Leonardo da Vinci, How a great genius is born

On 2 May 1519 one of the greatest geniuses that the whole of humanity had ever had died: Leonardo da Vinci. The year 2019 therefore marks the 500th anniversary of his death. An opportunity to rediscover the life of a man who has revolutionized many fields of knowledge with his incredible discoveries and his visionary studies.Who was Leonardo da Vinci? Painter, engineer, draftsman, scientist, designer, inventor, poet, set designer; and still a scholar and passionate about anatomy, astronomy, art, architecture, sculpture. In two words: polyhedral genius. Leonardo da Vinci, since he was young, he asked many questions, always looking for ways to find tangible answers. His research and his discoveries still fascinate us. Beyond the masterpieces created – from the Mona Lisa to the Last Supper, from the drawing of the Vitruvian Man to his notes on anatomical studies – we ask ourselves: how did he become an artist, scientist and inventor? How did he make works ranging from paintings to engineering work projects?Training in Verrocchio’s workshop. Leonardo was born in 1452 in Vinci, a small village near Florence. His father Piero is a cultured man and understands the predisposition for the design of the young Da Vinci, and so he decides to take him to Florence, a city in full cultural ferment, at the workshop of his friend painter Andrea del Verrocchio. The young Leonardo entered this shop at the age of sixteen: it was 1468. To understand the versatility of Da Vinci we must stop and analyze Verrocchio’s workshop. Here in fact we go beyond the classical teachings on drawing and painting. In these “schools” for artists, the Artes Mechanicae were also taught, that is all those disciplines necessary to know how to build a church, a bridge or a complex theatrical scenography. The artist also had to be an expert in engineering, in mathematics, history, geometry, perspective, nature. This is because the Art went hand in hand with the latest studies in the technical-scientific arts.Towards the concept of “modern artist”. Leonardo’s apprenticeship at Verrocchio is therefore a path of multidisciplinary training. It is no coincidence that in this shop famous artists were formed all over the world such as, in addition to Leonardo, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Luca Signorelli. We can then say that Leonardo was born with a variety of talents and ingenuity, but that it was Verrocchio’s workshop that gave him the first tools necessary to start him on a successful path in the various fields. We arrive now to 1472 when the twenty-year-old Da Vinci is enrolled in the register of painters of the Compagnia di San Luca: from this moment Leonardo can receive commission of works and work independently. His artistic talent can already be admired in his earliest works and his fame soon begins to grow. But Leonardo is not satisfied. His thirst for knowledge wants more: he is the Renaissance artist par excellence. His interests lead him to investigate the mechanisms that regulate nature and science and this is possible thanks to his incredible spirit of observation and his skill as a draftsman. There is only one thing missing and that torments the young Leonardo: he was a man “without letters”. His great shortcoming was precisely not to know the Latin that would have allowed him to open up new horizons in the scientific field.From Florence to Milan. At thirty, the time has come to leave Florence for new experiences. The opportunity is given to him by Lorenzo the Magnificent who offers him to go to Milan to the Sforza court. Leonardo presents himself to Ludovico il Moro as a mature and aware man, able to realize not only commissions for works of art but also bridges, defensive and attack weapons, water works and much more. He was now able to do extraordinary things for the time. At the court of Milan he found a refined humanistic climate, an extremely stimulating environment. In these years he worked assiduously as a painter, set designer, hydraulic engineer, continuing and always expanding his progress in the various disciplines, from mathematics to anatomy. He creates among his most beautiful works: The Lady with the Ermine, the Portrait of Music and one of his greatest masterpieces in the history of art: the Cenacle in the Refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie. His anatomy studies are visionary and still incredible today: the famous drawing Vitruvian Man is from these years. In addition to his wonderful masterpieces of art and his ingenious inventions, Leonardo had intuitions that amaze us. A man still to be “studied” today.