Leonardo da Vinci


Portrait in red chalk, circa 1512 to 1515, widely (though not universally) accepted as a genuine self-portrait.

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci
Portrait in red
chalk, circa 1512 to 1515, widely (though not universally) accepted as a genuine self-portrait.















Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (April 15, 1452May 2, 1519) was a talented Italian Renaissance Roman Catholic polymath: architect, anatomist, sculptor, engineer, inventor, geometer, scientist, mathematician, musician, and painter. He has been described as the archetype of the "Renaissance man", a man infinitely curious and equally inventive. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and a universal genius.




Born in Anciano, Florence, Italy in 1452 Leonardo died in, 1519 at
Amboise, Indre-et-Loire, France. He
had no surname in the modern sense; "da Vinci" simply means "from Vinci". His full birth name was "Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci", meaning "Leonardo, son of (Mes)ser Piero from Vinci."

Early life

Plato (detail of The School of Athens by Raphael), believed to be based on Leonardo's likeness. The pointing finger was a noted feature of Leonardo.


Plato (detail of The School of Athens by Raphael), believed to be based on Leonardo's likeness. The pointing finger was a noted feature of Leonardo.

Leonardo was born in the village of Anchiano, a few miles from the small town of Vinci, in Tuscany, near Florence. He was the son of a wealthy Florentine notary and a peasant woman. In the mid-1460s the family settled in Florence, where Leonardo was given the best education that Florence, a major intellectual and artistic centre of Italy, could offer. He rapidly advanced socially and intellectually. He was handsome, persuasive in conversation, and a fine musician and improviser. About 1466 he was apprenticed as a garzone (studio boy) to Andrea Del Verrocchio, the leading Florentine painter and sculptor of his day. In Verrocchio's workshop Leonardo was introduced to many activities, from the painting of altarpieces and panel pictures to the creation of large sculptural projects in marble and bronze. In 1472 he entered in the painter's guild of Florence, and in 1476 he was still considered Verrocchio's assistant. In Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ, in 1470, the kneeling angel at the left of the painting is by Leonardo. In 1478 Leonardo became an independent master at the age of 26. His first commission, to paint an altarpiece for the chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio, the Florentine town hall, was never started. His first large painting, The Adoration of the Magi, which he started in 1481 and was never completed, was ordered for the Monastery of San Donato a Scopeto, Florence.

The Baptism of Christ - One of Leonardo's first public works was to create an angel (lower-left) and part of the landscape in this 1472 Verrocchio painting


The Baptism of Christ - One of Leonardo's first public works was to create an angel (lower-left) and part of the landscape in this 1472 Verrocchio painting

The first known biography of Leonardo was published in 1550 by Giorgio Vasari who wrote Vite de' più eccelenti architettori, pittori e scultori italiani ("The lives of the most excellent Italian architects, painters and sculptors"), and later became an independent painter in Florence. Most of the information collected by Vasari was from first-hand accounts of Leonardo's contemporaries (Vasari was only a child when Leonardo died), and it remains the first reference in studying Leonardo's life.

According to Vasari:

[T]he greatest of all Andrea's pupils was Leonardo da Vinci, in whom, besides a beauty of person never sufficiently admired and a wonderful grace in all his actions, there was such a power of intellect that whatever he turned his mind to he made himself master of with ease.

From around 1482 to 1499, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, employed Leonardo and permitted him to operate his own workshop, complete with apprentices. It was here that seventy tons of bronze that had been set aside for Leonardo's "Gran Cavallo" horse statue (see below) were cast into weapons for the Duke in an attempt to save Milan from the French under Charles VIII in 1495.

Leonardo da Vinci statue outside the Uffizi, Florence


Leonardo da Vinci statue outside the Uffizi, Florence

When the French returned under Louis XII in 1498, Milan fell without a fight, overthrowing Sforza. Leonardo stayed in Milan for a time, until one morning when he found French archers using his life-size clay model of the "Gran Cavallo" for target practice. He left with Salai, his assistant and intimate, and his friend Luca Pacioli (the first man to describe double-entry bookkeeping) for Mantua, moving on after 2 months to Venice (where he was hired as a military engineer), then briefly returning to Florence at the end of April 1500.

