Da Vinci's Code

Professor Christopher Witcombe, Art History


Leonardo's Life, Art, and Writings


Serge Bramly
Leonardo Da Vinci: The Artist and the Man, 1995

Leonardo's Life

    Born in the Tuscan village of Vinci near Florence, Leonardo (1452-1519) was the embodiment of the "Universal Renaissance Man," or uomo universale. He worked as a sculptor and architect, and also painted a small number of pictures. He kept voluminous notebooks and wrote on many topics, with plans to publish treatises on painting, anatomy, mechanics, and water, among others. He is also left notes on geometry, bronze casting, ancient weapons, a bestiary, riddles, fables, and more, and was famed for his inventions. Although regarded as a Florentine artist, he worked mostly in Milan, as a military engineer for the Sforzas, and died in France at the court of Francis I.

    Leonardo da Vinci
    (through Grove Art Online)


Leonardo's Paintings and Drawings

Leonardo's "Vitruvian Man"

    Leonardo's famous drawing is based upon a passage in De Architettura by the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius (1st century CE)

    Leonardo's "Vitruvian Man"

Leonardo's Last Supper

    According to Giorgio Vasari, "Leonardo executed in Milan, for the Dominicans of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a marvellous and beautiful painting of the Last Supper. In it Leonardo brilliantly succeeded in envisaging and reproducing the tormented anxiety of the apostles to know who had betrayed their master."

    The Last Supper
    Giorgio Vasari on Leonardo's Last Supper (scroll down)

Leonardo's Mona Lisa

    The portrait now in the Louvre is believed to be the same one that Vasari says Leonardo took to France with him. Upon Leonardo's death in 1519 it was there acquired by François I, the King of France, and later, as part of the royal collection, became part of the Louvre Museum. The portrait purportedly shows Mona Lisa, who had married Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanoli del Giocondo in 1495. The portrait is also known by the title "La Gioconda," after the surname of Mona Lisa's husband. Scholars have concluded that Leonardo worked on the portrait over a long period, starting around 1505-1506 in Florence. It was finished perhaps during Leonardo's stay in Milan or Rome.

    Leonardo's Mona Lisa

Leonardo's Writings

    In his quest for knowledge, driven by a remarkable curiosity, Leonardo kept many notebooks filled with his own observations, explanations, comments, notes, outlines, musings, and jottings, many accompanied by pen-and-ink drawings, sketches, plans, diagrams, and preparatory studies. Most of Leonardo's notebooks have have been lost, but a number are preserved today in libraries and private collections. Leonardo was left-handed, and in order to facilitate his note-taking, he wrote in mirror-writing, from right to left.

Further Reading

Richard A. Turner
Inventing Leonardo, 1994

Kenneth Clark
Leonardo Da Vinci, 1993 [1952]
ND 623 .L5 C5 1952

Frank Zollner and Johannes Nathan
Leonardo Da Vinci: The Complete Drawings and Paintings, 2003

Carmen C. Bambach (ed.)
Leonardo Da Vinci: Master Draftsman, 2003
NC 257 .L4 A4 2003

Leonardo Da Vinci
A Treatise on Painting, 2002

Martin Kemp
Leonardo on Painting: An Anthology of Writings by Leonardo da Vinci with a Selection of Documents Relating to his Career, 2001

Leonardo Da Vinci
The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (Volume 1), 1970

Vito Zani
Leonardo Da Vinci, The Last Supper, 2003

Pinin Brambilla Barcilon, Pietro C. Marani
Leonardo: The Last Supper, 2001

Leonardo Da Vinci
Prophecies, 2003