light and Darkness, Solidity and Colour, Form and Position, Distance and Propinquity, Motion and Rest” and believed that a good painter understood these dimensions completely. Though tremendously daring in a culture influenced by emblematic and religious artworks, his emphasis on objectivity became the usual for painters who emerged in the High Renaissance. To avoid the solemnity of most of the formal portraits he painted, Leonardo often engaged musicians and jesters to amuse his subjects. Regarding the themes of his paintings, he mostly pursued religious themes and executed portraits for his wealthy clients, as most of his contemporaries did. However, his particular attendance to religious subjects earned him the nickname of the “Divine” painter, by the 1490s.

Lady with an Ermine (1489-1490)

Salvator Mundi (1490-1500)

Saint John the Baptist (1513-1516)

Leonardo drew often and was known for walking around Florence or Milan with his notebooks sketching. Although only 4000 drawings survive, it is estimated to be a very small fraction of all his total output. Drawings often recorded studies and ideas for paintings, as they were a rapid way for Leonardo to record his constant flow of ideas. Besides these studies for compositions and random ideas, he also recorded in drawing what he saw and observed in the world around him, acting as a tool for recording investigations of nature; he investigated the natural world, the mechanisms of machines, and found in drawing the way to record his countless inventions. His earliest known drawing is a pen-and-ink drawing of a landscape in the Arno valley (1473).

Arno Valley (1473).

Of the act of drawing itself, he is known to have claimed its dependency with perspective (“Drawing is based upon perspective, which is nothing else than a thorough knowledge of the function of the eye”). The drawing process and technique varies from rapid pen sketches to more detailed and intricate finished drawings composed in red and black chalcks. He carried his notebooks around town sketching people’s expressions and emotions, one of his common studies, that served as a solid foundation for the creation of his paintings. Through his countless drawings of facial expressions and proportions, one can clearly see his fascination with  physiognomy, and the desire he had to understand the contrasts of human life (comparing youth and old age, beauty and ugliness). The Head of a Young Woman (c. 1483), a drawing in silverpoint on paper, captures a delicate  youthful beauty, being an example of one of his more detailed and complete drawings.

Studies on the proportions of head and eyes (1489-1490)

The Head of a Young Woman (c. 1483) | Portrait of Giacomo Caprotti (1490s-1500s)

Old man with ivy wreath and lion’s head (1503-1505) | A Grotesque Head (c. 1504-1507)

Leonardo filled countless manuscripts throughout his whole life on different subjects and studies, including mathematical, architectural, optical, mechanical, geological, botanical, and anatomical references. It is of reference both the Codex Leicester and the Codex Atlanticus, two individual collections of his writings. The first, The Codex Leicester (named after the owner, Thomas Coke, who was the Earl of Leicester), is a mixture of Leonardo’s theories on astronomy, water, air, light and other individual notes. The second, the Codex Atlanticus, generally considered his most significant manuscript, contains over 2,238 pages arranged into 12 volumes, created from 1478 until his death in France. In another of his infamous codex’s Codex Arundel he wrote: “Time is made by the movement of the instant, and instants are the boundaries of time”, some of his many metaphysical and philosophical annotations.

Codex Leicester (1506-1510).

Codex Atlanticus Cover (1478–1519).

Profoundly curious about everyday phenomenon, a common theme he always went back to in his different notebooks and studies was water. Fascinated by the flow and movement of water in the streams, especially in the Arno River where he spent much time in observation. Throughout his whole life, he drew the spirals of the movements of water in his notebooks, and aimed to figure out the movements, flows and forces of nature, not only with water but also with the wind. In his Codex Atlanticus, he claimed: “The movement of water within water proceeds like that of air within air”. It was the spiral vortex that drew his attention, found present in many different aspects of nature, which to him, embodied a “stable movement” and a unique idea of harmony.  In various of his paintings, these movements and flows found their way, often being depicted in the landscape, as is the case in the Mona Lisa, where winding rivers can be traced “as though it connects to the blood veins of the person in the portrait, like a connection of the human to the earth”, as summarized by writer Walter Isaacson.

Old Man with Water Studies (c. 1513).