In Florence he entered the services of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, acting as a military architect and engineer; with Cesare he travelled throughout Italy. In 1506 he returned to Milan, now in the hands of Maximilian Sforza after Swiss mercenaries had driven out the French.

From 1513 to 1516, he lived in Rome, where painters like Raphael and Michelangelo were active at the time, though he did not have much contact with these artists. However, he was probably of pivotal importance in the relocation of David (in Florence), one of Michelangelo's masterpieces, against the artist's will.

Leonardo da Vinci tomb in Saint Hubert Chapel(Amboise).


Leonardo da Vinci tomb in Saint Hubert Chapel(Amboise).

In 1515, Francis I of France retook Milan, and Leonardo was commissioned to make a centrepiece (a mechanical lion) for the peace talks between the French king and Pope Leo X in Bologna, where he must have first met the King. In 1516, he entered Francis' service, being given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé (also called "Cloux"; now a museum open to the public) next to the king's residence at the royal Chateau Amboise, where he spent the last three years of his life. The King granted Leonardo and his entourage generous pensions: the surviving document lists 1,000 écus for the artist, 400 for Count Francesco Melzi, (his pupil and allegedly one of the great loves of his life, named as "apprentice"), and 100 for Salai ("servant"). In 1518 Salai left Leonardo and returned to Milan, where he eventually perished in a duel. Francis became a close friend. Some twenty years after Leonardo's death, Francis told the artist Benevenuto Cellini that he believed that "No man had ever lived who had learned as much about sculpture, painting, and architecture, but still more that he was a very great philosopher."

Clos Lucé, in France where Leonardo died in 1519.


Clos Lucé, in France where Leonardo died in 1519.

Leonardo died at Clos Lucé, France, on 2nd May, 1519 (Romantic legend said that he died in Francis' arms). According to his wish, 60 beggars followed his casket. He was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the castle of Amboise. Although Melzi was his principal heir and executor, Salai was not forgotten; he received half of Leonardo's vineyards.


Leonardo is famous for his realistic paintings, such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, as well as for influential drawings such as the Vitruvian Man. He conceived of ideas vastly ahead of his own time, notably conceptually inventing the helicopter, a tank, the use of concentrated solar power, the calculator, a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics, the double hull, and many others. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or were feasible during his lifetime; modern scientific approaches to metallurgy and engineering were only in their infancy during the Renaissance. In addition, he greatly advanced the state of knowledge in the fields of anatomy, astronomy, civil engineering, optics, and the study of water (hydrodynamics). Of his works, only a few paintings survive, together with his notebooks (scattered among various collections) containing drawings, scientific diagrams and notes.

The earliest known dated work of Leonardo's is a drawing done in pen and ink of the Arno valley, drawn on the 5th of August, 1473. It is assumed that he had his own workshop between 1476 and 1478, receiving two orders during this time.


Leonardo pioneered new painting techniques in many of his pieces. One of them, a colour shading technique called "Chiaroscuro", used a series of glazes custom-made by Leonardo. Chiaroscuro is a technique of bold contrast between light and dark. Another effect perfected and popularized by Leonardo is called sfumato, which creates an atmospheric haze or smoky effect.

Early works in Florence (1452–1482)

One of his first paintings done in Florence, the Benois Madonna (1478)

One of his first paintings done in Florence, the Benois Madonna (1478)

Leonardo was an apprentice to the artist Verrocchio in Florence when he was about 15. In 1476 Leonardo worked with Verrocchio to paint The Baptism of Christ for the friars of Vallombrosa. He painted the angel at the front and the landscape, and the difference between the two artists' work can be seen, with Leonardo's finer blending and brushwork. Giorgio Vasari told the story that when Verrocchio saw Leonardo's work he was so amazed that he resolved never to touch a brush again.

Leonardo's first solo painting was the Madonna and Child completed in 1478; at the same time, he also painted a picture of a little boy eating sherbet. From 1480 to 1481, he created a small Annunciation painting, now in the Louvre. In 1481 he also painted an unfinished work of St. Jerome. Between 1481 and 1482 he started painting The Adoration of the Magi. He made extensive, ambitious plans and many drawings for the painting, but it was never finished, as Leonardo's services had been accepted by the Duke of Milan.

