In 1482, Leonardo left Verrcchio, the Medici family, and Florence behind him to start a new chapter of his life in Milan. He left behind family, friends, and an unfinished, commissioned painting, “The Adoration of the Magi.” The reasons for his sudden departure are unclear. Some historians speculate that he was escaping legal charges against him. Some claim that he went to Milan to pursue his studies on human anatomy, which he did. Perhaps he was drawn to the powerful court of Ludovico Sforza as Leonardo’s letters to the Duke prior to his arrival in Milan would have us believe. Whatever the reasons, Leonardo spent 17 years in Milan from 1482 to 1499 and completed 6 known paintings along with numerous studies, models, sketches, and unfinished works. During that period, Leonardo also served as a technical advisor and engineer to Ludovico and gave his opinion on projects ranging from architecture and hydraulics to military fortifications and strategy.
In Milan, Leonardo established himself as one of the top artists of his day and maintained a workshop with apprentices of his own. The most notable of his students were Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Ambrogio de Predis, Bernardino de’ Conti, Francesco Napoletano, and Salai all of whom most likely collaborated with Leonardo on works during his time in Milan.
Today, in Milan, Leonardo lives on through modern exhibits, museums, and tributes to his life and works. On Via San Vittore in Milano, there is the Italian National Museum of Science and Technology in which many of his works are exhibited. Modern day technicians took it upon themselves to recreate some of Leonardo’s machines and inventions from his sketches. Although Leonardo never finished the majority of his works and more of his ideas were never realized then were, his legacy continues to inspire people today; his immense creativity and intellect continue to inspire and intrigue people up to this day.
Here is the url that will lead you to the Museum of Science and Technology Homepage: http://www.museoscienza.org/english/
Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci (1483-1486)
This painting is famous for utilizing Leonardo’s Sfumato technique. Sfumato gives the illusion of atmosphere thickening. This work is in the Louvre in Paris. This painting shows Mary, the baby Jesus, an infant Saint John the Baptist, and an angel. The background of this work features a beautiful collection of rocks, water, and plants.
Portrait of a Musician by Leonardo da Vinci (1490)
This is one of the first portraits by Leonardo. The man in the painting is Franchino Gaffurio, who was a music composer of the renaissance. The painting is unfinished, but very close to completion. The face is clearly the work of Leonardo, but someone else may have painted other features of the painting like the musical score in his hand. The painting currently resides in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan.
Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci (1490 c.)
The subject of this portrait is Cecilia Gallerani, who was the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, the duke of Milan. Gallerani was sixteen when Leonardo painted her, she was admired for her beauty. Gallerani birthed a son of the dukes, but he later married a woman from a noble family. The ermine is the symbol of purity. It was also an animal associated with Ludovico Sforza. The painting is currently displayed in the Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland. It is truly a beautiful portrait painted by Leonardo.
Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci (1491-1495)
This version of the painting is in the National Gallery in London. This version is slightly smaller than the previous. It is thought that the first version was sold to an independent buyer, while this version was used to fill the commission he received from another buyer for the original work. This work was original given to the church of San Francesco Maggiore, but an English man later bought it, which is how it ended up in London.
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (1493-1498)
Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is one of the most iconic works in the history of art. This painting depicts Jesus’s last meal with his twelve disciples. In the piece his twelve disciples seem to all be in a heated argument. This painting depicts the moment in which Jesus informs his disciples that one of them will betray him. This disciple is Judas, who is shown in the painting reaching for the bread at the same time as Jesus.
This painting is located in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. This painting is famous for its beauty, but especially for the new techniques and composition he brought to the painting. Leonardo used one point perspective, which means all of the lines in the piece are converging at one point. This technique emphasizes the importance of Jesus and puts the central focus on him. In the work, the middle window also centers Jesus’s head. Leonardo does a great job making both sides of the wall symmetrical, as well as making the windows in the back level. There is just as much math study in this piece as art study. The ceiling features squares of all exactly the same size. This work features the golden ratio in the ceiling as well as the table and the position in which people sit.
