For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with you eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return
Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, Italy. Born out of wedlock, the love child of a respected notary and a young peasant woman, he was raised by his father, Ser Piero, and his stepmothers. At the age of 14, da Vinci began apprenticing with the artist Verrocchio. For six years, he learned a wide breadth of technical skills, including metalworking, leather arts, carpentry, drawing and sculpting. By the age of 20, he had qualified as a master artist in the Guild of Saint Luke and established his own workshop.
‘The Last Supper’
In 1482, Lorenzo de’ Medici, a man from a prominent Italian family, commissioned da Vinci to create a silver lyre and bring it to Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan, as a gesture of peace. Da Vinci did so and then wrote Ludovico a letter describing how his engineering and artistic talents would be of great service to Ludovico’s court. His letter successfully endeared him to Ludovico, and from 1482 until 1499, Leonardo was commissioned to work on a great many projects. It was during this time that da Vinci painted “The Last Supper.” This painting now lies on the refectory wall of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
The Last Supper Survived!
Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper has been one of the most revered and well-known works of art in the world for more than five centuries. But during World War II, it almost became “history” in more than one sense of the word.
In August 1943, Allied leaders bombed a number of Italian cities, including Milan. Many historic churches and buildings containing pieces by master artists were either destroyed or severely damaged, including the Duomo, the Castello Sforzesco, the Teatro alla Scala, and Santa Maria delle Grazie.
The latter was the church where da Vinci had painted The Last Supper mural directly on one of the walls in 1495. On August 15, a high-explosive bomb landed a mere 80 feet away from the mural. The building was virtually demolished: The roof caved in, the cloister collapsed, and entire walls were blown out. You can see from the picture how much of the church was destroyed.
Miraculously, the wall the mural was on was still standing when the dust cleared. Hoping to protect da Vinci’s work against just such an attack, officials had guarded it with sandbags and scaffolding years before. The precaution was one many museums and churches across Italy had taken when war broke out—even sculptures such as Michelangelo’s David were encased in brick towers to protect them from bombs and shrapnel.
Because they didn’t want to expose the piece to the elements, Monuments Men and other officials were unable to assess the damage right away. “Leonardo’s Last Supper may be in ruins,” Monuments Man Deane Keller wrote in 1944. Amazingly, when the scaffolding was removed, da Vinci’s masterpiece was in relatively good condition.
It’s actually not the first time The Last Supper has come close to destruction. During the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon’s soldiers bunked in Santa Maria della Grazie. When they got bored, they used The Last Supper for target practice, with Jesus’s face as the bullseye. They hit the mark at least a couple of times, but the mural has since been restored.
Da Vinci has been called a genius and the archetypal Renaissance man. His talents inarguably extended far beyond his artistic works. Like many leaders of Renaissance humanism, he did not see a divide between science and art. His observations and inventions were recorded in 13,000 pages of notes and drawings, including designs for flying machines (some 400 years before the Wright brothers’ first success), plant studies, war machinery, anatomy and architecture. His ideas were mainly theoretical explanations, laid out in exacting detail, but they were rarely experimental. His drawings of a fetus in utero, the heart and vascular system, sex organs, and other bone and muscular structures, are some of the first on human record.
It was well known that Leonardo hated war. He was a pacifist. It is strange however that he designed weapons of war such as the tank and machine gun. Although he designed these instruments of death, engineers have found flaws in them. These flaws are believed to have been intentional because followers of Da Vinci have often stated that these “flaws” are too obvious for a man like Leonardo to overlook! This lays claim to the pacifist argument also!. Leonardo was also a very secretive man. His notes contain were written in what we call “mirror writing”. This meant that Leonardo wrote everything backwards only enabling him to decipher his notes. It is believed that he was fearful of his works being stolen or that his notes may lead to his persecution. Either way, Leonardo was not taking chances!
One of da Vinci’s last commissioned works was a mechanical lion that could walk and open its chest to reveal a bouquet of lilies. The famous artist died in Amboise, France, on May 2, 1519. Da Vinci’s assistant and perhaps his lover, Francesco Melzi, became the principal heir and executor of his estate.