The Last Supper (1498), painted in Milan


The Last Supper (1498), painted in Milan


Milan (1482–1499)

Leonardo spent 17 years in Milan in the service of Duke Ludovico (between 1482 and 1499). He did many paintings, sculptures, and drawings during these many years. He also designed court festivals, and drew many of his engineering sketches. He was given free reign to work on any project he chose, though he left many projects unfinished, completing only about six paintings during this time. These include Virgin of the Rocks in 1494 and The Last Supper (Ultima Cena or Cenacolo, in Milan) in 1498. In 1499 he painted Madonna and Child with St. Anne. He worked on many of his notebooks between 1490 and 1495, including the Codex Trivulzianus.

He often planned grandiose paintings with many drawings and sketches, only to leave them unfinished. One of his projects involved making plans and models for a monumental seven-metre-high (24 ft) horse statue in bronze called "Gran Cavallo". Because of war with France, the project was never finished. (In 1999 a pair of full-scale statues based on his plans were cast, one erected in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the other in Milan) . The bronze intended for use in the building of the statue was used to make cannon, and victorious French soldiers used the clay model of the statue for target practice. The Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland has a small bronze horse thought to be the work of an apprentice from Leonardo's original design.

When the French invaded Milan in 1499, Ludovico Sforza lost control, forcing Leonardo to search for a new patron.

Nomadic Period — Italy and France (1499–1516)

Virgin of the Rocks (second version)


Virgin of the Rocks (second version)

Between 1499 and 1516 Leonardo worked for a number of people, travelling around Italy doing several commissions, before moving to France in 1516. This has been described as a 'Nomadic Period'. He stayed in:

  • Mantua (1500)
  • Venice (1501)
  • Florence (1501–06) known sometimes as his Second Florentine Period.
  • Travelled between Florence and Milan staying in both places for short periods before settling in Milan.
  • Milan (1506–13) (known sometimes as his Second Milanese Period, under the patronage of Charles d'Amboise until 1511)
  • Rome (1514)
  • Florence (1514)
  • Pavia, Bologna, Milan (1515)
  • France (1516–19) (patronage of King Francis I)

In 1500 he went to Mantua where he sketched a portrait of the Marchesa Isabella d'Este. He left for Venice in 1501, and soon after returned to Florence.

After returning to Florence, he was commissioned for a large mural commemorating The Battle of Anghiari, a great military triumph in the history of Florence, by the Grand Council Chamber in the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of government of the Florentine Republic (Zollner p. 164); his rival, Michelangelo, was to sketch on the opposite wall The Battle of Cascina. After producing a fantastic variety of studies in preparation for the work, he left the city, with the mural unfinished due to problems with getting paid by his employer and more importantly by his choice of technique, which instead of the fresco technique he experimented again (as in the Last Supper) with oil binders hoping to extend the time to manipulate the paint (Zollner pp. 172–178). The incomplete painting was destroyed in a war in the middle of the sixteenth century. Rubens and other artists have produced their own studies based on Leonardo's original sketches.

Mona Lisa (1503–1507)


Mona Lisa (1503–1507)

Most evidence suggests that he began work on the Mona Lisa (also known as La Gioconda, now at the Louvre in Paris) in 1503 and continued to work on it until 1506, working sporadically on it well after that (Sasson p. 22). It is likely to be Lisa de Gherardini del Giocondo, wife of a silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo. Commissioned by her husband to commemorate the birth of their second son as well as moving to a new home (Zollner p. 240). He most likely kept it with him at all times, and did not travel without it. Much is attributed to the importance of this painting, primarily why it is the most famous painting in the world. In short, it was famous at the time of its contemporaries for many different reasons than it is now. Leonardo da Vinci's use of sfumato (the smoky effect he has on his work) transcended convention of the time, as did the sitter's angle, contrapposto, and the bird's-eye view of the background. For the most part it has become famous for all of the above and for the insurmountable amount of media attention it has received. In other words, it has become famous for being famous.