Besides being known as a painter, Leonardo was also an architect. Greatly interested in perspective, probably since his first job as a theatrical producer, where he employed tricks of perspective making the stage recede and look deeper than it actually was. This effect was also applied in The Last Supper painting, where the space of the room seems to be greatly compressed due to the perspective employed. About perspective, Leonardo claimed that “The divisions of Perspective are 3, as used in drawing; of these, the first includes the diminution in size of opaque objects; the second treats of the diminution and loss of outline in such opaque objects; the third, of the diminution and loss of colour at long distances.”, accentuating the importance of distance and atmosphere to sight rather than exclusive mathematical studies, a rather unique approach for the time. His love for mathematics and order also led to studies of geometry, and at one point, Leonardo illustrated the Archimedean solids for Luca Pacioli’s (1445–1517) Divina Proportione (1509), a treatise on geometry and proportions. It is also speculated that Leonardo painted the rhombicuboctahedron (a convex solid consisting of 18 squares and 8 triangles), which is pictured in the painting of the Portrait of Luca Pacioli (1495) at the left, transparently, containing water. Profoundly fascinated with architecture, Leonardo also filled numerous notebooks with sketches and studies of cathedrals and churches, oftentimes making the plan use geometric forms as a foundation. However, the most significant architectural creation, which he never got to see completed, is the double helix staircases created for the Château de Chambord, in France.

Last Supper Perspective Study Diagram.

Portrait of Luca Pacioli (1495).

Divina Proportione Cover Page (1509).

Polihydra, illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci for the ”Divina Proportione” by Luca Pacioli (1509).

Study of a central church, from the Codex Ashburnham (c. 1492)

Da Vinci looked at “the world as a work of art that was to be studied through the curious eyes of a scientist.” Turning to science, Leonardo studied nature and anatomy, in order to have a greater understanding of the human body. Leonardo was fascinated with anatomy (both human and animal) made him one of the first artists to study animal and human anatomy.  Dissecting and exploring the insides of both humans and animals, in order to understand how they worked, allowed him to reproduce and recreate motion at will in his sketches and paintings, making the figures appear more realistic. There are numerous studies of the facial muscles and nerves, which greatly served as a foundation for accurate portrait drawings and paintings. Leonardo also studied human embryology with the help of anatomist Marcantonio della Torre and saw the fetus within a cadaver, which allowed him to create his iconic Studies of the Fetus in the Womb sketches, c. 1511. In addition to his anatomical investigations, he also studied physics, aeronautics, botany, geology, hydraulics and zoology.

Studies of the Fetus in the Womb (c. 1511).

Anatomical studies of the shoulder (1510).

Studies of the Arm showing the Movements made by the Biceps (1510).

Study of Cardiovascular Woman (1509).

Transitioning from artist to inventor, Leonardo conceived many innovative designs for military machines and weapons. He first began conceiving of mechanisms for the theatre, which allowed for the transformation of the stage during performances. With a particular interest in flight, da Vinci studied the flight of birds and designed flying machines, paving the way for today’s hang gliders and helicopters. Some of his most notorious inventions include: the barreled cannon (the automatic weapon), the giant crossbow, the helical aerial screw (the helicopter), the anemometer (a device to measure the speed of the wind), a winged flying machine (the airplane), a self-propelled cart (the car), the parachute and diving equipment. However, his greatest contribution can be said to have been the idea that mechanical creations can and should use the laws of physics and nature. Most of these conceptual drawings for inventions were unfortunately limited by the level of technology at the time and never came to fruition or even testing.

Design for a flying machine (1488).

Balestra Gigante (Giant Crossbow), from the Codex Atlanticus (1478-1518)

One could say that on a first level, one of his main objectives was to explore art as a scientific pursuit, employing reason and a scientific methodology to understand and construct the aesthetic creation, something epitomised in his Vitruvian Man (1490). Leonardo saw art and science as two complementary and enjoyable fields; in his view, art could inspire science, and vice versa. Understanding art rationally, he believed that the objective of art and of painting was two fold: “ to paint – man and the intention of his soul” accentuating that “The former is easy, the latter hard, for it must be expressed by gestures and the movement of the limbs.” His objective was always to capture life itself, caught in motion, with spirit, like in nature. This became somewhat of an obsession, dedicating all of his works that depict people to the study of human emotion, through his anatomical studies and the use of illusionist pictorial techniques to show the ambiguities of such, and to later add further emotional depth to his paintings. A fine example of this great splendour of human emotion, is shown in the ambiguous tenderness of The Virgin of the Rocks (1491-1499 or 1506-1508).

