Perhaps no person has ever represented a period of history as well as Leonardo da Vinci. Called “the man of the Renaissance” (a time characterized by the appreciation of man and nature), he, throughout his 67 years of life, was involved up to his neck in the scientific and artistic experiments that marked the end of the Middle Ages in Europe.
Da Vinci was brilliant in practically every activity he got into: he was a painter, engineer, inventor, musician (composer and played the lyre), architect, sculptor, astronomer and writer. And he did it all in an innovative, revolutionary way – really brilliant.
For this reason, and for many other things that you will read in this article, it has always been a reason for controversy. During his lifetime, in his hundreds of biographies, what is written about him still adds to the aura of mystery that surrounds his life and work.
“It has been said that he is the real author of the Shroud of Milan, that he was a self-portrait in the Mona Lisa, that he was manic-depressive and that he practiced alchemy experiments,” says Sarah B. Benson of the Art Department at the University of Cambridge. Princeton in New York.
Hence to say that he was the leader of a secret society and that he hid in his works ciphered messages that prove that Jesus escaped the crucifixion and fled with Mary Magdalene to France, there is a big difference.
But, after all, what is there in the life and work of Da Vinci that raises so much controversy? What is really known about him? Why do so many people believe he was a mysterious keeper of indecipherable secrets?
The illegitimate son of Caterina, a 16-year-old peasant woman, and Ser Piero di Antonio, a notary 30 years his senior, Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in a village near Vinci, about 50 kilometers from Florence, in Italy. He had 17 half-siblings: 12 on his father’s side and five on his mother’s side.
At the time, Italy was not even a country, but a cluster of city-kingdoms, such as Milan, Verona, Naples, Genoa, Venice, as well as Florence itself, which rivaled each other and organized themselves around the religious and political power of Rome. and the pope.
However, the political instability in the region did not affect the childhood of little Leo, who grew up under the care of his father and stepmother, who provided him with basic education: he learned to read, write and tie his shoes. And apart from his precocious talent for the arts, nothing in his youth predicted such a special fate.
It was in his teens that Leonardo’s genius began to emerge. According to his first biographer, the Italian Giorgio Vasari, who wrote Vite dei Più Eccellenti Architetti, Pinttori et Escultori Italiani (“Life of the best Italian architects, painters and sculptors”) just 30 years after Da Vinci’s death, it is said that he taught himself Latin, mathematics, human anatomy and physics. He spent hours trying to improve a drawing.
While living with his father in Vinci, Leonardo was tasked with illustrating a local farmer’s shield. He chose to do something inspired by the mythological Medusa, the one that had snakes for hair. To perform the work in the most realistic way, he gathered snakes, lizards and other small animals to serve as a model.
One day his father entered the studio and found his son working among decaying animals. He was so absorbed that he didn’t even smell the stench of dead animals. When he was in his 20s there, he was accepted as an apprentice at the artist Andrea Verrochio’s studio in Florence.
There he got his first works and, over time, he gained notoriety – for being a good painter and for never delivering his works on time. His unfinished paintings became famous. Some have survived, such as the portrait of St. Jerome, on display at the Vatican Museum.
He worked for the Church, made friends with the powerful, and made some fortune. He was sponsored by Lorenzo de Medici, the almighty of Florence, and in 1502 he was appointed architect and general engineer for the Marche and Romagna regions by César Borgia, the army captain-general (and son) of Pope Alexander VI. Another fan of his works was Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.
Leonardo never married and in his youth, in 1476, he became a defendant in the sodomy trial of Jacopo Saltarelli, a fellow apprentice like him, but the charge was dropped. Today, the gay movement seeks to claim his name as one of the brightest gay historical figures, but historians are still debating whether he was even gay.
He traveled across Europe and cultivated enemies as powerful and brilliant as he was. Michelangelo, one of his biggest rivals, used to refer to Leonardo as “that lyre player from Milan”.
He emigrated to France, where he was a friend of the king. Of kings, in fact. He became a favorite at the court of Louis XII and, later, a personal friend and confidant of his successor, Francis I. He was given a little house (the castle of Cloux), where he spent his last days.