One of the main reasons "why it is the most famous painting in the world" is the mastery with which Leonardo painted the portrait of a woman's face depicting many simultaneous and unfathomable emotions, leading up to the ever unanswerable question "is she or isn't she smiling?"

It is also of interest that the Mona Lisa was one of only three paintings that he took with him to his final residence at Clos Lucé; part of its original fame appears to be that it may have been his favourite work. It certainly had a rather large monetary valuation in the will of his protogé Salai.

He painted St Anne in 1509. Between 1506 and 1512, he lived in Milan and under the patronage of the French Governor Charles d'Amboise, he painted several other paintings. These included The Leda and the Swan, known now only through copies as the original work did not survive. He painted a second version of The Virgin of the Rocks (1506–1508). While under the patronage of Pope Leo X, he painted St. John the Baptist (1513–1516).

During his time in France, Leonardo made studies of the Virgin Mary for The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, and many drawings and other studies.

Selected works


Science and engineering

The rhombicuboctahedron, by Leonardo, as it appeared in the Luca Pacioli's Divina Proportione, 1509.


The rhombicuboctahedron, by Leonardo, as it appeared in the Luca Pacioli's Divina Proportione, 1509.

Renaissance humanism saw no mutually exclusive polarities between the sciences and the arts, and Leonardo's studies in science and engineering are as impressive and innovative as his artistic work, recorded in notebooks comprising some 13,000 pages of notes and drawings, which fuse art and science. These notes were made and maintained through Leonardo's travels through Europe, during which he made continual observations of the world around him. He was left-handed and used mirror writing throughout his life. This is explainable by the fact that it is easier to pull a quill pen than to push it; by using mirror-writing, the left-handed writer is able to pull the pen from right to left and also avoid smudging what has just been written. He wrote in his diaries (journals) using mirror writing.

His approach to science was an observational one: he tried to understand a phenomenon by describing and depicting it in utmost detail, and did not emphasize experiments or theoretical explanation. Since he lacked formal education in Latin and mathematics, contemporary scholars mostly ignored Leonardo the scientist, although he did teach himself Latin. It has also been said that he was planning a series of treatises to be published on a variety of subjects though none were ever done.

The Vitruvian Man, Leonardo's study of the proportions of the human body.


The Vitruvian Man, Leonardo's study of the proportions of the human body.


Leonardo started to discover the anatomy of the human body at the time he was apprenticed to Andrea del Verrocchio, as his teacher insisted that all his pupils learn anatomy. As he became successful as an artist, he was given permission to dissect human corpses at the hospital Santa Maria Nuova in Florence. Later he dissected in Milan at the hospital Maggiore and in Rome at the hospital Santo Spirito (the first mainland Italian hospital). From 1510 to 1511 he collaborated with the doctor Marcantonio della Torre (1481 to 1511). In 30 years, Leonardo dissected 30 male and female corpses of different ages. Together with Marcantonio, he prepared to publish a theoretical work on anatomy and made more than 200 drawings. However, his book was published only in 1680 (161 years after his death) under the heading Treatise on painting. Leonardo also dissected cows, birds, monkeys, bears, and frogs, comparing their anatomical structure with that of humans.

Studies of Embryos by Leonardo da Vinci (circa 1510)

Studies of Embryos by Leonardo da Vinci (circa 1510)

Leonardo drew many images of the human skeleton, and was the first to describe the double S form of the backbone. He also studied the inclination of pelvis and sacrum and stressed that sacrum was not uniform, but composed of five fused vertebrae. He was also able to represent exceptionally well the human skull and cross-sections of the brain (transversal, sagittal, and frontal). He drew many images of the lungs, mesentery, urinary tract, sex organs, and even coitus. He was one of the first who drew the fetus in the intrauterine position (he wished to learn about "the miracle of pregnancy"). He often drew muscles and tendons of the cervical muscles and of the shoulder. He was a master of topographic anatomy. He not only studied human anatomy, he studied the anatomy of many other animals, as well. Leonardo could simultaneously draw with one hand and write with the other.

It is important to note that he was not only interested in structure but also in function, so he became a physiologist in addition to being an anatomist. He actively searched for models among those who had significant physical deformities, for the purpose of developing caricature drawings.