La Belle Ferronnière (1490s) | Head of Saint Anne (c. 1510-1515)

Ginevra de’ Benci (1474-1478) | Study of Two Warriors’ Heads for the Battle of Anghiari (1504-1505)

The Virgin of the Rocks (1491-1499 or 1506-1508)

Known for claiming that “Art is never finished, only abandoned”, Leonardo’s perfectionist nature led to a very unique artistic style. The Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506), his prime example of what art really means and is, was Da Vinci’s permanent work in progress, as he spent the rest of life trying to perfect it. One common theme or aspect is that in most of his artworks, Leonardo aimed to reflect his studies of form and light, aiming to reflect the nature of perception and the way in which the eye perceived and apprehended reality. In most of his notebooks, he gave careful attention to the studies of light, as can be clearly seen in his Study of the Graduations of Shadows on Spheres (c. 1492). Another example is found in his various Drapery Studies, where, using charcoal and black and white chalk, he describes a complex form, light and movement. This is also clear in the drawing The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist (or The Burlington House Cartoon), executed either in 1499–1500 (at  the end of the Milanese period) or in 1506 (when he was travelling between Milan and Florence); the preparatory drawing already clearly shows the search for form in motion and the concern with capturing rhythm within the composition. Another main aspect that greatly characterized all his works of art, were the love for movement, drama and life; this aspect greatly separates him from other artists of his time, that portrayed static creations rather than dynamic ones.  In The Last Supper (1495-1498), he chose to depict a dramatic narrative, a single moment captured in time, where even the salt being spilt on the table is present; or in the  Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506) he captures all the mystery of this unknown woman in motion, in a glimpse of a smile.

Study of the Graduations of Shadows on Spheres (1492).

Drapery Study for a Seated Figure (c. 1470).

The Virgin and Child (1499-1500).

Leonardo often did preliminary studies of sections or whole parts of complex compositions. An example is found in  the preparatory drawing for  The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist (c. 1499-1500), or in Head of Christ (c.1494), a  chalk and pastel study for The Last Supper (1495-1498). These drawings clarify his meticulous process, and careful analysis of all different stages, detail, fractions of the paintings or whole compositions. Once his paintings were begun, he followed a very systematic, gradual and slow process, created in layers. The unfinished painting Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478-1482), clearly shows the first underpainting stage, revealing Da Vinci’s painting process. This particular case, he used specific tonalities in order to convey a certain level of luminosity and colour depth, which could not be achieved by other techniques, something that is also used in the foundation of the Lady with the Ermine (1489-1490). In the Adoration of the Magi, the artist shows the initial drawing (the Virgin) and various parts and stages of the underpainting, a testament of his accuracy and rigour. Looking at da Vinci’s body of work, one can see a constant use of triangle-like shape and pyramidal compositions, the one-point perspective and the use of mixed technique – experimental pigments directly applied on the dry plaster (tempera-on-stone, for example), many failed experiments, however, as seen in The Last Supper (1495-1498). He also resorted to a thorough and attentive process of observation and selection, executing many drawings and studies for his compositions. His paintings were also based on preparatory drawing, probably delineated in charcoal, to which underpainting would follow as a ground base for the application of chiaroscuro and sfumato techniques. All of these features of Leonardo’s creative process, exemplify his characteristic experimental artistic progress.

Head of Christ (c. 1494) – chalk and pastel study for his The Last Supper.

Preparatory drawing for The Virgin and Child with St Anne and John the Baptist (1505-1508).

Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478-1482).

In his drawings and sketches, Leonardo preferred (and even pioneered) the use of red chalk, purposely stepping away from the conventions followed by the rest of his contemporaries. Not only does the chalk mimic the colour of flesh, making prints more life-like; it was also harder than charcoal, meaning it could be sharpened to a finer point, thus permitting more detail in sketches and drawings.  Da Vinci also pioneered the sfumato technique. Consisting in applying layers of thin glazes to attain a light and foggy effect, with the chiaroscuro-based technique Leonardo would create smooth, almost imperceptible, transitions between his colours, modeling features through light and shadow, without crisp separating edges. In drawing the same sfumato technique was sometimes applied, especially notorious in his drawing Head of a Virgin in Three Quarter View (1508-1512). Leonardo also included aerial perspective (creation of atmospheric tonalities that create an illusion of extra depth in his landscapes – whereas closer details become more intricate, crip, and with lively colours) in his paintings, visible in examples like Madonna of the Carnation (c. 1472-1478) and Madonna of the Yarnwinder (c. 1501-1508). His particular use of the underpainting technique (application of a first layer of paint, which helps achieve the right tonality and colours, marks the composition and results in later and better volume and contrast), results in the unique luminosity of his works, a technique that can be thoroughly examined in the unfinished  Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478-1482).