This work is different from his past works because it is a fresco painted with oil mixed with tempura and not oil on panel like his other works. A tempura is a permanent fast drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binding medium. Leonardo created his own mixture of tempura and oil paints to create this fresco. The medium did not withstand the test of time very well and is consequently in poor shape.
A restoration took place on the piece from 1978-1999. This restoration caused most colors to be dulled, but the piece was almost completely cleaned of dust and other particles. There has been a lot of speculation over the meaning of the piece by art historians. Art historian Dan Brown and his book The Da Vinci Code made this speculation famous. This piece is still well known and talked about in modern day culture. It will forever be known as one of Leonardo’s best works and one of the best works of art ever to be created.
The Equestrian Statue of Francesco Sforza (c. 1493)
Of all Leonardo’s works that were never completed, the grandest is without a doubt the equestrian, bronze statue that Ludovico commissioned Leonardo to design as a monument to Francesco Sforza. Leonardo sketched countless studies for this project over a period of ten years and even went so far as to construct a scale clay model of the giant horse that was put on public display in 1493 (Britannica 2012). Unfortunately, there was never enough funding to complete the monument in Bronze and the 16 foot high clay model was eventually lost to time and the elements. What lives on are sketches, which modern artists used create two giant, bronze horses one of which now resides in San Siro stadium, Milan. Leonardo envisioned this monument as a monument to Francesco Sforza. It only took 500 years for his design to be realized in bronze form.
Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1503–1505)
This is a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Mona, stands for Madonna, which was used to address a lady, it was similar to madam or miss. This piece is the most famous work in art history. Its use of Leonardo’s Sfumato technique, perspective, and detailed background makes it such a skillful piece. Its sheer beauty makes it iconic. The painting currently resides in the Louvre in Paris. It became property of the French when it was purchased by King Francis the first. The painting sits behind bulletproof glass, even though it is only 30 by 21 inches. There have been several attempts of theft on this work, all of which have failed.
St. John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci (1513-1516)
The piece is a portrait of St. John the Baptist in which he holds a cross in his left hand while his right hand points up toward heaven. In the painting, St. John the Baptist has an unusual muscular figure. Most critics believe this work among other reasons hint at Leonardo’s homosexuality. The background of this painting is very dark. The bible describes St. John the Baptist as a light that sees in the darkness. This painting is similar in size to the Mona Lisa and it currently resides in the Louvre in Paris.
The Later Years:
After gaining fame and prestige as an artist, architect, military expert, and scientist in Florence and Milan, Leonardo spent his later years moving from city to city enjoying his newfound notoriety. After Ludovico Sforza’s death at the hands of the French in late 1499, Leonardo returned to Florence. However, he did not finish very many paintings preferring to focus on his scientific sketches and in particular, his studies of human anatomy (Britannica 2012). During this second Florentine period, Leonardo worked on the “Mona Lisa” and began several larger commissioned works that he never completed the most notable of which was “The Battle of Anghiari” from 1503 to 1506. During this period, Leonardo took advantage of his fame throughout the region by advising notable figures such as Pope Alexander VI’s son and feared military leader, Cesare Borgia as well as Niccolo` Machiavelli (Britannica 2012).
In 1508, Leonardo moved back to Milan for a short period with his most loyal pupil, Francesco Melzi. Again, Leonardo preferred to focus on organizing his notes and studies to painting. During this period, his pupils began to produce notable works such as “St John in the Wilderness” attributed to Salai. In this second stint in Milan, Leonardo began to show signs that he knew his life was coming to a close. He kept a low profile preferring to organize his studies and advise rather than create large, commissioned works (Britannica 2012).
In 1513 at the age of 60, Leonardo left Milan yet again with his Pupils, Melzi and Salai, to seek commissions in Rome. They stayed there for 3 years but Leonardo did not produce any notable works. In 1516, Leonardo accepted an offer from French Monarch King Francis I to live near the royal palace in Franch as “court painter, architect, and engineer to the King” (Britannica 2012). Accompanied by his pupil, Melzi, Leonardo lived out his days in France in relative peace, organizing his notes and treatises. He died in 1516 in Cloux, France in close proximity to the French royal palace. He was buried there and his intellectual estate was left to Francesco Melzi to be preserved and improved upon (Britannica 2012).