His study of human anatomy led also to the design of the first known robot in recorded history. The design, which has come to be called Leonardo's robot, was probably made around the year 1495 but was rediscovered only in the 1950s. It is not known if an attempt was made to build the device. He correctly worked out how heart valves eddy the flow of blood yet he was unaware of circulation as he believed that blood was pumped to the muscles where it was consumed. A diagram drawing Leonardo did of a heart inspired a British heart surgeon to pioneer a new way to repair damaged hearts in 2005.

An armoured tank designed by Leonardo at the Château d'Amboise


An armoured tank designed by Leonardo at the Château d'Amboise


Inventions and engineering

Fascinated by the phenomenon of flight, Leonardo produced detailed studies of the flight of birds, and plans for several flying machines, including a helicopter powered by four men (which would not have worked since the body of the craft would have rotated) and a light hang glider which could have flown. On January 3, 1496 he unsuccessfully tested a flying machine he had constructed.

In 1502, Leonardo da Vinci produced a drawing of a single span 720-foot (240 m) bridge as part of a civil engineering project for Sultan Beyazid II of Constantinople. The bridge was intended to span an inlet at the mouth of the Bosphorus known as the Golden Horn. Beyazid did not pursue the project, because he believed that such a construction was impossible. Leonardo's vision was resurrected in 2001 when a smaller bridge based on his design was constructed in Norway. In May 2006, the Turkish government decided to construct Leonardo's bridge. It is expected to be finished by October 2006.

In 1490, he made a sketch that conceptualized a stepless continuously variable transmission (CVT).  Modern variations of Leonardo's transmission concept are being used in some automobiles produced today.  Continuously variable transmissions have been available in tractors, snowmobiles, and motorscooters for many years.

The interior of Leonardo da Vinci's armoured tank


The interior of Leonardo da Vinci's armoured tank

Owing to his employment as a military engineer, his notebooks also contain several designs for military machines: machine guns, an armoured tank powered by humans or horses, cluster bombs, a working parachute, a diving suit made out of pig's leather and a hose connecting to air, etc. even though he later held war to be the worst of human activities. Other inventions include a submarine, a cog-wheeled device that has been interpreted as the first mechanical calculator, and one of the first programmable robots that has been misinterpreted as a car powered by a spring mechanism. In his years in the Vatican, he planned an industrial use of solar power, by employing concave mirrors to heat water. While most of Leonardo's inventions were not built during his lifetime, models of many of them have been constructed with the support of IBM and are on display at the Leonardo da Vinci Museum at the Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise.


His notebooks

Leonardo kept notebooks throughout his life, in which he wrote daily, often in a private "backwards" or mirror-image handwriting. While the popular belief that he did this to keep some amount of secrecy may have some truth, the more plausible reason is that he did this naturally due to his left-handedness. He wrote about his sketches, inventions, architecture, elements of mechanics, painting ideas, human anatomy, grocery lists and even people that owed him money. These notebooks—originally loose papers of different types and sizes, distributed by friends after his death—have found their way into major collections such as the Louvre, the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, and the Victoria and Albert Museum and British Library in London. The British Library has put a selection from its notebook (BL Arundel MS 263) on the web in the Turning the Pages section.  The Codex Leicester is the only major scientific work of Leonardo's in private hands. It is owned by Bill Gates, and is displayed once a year in different cities around the world.

Why Leonardo did not publish or otherwise distribute the contents of his notebooks remains a mystery to those who believe that Leonardo wanted to make his observations public knowledge. Technological historian Lewis Mumford suggests that Leonardo kept notebooks as a private journal, intentionally censoring his work from those who might irresponsibly use it (the tank, for instance). They remained obscure until the 19th century, and were not directly of value to the development of science and technology. In January 2005, researchers discovered the hidden laboratory used by Leonardo da Vinci for studies of flight and other pioneering scientific work in previously sealed rooms at a monastery next to the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata, in the heart of Florence.




Three Specific Works of Da Vinci


Mona Lisa

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For other uses, see Mona Lisa (disambiguation).

