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Leonardo da Vinci


On April 15, 1452 , in the small town Tuscan of Vinci near Florence, one of the most widely known painters of all time, Leonardo da Vinci, was born.  He was born illegitimate to a peasant woman known only as Caterina and a fairly well-to-do notary, Piero da Vinci.  He was raised in his fathers house at Vinci.  He began to study under the Florentine artist Andrea del Verrochio, with whom he continued his studies for a good ten years.  It is evident that he possessed a special gift from the start of his art career.  It is said that his talent was so impressive that Verrochio gave up painting forever.

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In nearly three decades, from shortly before 1500 until around 1525, we see a brief but glorious time in the history of art known as the "High Renaissance." Though many artists worked in this era, unquestionably da Vinci was among the greatest. He has been called the "Renaissance man".  He is well known for many genres of art including: painting, sculpting, architectural design, engineering, and his fascinating representations of the human body.  Additionally, he was handsome, persuasive in conversation, and a fine musician.

His first large painting was, The Adoration of Magi.  Other works ascribed to his youth are Benois Madonna, Ginevra de Benci, and Saint Jerome.  The two pictured on this page, and probably the most widely recognized, are The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa.

Leonardo da Vinci: The Last Supper

During the years 1495 to 1497, da Vinci created The Last Supper while in Milan.  It is a mural painted on a wall of the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, depicting the final gathering of Jesus Christ and his disciples.  He created it using oils on dry plaster, a technique which has proven to be unsound.

The next painting, created during 1503-1506, is one of the most celebrated portraits ever painted, the Mona Lisa; also known as La Gioconda presumably after the name of the woman's husband.  This painting has been the object of special fascination ever since it was created.  It could be due, in part, to the choice of techniques and the captivation of the mysterious smile that adorns the woman's face.

The techniques used in the Mona Lisa are known as sfumato and chiaroscuro.  Sfumato (deriving from the Latin word for "smoke") , describes the smoky atmospheric effects from the transitions between colors.  It is evident in the delicate gauzy robe and in her enigmatic smile.  The other technique, chiaroscuro, refers to the modeling and defining of forms through the contrast of light and shadow.  The sensitive hands on the sitter, portrayed with luminous modulation of light and shade, are a prime example of the above technique.  Also, his landscape background was among the first to introduce atmospheric prospective.

Leonardo da Vinci: Mona Lisa

Leonardo da Vinci died on May 2, 1519, while residing in the city of Amboise, where he was the court painter for King Francis I.  The king had provided da Vinci with comfortable lodgings.  da Vinci lived his life unmarried and with very few close attachments.  His obsession with creating art consumed him entirely.  In his Treatise on Painting, made up of the writings on his notebook pages and published after his death, he advised his followers to follow his method:  "You should be yourself when you take a walk for recreation, in watching and taking notes of the attitudes and actions of men as they talk and dispute, or laugh or come to blows with one another.....noting these down with rapid strokes, in a little pocket book which you should always carry with you....for there is such an infinite number of forms and actions that memory is incapable of preserving them."


Earls, Jane. Renaissance Art: A Topical Dictionary (Greenwood Press, Inc. Connecticut. 1987). Pages 60, 113, 142, 161, 163-64, 198, 224, 263-64.

Gilbert, Rita.  Living With Art   (McGraw Hill, Inc. St. Louis 1995) Pages 398-401.

Pioch, Nicolas. "Leonardo de Vinci." WebMuseum, Paris . 20 May 1996. <http://www.southern.com/wm/paint/auth/vinci> (2 February 1999).

Turner, Jane, eds. The Dictionary of Art , (Grove Dictionaries Inc.  New York; 1996). Pages 180-198.

Edited by: Sarah Michal
Researched by: Maria Rousopoulos
Written by: Allison Jurkowski

Text copyright 1996-2020 by ThenAgain. All rights reserved.

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