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What’s Leonardo famous for?

  • painting the Mona Lisa
  • painting The Last Supper
  • inventing flying machines 400 years early
  • mirror writing

Leonardo da Vinci is known around the world, a name that crosses all cultures and languages. The life of this genius still has the power to fascinate today. NowYouKnowAbout Artists brings your children Leonardo’s life story in DVD format as an easy introduction to this great historical figure.

Leonardo was born in 1452 in Italy. In this entertaining and educational DVD for children about Leonardo’s life, he introduced us to his father, a well-respected notary while his mother was a simple peasant girl who worked on the land. ‘da Vinci’, the name Leonardo is known by, simply means ‘from the village of Vinci’, the nearby town.

As his mother and father were not married, Leonardo was not allowed to go to the local school and instead, had to teach himself to read and write. Luckily he was a curious little boy and spent many hours outside looking at the world around him and asking questions about how things worked.

We have included Leonardo in our educational DVD for children as an artist. But he could just as well be considered a scientist. Indeed, Leonardo is famous today for many things besides his painting. He was not just a talented artist but also a highly-regarded scientist, an engineer, an inventor, a sculptor, a musician and an architect. The disadvantage of so many talents and interests is that he had a short attention span, unable to concentrate on a single project for any length of time. In fact, in the course of his long life, he only painted around 30 pictures and left many works unfinished. One glance at his famous notebooks confirm that he had a butterfly mind, always darting from one subject to another.

His most enduring legacy is probably the ‘Mona Lisa’, his portrait of a rich merchant’s wife that hangs today in the Louvre in Paris. Even though this was a commissioned work from Mr Giocondo, Mona Lisa’s husband, Leonardo took 3 years to paint it and to make matters worse, he never actually gave it to his client.

Through his father’s connections, Leonardo got his first job helping out at Verrocchio’s workshop in Florence. Verrocchio was a prominent figure in the town and Leonardo learnt about painting, sculpture, costume design, metalwork and much more in the years that he spent there.

While still working at Verrocchio’s school, Leonardo travelled to Milan to present a silver lute to the Duke, the ruler of this important northern city. While there he showed the Duke his ideas for military weapons and fortresses. The Duke, always looking to defend his town from enemies, offered him a position as weapons designer at his court.

It was while he was in Milan that Leonardo undertook ‘The Last Supper’. For this immense project, he used a new paint technique that he had developed himself but which was not at all durable and today, little of the original remains. In addition to painting, he also wrote and drew in his notebooks and you can still see those today. They contain sketches of skulls, fruits, muscles, weapons, building and much, much more.

Leonardo was interested in the concept of flight. He designed flying machines, studied birds and their muscles. He also dissected bodies in an attempt to understand how blood circulated around the body and skeletons fitted together.

It was in his later life, when he was already rich and successful, that he was asked by Mr Giocondo to paint a picture of his young wife. This ‘Mona Lisa’ with her mysterious smile and her beautiful yet secretive gaze has inspired countless stories, and you will always find a cluster of admirers around her portrait in the Louvre. It was reputed to be Leonardo’s favourite painting and he kept it with him up until his death in France in 1519.

Leonardo died at 67, reportedly in the arms of the French king, François I in France. He is remembered today as a energetic genius whose interests and talents left us a rich and enduring legacy.

You can find Leonardo’s works at:
National Gallery, London
The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist
The Virgin of the Rocks

The British Museum, London
Pages from Leonardo’s notebooks (called The Codex Arundel )
The Drawings Gallery at Windsor Castle (The Royal Collection)
Pages from Leonardo’s notebooks (called the Codex Alanticus)

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