Mona Lisa

Leonardo da Vinci, circa 15031507

oil on poplar, 77 × 53 cm , 30 × 21 in

Musée du Louvre

Mona Lisa, or La Gioconda (La Joconde), is a 16th-century oil painting on poplar wood by Leonardo da Vinci, and is, perhaps, the most famous painting in Western art history or even the world. Few other works of art are as romanticised, celebrated, parodied or reproduced. It is owned by the French government and hangs in the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

The painting shows a woman looking out at the viewer with what is described as an "enigmatic smile".


Title of the painting

The title Mona Lisa stems from the Giorgio Vasari biography of Leonardo da Vinci, published 31 years after Leonardo's death. In it, he identified the sitter as Lisa Gherardini, the wife of wealthy Florentine businessman Francesco del Giocondo. "Mona" is a common Italian contraction of "madonna," meaning "my lady," the equivalent of the English "Madam," so the title means "Madam Lisa." In modern Italian the short form of "madonna" is usually spelled "Monna," so the title is sometimes given as Monna Lisa. This is rare in English, but more common in Romance languages. The alternative title La Gioconda is the feminine form of Giocondo. In Italian giocondo also means 'light-hearted' ('jocund' in English), so "gioconda" means "light-hearted woman". Because of her smile, this version of the title plays on this double-meaning, as in the French "La Joconde."

Both Mona Lisa and La Gioconda became established as titles for the painting in the 19th century. Before these names became established, the painting had been referred to by various descriptive phrases, such as "a certain Florentine lady" and "a courtesan in a gauze veil."


16th century

It is probable Leonardo began painting the Mona Lisa in 1503 and, according to Vasari, completed it four years later.

Leonardo took the painting from Italy to France in 1516 when King François I invited the painter to work at the Clos Lucé near the king's castle in Amboise. The King bought the painting for 4,000 écus and kept it at Fontainebleau, where it remained until moved by Louis XIV.

Early copy of the Mona Lisa, in Walters Gallery, Baltimore, showing the columns


Early copy of the Mona Lisa, in Walters Gallery, Baltimore, showing the columns

Many art historians believe that after Leonardo's death the painting was cut down by having part of the panel at both sides removed. Originally there appear to have been columns on both sides of the figure, as can be seen in early copies. The edges of the bases can still be seen in the original. However, some art historians, such as Martin Kemp, argue that the painting has not been altered, and that the columns depicted in the copies were added by the copyists. There are also copies in which the figure appears nude.

Other versions

It has been suggested that Leonardo created two versions of the painting, the other one being the version now known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa, though the great majority of art historians reject its authenticity. Another version, dating from c.1616 was given in c.1790 to Joshua Reynolds by the Duke of Leeds in exchange for a Reynolds self-portrait. Reynolds thought it to be the real painting and the French one a copy, which has now been disproved. It is, however, useful in that it was copied when the original's colours were far brighter than they are now, and so it gives some sense of the original's appearance 'as new'. It is held in the stores of the Dulwich Picture Gallery.[1]

17th to 19th century

Louis XIV moved the painting to the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre. Napoleon I had it moved to his bedroom in the Tuileries Palace; later it was returned to the Louvre. During the Franco-Prussian War of 18701871, it was moved from the Louvre to a hiding place elsewhere in France.

The painting was not well-known until the mid-19th century, when artists of the emerging Symbolist movement began to appreciate it, and associated it with their ideas about feminine mystique. Critic Walter Pater, in his 1867 essay on Leonardo, expressed this view by describing the figure in the painting as a kind of mythic embodiment of eternal femininity, who is "older than the rocks among which she sits" and who "has been dead many times and learned the secrets of the grave".

20th century


The painting's increasing fame was further emphasised when it was stolen on August 21, 1911. The next day, Louis Béroud, a painter, walked into the Louvre and went to the Salon Carré where the Mona Lisa had been on display for five years. However, where the Mona Lisa should have stood, in between Correggio's Mystical Marriage and Titian's Allegory of Alfonso d'Avalos, he found four iron pegs.

Béroud contacted the section head of the guards, who thought the painting was being photographed. A few hours later, Béroud checked back with the section head of the museum, and it was confirmed that the Mona Lisa was not with the photographers. The Louvre was closed for an entire week to aid in the investigation of the theft.