Portrait of a man in red chalk – Possible Self-portrait (1512).

Head of a Virgin in Three Quarter View (1508-1512).


Throughout his career, Da Vinci was influenced by various artists, themes and ideas. Throughout his childhood Leonardo was influenced by his uncle, who had a love for nature and also educated him in his formative years. Under the tuition of Verrocchio (1435-1488), he especially learnt the essential rules of perspective. Also growing up in Florence, he was introduced to Humanist philosophers like John Argyropoulos (1415-1487) and Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) at the Medici home. At the time, prominent artists such as Piero della Francesca (1415-1492) and his systematic study of light heavily influenced Leonardo’s artworks and studies. In his works da Vinci expanded on expressive figures and building three-dimensional figures and objects with the use of light and shade – first and heavily depicted in Masaccio’s (1401-1428) Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1426-1427) – and also expanded on the notions of one point perspective – initiated in Masaccio’s Holy Trinity (1427). Leonardo’s Saint John the Baptist (1513-1516) shows a strong Humanist influence, most likely from Donatello’s sculpture David (1430-1440). It is also believed that his fascination with motion might have been inspired by the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus (c. 535 BC – c. 475 BC) who claimed that “movement creates all the harmony of the world.”

Madonna with child and saints (1475-1483) by Andrea Verrocchio | The Annunciation (c. 1475-1478) by Leonardo da Vinci

Portrait of a boy (c. 1483) by Piero della Francesca | Madonna Benois (c. 1478) by Leonardo da Vinci

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1426-1427) and The Holy Trinity (1427) by Masaccio

Detail of David (1430-1440) by Donatello (CC BY-SA 3.0, by Rufus46) | Saint John the Baptist (1513-1516)

Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy and impact in the world is immeasurable, ranging across many different fields and subjects, but especially in the arts, even in his days. The painting The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (c. 1503), due to the use of complex angles and innovative composition, was copied various times and greatly influenced Michelangelo (1475-1564), Raphael (1483-1520), Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), and the Venetian painters, such as Tintoretto (1518-1594) and Veronese (1528-1588). His compositions later influenced artists well beyond Italy, including Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and his rendition of the Battle of Anghiari from 1603.

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (c. 1503) by Leonardo da Vinci | The Holy Family with a Lamb (1507) by Raphael | Madonna and Child with Young St John (c. 1518) by Andrea del Sarto

‘The Battle of the Standard’ during the ‘Battle of Anghiari’ (After Leonardo da Vinci), Peter Paul Rubens, 1550-1603

Leonardo was the first painter to determine the “ideal” form by studying the physical proportions of the human physique. This in turn paved the way for his realistic paintings and remarkably accurate figures. Despite being a highly respected artist, Leonardo’s scientific ideas and inventions gained little attention among his contemporaries. Mainly because most of his discoveries were kept secret, having little to no influence on scientific advancement. He made no effort to get his notes published and it was only when his notebooks – often referred to as his manuscripts and “codices” emerged,  centuries after his death when thousands of pages from these journals containing notes, drawings, observations and scientific theories surfaced and provided a clearer understanding of the true “Renaissance man.”. Although he is often thought of as the artist who epitomized Renaissance art, the fact of the matter is his ideas actually had little influence in the Renaissance period. However, over time, his scientific studies, inventions and artistic contributions gained growing respect and recognition.  As the first artist to study anatomy by dissection, he had a profound impact on all anatomical studies in the arts industry that followed.  Despite all of his achievements as a scientist, it is for his artistic creations that Leonardo is mostly remembered, loved and revered. The Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506) alone draws millions of people every year to the Louvre.

  • “He towered above all other artists through the strength and the nobility of his talents”. A. E. Rio
  • “The most heavenly gifts seem to be showered on certain human beings. Sometimes supernaturally, marvelously, they all congregate in one individual. (…) This was seen and acknowledged by all men in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, who had  an indescribable grace in every effortless act and deed. His talent was so rare that he mastered any subject to which he turned his attention.” Giorgio Vasari


“Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.”

“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”

“There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.”

