da Vinci

1452 - 1519

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     Leonardo da Vinci - biography
     Leonardo da Vinci
     1452-1481 Leonardo in the Florence of the Medici    
     1482-1499 At the court of Ludovico il Moro    
     1500-1508 The return to Florence    
     1508-1513 The Milan of Charles d'Amboise    
     1513-1519 The last years: Rome and France    

Leonardo da Vinci
c. 1512




Leonardo in the Florence of the Medici




Apprenticeship with Verrochio


Initially active as a goldsmith, Leonardo's master, Andrea del Verrocchio, was head of one of the most important Florentine workshops. Together with other young artists such as Botticelli, Perugino, Lorenzo di Credi, Francesco di Simone, Botticini, and Biagio d'Antonio, Leonardo, the illegitimate son of a notary from Vinci, received a comprehensive artistic education from Verrocchio. The extraordinary "polytechnical laboratory" that the young Leonardo attended from 1469 to 1476 taught not only the rudiments of painting, architecture, and sculpture, but also provided groundings in optics, botany, and music. Various early works by Leonardo, such as the famous sketch of the Arno Landscape, the Adoration of the Magi, the St Jerome, and a number of drawings, date from these years. He also responded to the intellectual and technical challenges of Verrocchio's dynamic style of sculpture. In the workshop Leonardo may have been involved with the plans for the Monument of Bartolomeo Colleoni, and in 1469 he may have accompanied Verrocchio to Venice, where the latter appeared as Florence's cultural ambassador.

Leonardo da Vinci,
The Young Christ, c.1470-80,
formerly Collection Gallaudt, Paris.
Acknowledging a debt to Desiderio da Settignano, Verrocchio, and the Rossellino brothers, this fresh and natural terracotta is subtly dynamic in its contrasted orientation of body and head. Vasari testifies to the popularity of terracotta heads of women and putti during the period of Verrocchio; and Leonardo's entire production owes a great deal to such sculptural models, which helped him to develop his concepts of space.


Andrea Verrocchio,
Putto with Dolphin, c.1470,
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
This naturalistic work was cast for the garden of the Villa Medici at Careggi. The symphony of movement created by the figures harmonizes perfectly with the jet of the fountain to produce a glowing visual effect.



Andrea Verrocchio, Study of a Female Head with Elaborate Coiffure, 1475,
British Museum, London.
The taste for elaborate, interlaced forms, as seen in this woman's flowing hairstyle, is very characteristic of Verrocchio's style.
Leonardo, in turn, was to inherit this trait, as evident in the intertwining plants in his studies for the figure of Leda, and in his observations of the eddying movement of water: but whereas Verrocchio was still constrained by a more archaic and descriptive manner, dwelling graphically upon detail, Leonardo ventured further to achieve a synthesis of form.


 Andrea Verrocchio, Head of St Jerome, Galleria Palatina, Florence. The strongly marked plasticity of Verrocchio's paintings is reminiscent of the style of Andrea del Castagno, and he shares with Pollaiuolo a tautness and vigor of line and an acute sensitivity to the play of light. Together with Pollaiuolo, he was the key influence in the artistic activity of Florence during the second half of the 15th century. The story goes that when he saw the earliest samples of Leonardo's work, judging himself outclassed by his pupil, Verrocchio broke his brush, to devote himself henceforth only to sculpture.





The Baptism


Andrea del Verrocchio / Leonardo da Vinci
The Baptism of Christ
Florenz, Galleria degli Uffizi


Commissioned by the convent of San Salvi, the painting in the Uffizi (1475-78) was a work on which Verrocchio and his pupils collaborated. In addition to that of the young Leonardo, critics have identified a contribution from Botticelli.

Andrea del Verrocchio / Leonardo da Vinci
The Baptism of Christ
Florenz, Galleria degli Uffizi



The naturalistic touch brought to the background suggests the involvement of Leonardo, reflecting his early interest in landscape painting. Recently concluded restoration has reinstated the very delicate transitions of tone and light in the soft, mellow expanse of water, and in the jagged mountains veiled in cloud. The principles of tonal painting are ideal for depicting the misty background as a broad river courses through the hot oriental desert wastes.


Described poetically as a "visitor arrived from another planet", the angel on the far left, kneeling and turned sideways, may have been painted by Leonardo. The figure, with its flexibility of movement, its extraordinary softness and refinement, and its fastidious attention to physical and psychological detail, is sharply distinguished from the other characters in the scene. A fluid light penetrates the fragmented folds of the robe and the waves of the lustrous hairstyle. Leonardo also retouched the hair of the angel on the right.

Leonardo da Vinci


Leonardo da Vinci, Head of an Angel, Biblioteca Reale, Turin.
The preparatory study shows characteristics common in Leonardo's painting and drawing, notably the soft modelling and the shrewd application of chiaroscuro, elements that mark a turning point in traditional Italian and Florentine art.


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