On September 6, avant-garde French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once called for the Louvre to be "burnt down", was arrested and put in jail on suspicion of the theft. His friend Pablo Picasso was brought in for questioning, but both were later released. At the time, the painting was believed to be lost forever. It turned out that Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia stole it by entering the building during regular hours, hiding in a broom closet and walking out with it hidden under his coat after the museum had closed. Con-man Eduardo de Valfierno master-minded the theft, and had commissioned the French art forger Yves Chaudron to make copies of the painting so he could sell them as the missing original. Because he did not need the original for his con, he never contacted Peruggia again after the crime. After keeping the painting in his apartment for two years, Peruggia grew impatient and was caught when he attempted to sell it to a Florence art dealer; it was exhibited all over Italy and returned to the Louvre in 1913.

Second World War

During World War II the painting was again removed from the Louvre and taken to safety, first in Chateau Amboise, then in the Loc-Dieu Abbey and finally in the Ingres Museum in Montauban.

Museum visitors viewing the Mona Lisa through security glass (prior to 2005 move)


Museum visitors viewing the Mona Lisa through security glass (prior to 2005 move)


In 1956, the lower part of the painting was severely damaged when someone doused it with acid. On December 30 of that same year, Ugo Ungaza Villegas, a young Bolivian, damaged the painting by throwing a rock at it. The result was a speck of pigment near Mona Lisa's left elbow. The painting is now covered with bulletproof security glass.

From December 14, 1962 to March of 1963, the French government lent it to the United States to be displayed in New York City and Washington D.C. In 1974, the painting exhibited in Tokyo and Moscow before being returned to the Louvre.

Prior to the 1962-63 tour, the painting was assessed for insurance purposes at $100 million. According to the Guinness Book of Records, this makes the Mona Lisa the most valuable painting ever insured. As an expensive painting, it has only recently been surpassed (in terms of actual dollar price) by Gustav Klimt 's Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was sold for $135 Million (£73 million) on 19 June 2006. Although this figure is greater than that which the Mona Lisa was insured for, the comparison does not account for the change in prices due to inflation -- $100 million in 1962 is approximately $645 million in 2005 when adjusted for inflation using the US Consumer Price Index.[2]

In 2004 experts from the National Research Council of Canada conducted a three-dimensional infrared scan. Data from the scan was later used by Bruno Mottin of the French Museums' "Center for Research and Restoration" to argue that the transparent gauze veil worn by the sitter is a guarnelo, typically used by women while pregnant or just after giving birth. Researchers also used the data to reveal details about the technique used and to predict that the painting will degrade very little if current conservation techniques are continued.

On April 6, 2005 — following a period of curatorial maintenance, recording, and analysis — the painting was moved, within the Louvre, to a new home in the museum's Salle des États. It is displayed in a purpose-built, climate-controlled enclosure behind bullet proof glass.

Identity of the model

Lisa Gherardini

Vasari identified the subject to be the wife of socially prominent Francesco del Giocondo, who was a wealthy silk merchant of Florence and a prominent government figure. Until recently, little was known about his wife, Lisa Gherardini, except that she was born in 1479, raised at her family's Villa Vignamaggio in Tuscany and that she married del Giocondo in 1495.

In 2004 the Italian scholar Giuseppe Pallanti published Monna Lisa, Mulier Ingenua (literally '"Mona Lisa: Real Woman", published in English under the title Mona Lisa Revealed: The True Identity of Leonardo's Model). The book gathered archival evidence in support of the traditional identification of the model as Lisa Gherardini. According to Pallanti, the evidence suggests that Leonardo's father was a friend of del Giocondo. "The portrait of Mona Lisa, done when Lisa Gherardini was aged about 24, was probably commissioned by Leonardo's father himself for his friends as he is known to have done on at least one other occasion."[8] Pallanti discovered that Lisa and Francesco had five children and that she outlived her husband. She lived at least into her 60s, though no record of her death was located.

In September 2006 Bruno Mottin argued that the guarnelo he studied using the 2004 scan data suggested that the painting dated from around 1503 and commemorated the birth of Lisa Gherardini's second son.

Other suggestions

Some have seen a facial similarity between the Mona Lisa and other paintings, such as St. John the Baptist.


