Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in a farmhouse nestled amid the undulating hills of Tuscany outside the village of Anchiano in present-day Italy.
At the age of 20, da Vinci qualified for membership as a master artist in Florence’s Guild of Saint Luke and established his own workshop.
However, he continued to collaborate with his teacher for an additional five years. It is thought that Verrocchio completed his “Baptism of Christ” around 1475 with the help of his student, who painted part of the background and the young angel holding the robe of Jesus.
According to Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, written around 1550 by artist Giorgio Vasari, Verrocchio was so humbled by the superior talent of his pupil that he never picked up a paintbrush again. Most scholars, however, dismiss Vasari’s account as apocryphal.
Florentine court records show that in 1476 da Vinci and four other young men were charged with sodomy, a crime punishable by exile or even death. Although da Vinci was acquitted, his whereabouts went entirely undocumented for the following two years.
After leaving Verrocchio’s studio, da Vinci received his first independent commission
in 1478 for an altarpiece to reside in a chapel inside Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. Three years later the Augustinian monks of Florence’s San Donato a Scopeto tasked him to paint “Adoration of the Magi.” The young artist, however, would leave the city and abandon both commissions without ever completing them.
In 1482, Florentine ruler Lorenzo de’ Medici commissioned da Vinci to create a silver lyre and bring it as a peace gesture to Ludovico Sforza, who ruled Milan as its regent. After doing so, da Vinci lobbied Ludovico for a job and sent the future Duke of Milan a letter that barely mentioned his considerable talents as an artist and instead touted his more marketable skills as a military engineer. Using his inventive mind, da Vinci sketched war machines such as a war chariot with scythe blades mounted on the sides, an armored tank propelled by two men cranking a shaft and even an enormous crossbow that required a small army of men to operate.
His ability to be employed by the Sforza clan as an architecture and military engineering advisor as well as a painter and sculptor spoke to da Vinci’s keen intellect and curiosity about a wide variety of subjects. Like many leaders of Renaissance humanism, da Vinci did not see a divide
between science and art.
Until tomorrow: I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.