The life of Leonardo

The famous figure of Leonardo da Vinci and the main episodes of his biography, narrated by Carlo Peretti, well known Leonardo's life and works scholar.

On April 15, 1452 Leonardo was born in Vinci, a little village lying in the shelter of a Medieval castle on the slopes of Montalbano. [..]
Vinci is halfway between Florence and Pisa. Leonardo was born, then, in a little village apparently far removed from the world but in reality lying at the crossroads of great highways of communication.
At the age of sixteen or seventeen he moved to Florence, where his father, notary by profession, apprenticed him to work in Verrocchio's workshop. The road he covered, on foot or on horseback - forty miles or so - is the one that still today runs along the Arno.

This same road had very probably already taken him to Pisa, attracted by a strange landscape where the rocky outcrops in the surrounding mountains often take on the primordial features appearing in the background of the Louvre Virgin of the Rocks, the first Milanese painting commissioned of him in 1483 when he was thirty-one. [..]
In Florence Leonardo spent twelve years of systematic study and intense experimentation, soon entering under the protection of Lorenzo de' Medici, almost his own age (1449-1492), a refined humanist, crafty merchant, wise statesman and skillful politician, but above all an incomparably able diplomat: in short, a master of communication. For the young Leonardo, Lorenzo was an intriguing example of the technique of communication, where the persuasive power of words was based on eloquence and psychology. Inspired by this example Leonardo began to refine his own visual language, adopting a kind of "speaking" painting which, with the Adoration of the Magi painted in 1481 at the age of twenty-nine, arrived at the intensely animated gestures and iconic impact of a silent film. [..] (follows)

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All of Leonardo's work as painter and theoretician of painting is imbued with the concept that art should be considered a form of creative knowledge, on the same level as science and philosophy. And still today the lesson taught by Leonardo has the immediate impact of a live broadcast, whether it involves traditional media - still unsurpassed in historical research - or the new electronic technologies, now beginning to show their true worth as indispensable aid to historical research, having developed beyond the initial stage of games used in play.

On the other hand, Leonardo played too, as noted by Sigmund Freud already in 1910: «The great Leonardo, it seems, remained infantile in some aspects his whole life long. He continued to play even as an adult and for this reason too he was at times incomprehensible and disturbing to the eyes of his contemporaries».


And as such - disturbing and incomprehensible - he appears even today, five centuries later, since he has been more studied than understood. The genius has been rediscovered, but the man has been lost.
During a visit to Pavia in January 1490 accompanied by the Sienese architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini for a consultation on work then being done on the cathedral, Leonardo, then thirty-eight, was attracted by the ingenious arrangement of the rooms in a famous bordello in that city, and drew the floor-plan as a model "lupanare".
The drawing appears on a page in a manuscript from that time. [...]

On the same folio, at the same time, Leonardo notes: «catena aurea», which is the title of the grandiose Thomist compendium on the Gospels. These are small but sure indicators of how the real Leonardo, viewed in close-up, could finally re-emerge in the new millennium. After dying the first time in France on May 2, 1519, he has died many times over in the writings of posterity - those very writings that proclaimed his immortality.

Carlo Pedretti