Leonardo da Vinci: Renaissance Man. By A. Vezzosi (1997)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Carmen Bambach

Leonardo da Vinci: Origins of a Genius. By David Alan Brown (1998)

Leonardo Da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Drawings. By F. & Nathan Zollner (2007)

The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel That Defined the Renaissance. By J. Jones (2010)

Leonardo da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man. By M. Kemp (2007)

Leonardo Da Vinci: The Complete Paintings. By P. C. Marani (2003)

Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan. L.Syson (2011)

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significant works

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Mona Lisa
Date: c. 1503-1506
Medium: Oil on poplar panel
Size: 77 x 53 cm
Location: Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Adoration of the Magi
Date: c. 1482
Medium: Drawing in charcoal, watercolour ink and oil on wood
Size: 244 x 240 cm
Location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Lady with an Ermine
Date: c. 1489–1490
Medium: Oil on walnut panel
Size: 54 x 39 cm
Location: Czartoryski Museum, Kraków, Poland

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: The Last Supper
Date: 1498
Medium: Tempera, Gesso, Mastic
Size: 460 x 880 cm
Location: Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Vitruvian Man
Date: 1490
Medium: Ink on paper
Size: 34.6 x 25.5 cm
Location: Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: La Bella Principessa
Date: 1495-1496
Medium: Trois crayons (black, red and white chalk), heightened with pen and ink on vellum, laid on oak panel
Size: 33 x 23.9 cm
Location: Private collection

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Saint John the Baptist
Date: 1513-1516
Medium: Oil on walnut wood
Size: 49.5 x 33 cm
Location: Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Head of a Young Woman
Date: c. 1483
Medium: Silverpoint
Size: 18.1 x 15.9 cm
Location: Royal Library of Turin, Italy

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Old Man with Water Studies
Date: c. 1513
Medium: Ink on paper
Size: unknown
Location: Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Arno Valley
Date: 1473
Medium: Ink on paper
Size: 19 x 28.5 cm
Location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Design for a flying machine
Date: 1488
Medium: Ink on paper
Size: 27.7 x 18.9 cm
Location: Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Study of Cardiovascular Woman
Date: 1509
Medium: Ink on paper
Size: 27.4 x 18.3 cm
Location: Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Studies of the Arm showing the Movements made by the Biceps
Date: 1510
Medium: Black chalk, pen and ink on paper
Size: 28.7 x 20 cm
Location: Royal Library, Windsor Castle, England

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Anatomical studies of the shoulder
Date: 1510
Medium: Black chalk, pen and ink on paper
Size: 28.9 x 19.9 cm
Location: Royal Library, Windsor Castle, England

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist
Date: c. 1499-1500
Medium: Charcoal, black and white chalk on tinted paper mounted on canvas
Size: 141.5 x 104.6 cm
Location: National Gallery, London, England

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Drapery Study for a Seated Figure
Date: c. 1470
Medium: Brush and grey tempera on “tela di lino” prepared in grey
Size: 26.6 x 23.3 cm
Location: Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Study of the Graduations of Shadows on Spheres
Date: 1492
Size: 28.2 x 19.4 cm
Location: Royal Library, Windsor Castle, England

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Codex Leicester
Date: 1510
Medium: Leather-bound notebook
Size: 36 sheets, 29 x 22 cm
Location: Undefined location

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Codex Atlanticus
Date: 1478
Medium: Leather-bound notebook
Size: 1,119 paper leaves, 12 volumes
Location: Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Italy

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Portrait of a man
Date: 1512
Medium: Red chalk on paper
Size: 33.3 x 21.6 cm
Location: Royal Library of Turin, Italy

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Benois Madonna
Date: 1478
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 49.5 x 33 cm
Location: Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Portrait of Luca Pacioli
Date: c. 1495-1500
Medium: Tempera on panel
Size: 99 x 120 cm
Location: Capodimonte Museum, Naples, Italy

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Head of a Virgin in Three Quarter View
Date: 1508-1512
Medium: Black chalk, charcoal, red chalk, with some traces of white chalk
Size: 20.3 x 15.6 cm
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Preparatory drawing for The Virgin and Child with St Anne and John the Baptist
Date: 1503-1510
Medium: Charcoal, pen and watercolour on paper
Size: 26 x 19.7 cm
Location: British Museum, London, England

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Title: Head of Christ
Date: c. 1494
Medium: Chalk and pastel
Size: 40 x 32 cm
Location: Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy