The objective of this essay is to provide an explanation of Leonardo da Vinci’s life and work as an artist in context with his time spent in Milan. Following an initial introduction to Leonardo’s formative years in Florence (and his apprenticeship to the sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio, 1435-88), I will attempt to explain the significance of his presence in Milan with detailed descriptions of his work there. Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) was also an artist and architect, but is perhaps better known for his book on the lives of well known painters, sculptors and architects (published 1550; from Cimbue to his autobiography which was included in a revised edition):
“Vasari’s book offers his personal evaluation of the works of these artists, as well as discussions on the state of the arts. His easy, natural writing style helped to make his book one of the most enduring of art histories.”
His reflections on Leonardo’s life include insight specifically relating to his unusual character and the intellectual merit of his life’s work. Using this evidence I hope to provide valid observations on Leonardo’s significance as a father of the High Renaissance.
Leonardo (who was christened Lionardo, the name to which Vasari refers) was born near the small town of Vinci on 15th April 1452. The town was situated in the Florentine province of Italy, where his father, Ser Piero was a notary. According to Vasari, Leonardo was somewhat of a child prodigy in his studies, but he showed little commitment to one single area, constantly finding new interests in other subjects:
“Thus in arithmetic, during the few months that he studied it, he made such progress that he frequently confounded his master by continually raising doubts and difficulties. He devoted some time to music … Yet though he studied so many different things, he never neglected design and working in relief, those being the things which appealed to his fancy more than any other.”
Being very conscious of his son’s talents, Ser Piero moved to Florence with Leonardo and his wife (not Leonardo’s mother, as he was illegitimate and never took his father’s name) to utilise them professionally. Being a friend of the artist and sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-88), Ser Piero convinced him to recruit Leonardo as an apprentice by the promise shown in his work. Verrocchio strongly encouraged da Vinci, and his admiration of his student’s talents convinced Verrocchio to allow Leonardo to participate in the creation of his own paintings and sculptures.