Leonardo da Vinci Additional Biography


Leonardo da Vinci (lay-oh-NAHR-doh dah VEEN-chee), the illegitimate but not unacknowledged son of Piero da Vinci, was born in 1452. Little is known of his childhood before his father took him to Florence to be the pupil of Andrea del Verrochio in 1469. Sigmund Freud seized upon one of the few autobiographical references in Leonardo’s notebooks—a dream he experienced as a child of a kite sticking its tail in his mouth—to hypothesize a possible childhood and furnish the foundation for a repressed homosexuality he was convinced had played an important role in Leonardo’s creative process and achievement. The absence in general of any relevant information about Leonardo’s personal life and his reticence to speak of it in his notebooks have left him open to speculation and to such myth makers as Giorgio Vasari, who have endeavored to make Leonardo as superhuman and mysterious as his art. Perhaps it was this self-imposed isolation that enabled him to perceive, as he seemed to do, the universal order that was manifest in every living thing.

In 1472, Leonardo was admitted to the painters’ guild in Florence and about that time painted The Annunciation and the angel on Verrochio’s Baptism of Christ. This period of apprenticeship was also a time in which he learned about architecture, sculpture, and metal working. In 1482, approximately, Leonardo offered his services to Ludovico Sforza (“Il Moro”) and went to Milan, not as an artist but as a military engineer. His notebooks reveal some of the weapons he designed as well as some of the fantastic military projects and gadgets his inquiring mind devised. His ability as a military engineer did not make either Sforza or Milan impregnable, however, for Milan fell to the soldiers of Louis XII in 1499. During his long period in Milan, Leonardo distinguished himself as a man with wide-ranging abilities, including as portrait painter, pageant producer, architect, sculptor, and engineer. His mind seemed obsessed with a Faustian craving for knowledge of all sorts....

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Bramly, Serge. Leonardo: The Artist and the Man. Translated by Sian Reynolds. New York: Penguin Books, 1994. An acclaimed biography that attempts to present a psychological portrait of the artist.

Brown, David Alan. Leonardo da Vinci: Origins of a Genius. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. A very detailed study of da Vinci’s early life, illustrating the personal and environmental influences that led to his later genius.

Farago, Claire, ed. Biography and Early Art Criticism of Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Garland, 1999.

Farago, Claire, ed. Leonardo’s Projects, c. 1500-1519. New York: Garland, 1999.

Farago, Claire, ed. Leonardo’s Science and Technology: Essential Readings for the Non-scientist. New York: Garland, 1999.

Farago, Claire, ed. Leonardo’s Writings and Theory of Art. New York: Garland, 1999.

Farago, Claire, ed. An Overview of Leonardo’s Career and Projects Until c.1500. New York: Garland, 1999. A multivolume collection of essays covering all aspects of da Vinci’s life, organized by genre.

Kemp, Martin. Leonardo. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. A solid biography written by a da Vinci scholar.

Leonardo da Vinci. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989.

Nuland, Sherwin B. Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Viking Press, 2000. Focuses on da Vinci’s work as an anatomist.

Turner, Richard. Inventing Leonardo. New York: Knopf, 1993. An eloquent and wide-ranging study that aims to create an outline history of Western thought by reviewing the life and legacies of da Vinci.

White, Michael. Leonardo: The First Scientist. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Focuses on da Vinci’s life and his work as a scientist rather than as a painter.

Whiting, Roger. Leonardo, a Portrait of the Renaissance Man. Secaucus, N.J.: Wellfleet Press, 1992. A well-illustrated biography.