Some have seen a facial similarity between the Mona Lisa and other paintings, such as St. John the Baptist.

Vasari, however, wrote about the portrait, and described it, without ever having seen it; the painting was already in France in Vasari's era. So various alternatives to the traditional sitter have been proposed. During the last years of his life, Leonardo spoke of a portrait "of a certain Florentine lady done from life at the request of the magnificent Giuliano de' Medici." No evidence has been found that indicates a link between Lisa Gherardini and Giuliano de' Medici, but then the comment could instead refer to one of the two other portraits of women executed by da Vinci. A later anonymous statement created confusion when it linked the Mona Lisa to a portrait of Francesco del Giocondo himself – perhaps the origin of the controversial idea that it is the portrait of a man.

Dr. Lillian Schwartz of Bell Labs suggests that the Mona Lisa is actually a self-portrait. She supports this theory with the results of a digital analysis of the facial features of Leonardo's face and that of the famous painting. When flipping a self-portrait drawing by Leonardo and then merging that with an image of the Mona Lisa using a computer, the features of the faces align perfectly. Critics of this theory suggest that the similarities are due to both portraits being painted by the same person using the same style. Additionally, the drawing on which she based the comparison may not be a self-portrait.

Serge Bramly, in his biography of Leonardo, discusses the possibility that the portrait depicts the artist's mother Caterina. This would account for the resemblance between artist and subject observed by Dr. Schwartz, and would explain why Leonardo kept the portrait with him wherever he travelled, until his death.

Isabella of Aragon, Raphael, Doria Pamphilj Gallery


Isabella of Aragon, Raphael, Doria Pamphilj Gallery

Art historians have also suggested the possibility that the Mona Lisa may only resemble Leonardo by accident: as an artist with a great interest in the human form, Leonardo would have spent a great deal of time studying and drawing the human face, and the face most often accessible to him was his own, making it likely that he would have the most experience with drawing his own features. The similarity in the features of the people depicted in paintings such as the Mona Lisa and St. John the Baptist may thus result from Leonardo's familiarity with his own facial features, causing him to draw other, less familiar faces in a similar light.

Maike Vogt-Lüerssen argues that the woman behind the famous smile is Isabella of Aragon, the Duchess of Milan. Leonardo was the court painter for the Duke Of Milan for 11 years. The pattern on Mona Lisa's dark green dress, Vogt-Lüerssen believes, indicates that she was a member of the house of Sforza. Her theory is that the Mona Lisa was the first official portrait of the new Duchess of Milan, which requires that it was painted in spring or summer 1489 (and not 1503). This theory is allegedly supported by another portrait of Isabella of Aragon, painted by Raphael, (Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome).


Detail of the face, showing the subtle shading effect of sfumato, particularly in the shadows around the eyes 



Public domain

The two-dimensional work of art depicted in this image is in the public domain worldwide due to the date of death of its author, or due to its date of publication. Thus, this reproduction of the work is also in the public domain. This applies to reproductions created in the United States (see Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.), in Germany, and in many other countries.

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Mona Lisa is famous for her facial expression and the subtlety of the transitions of tone and color.The portrait presents the subject from just above the bust, with a distant landscape visible as a backdrop. Leonardo used a pyramid design to place the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting. Her folded hands form the front corner of the pyramid. Her breast, neck, and face glow in the same light that softly models her hands. The light gives the variety of living surfaces an underlying geometry of spheres and circles, which includes the arc of her famous smile. Sigmund Freud interpreted the 'smile' as signifying Leonardo's erotic attraction to his dear mother;[11] others have described it as both innocent and inviting. It is said by some that the painting is centered on the heart, as is illustrated in this version.

Many researchers have tried to explain why the smile is seen so differently by people. The explanations range from scientific theories about human vision to curious supposition about Mona Lisa's identity and feelings. Professor Margaret Livingstone of Harvard University has argued that the smile is mostly drawn in low spatial frequencies, and so can best be seen with one's peripheral vision[12]. Thus, for example, the smile appears more striking when looking at the portrait's eyes than when looking at the mouth itself. Christopher Tyler and Leonid Kontsevich of the Smith-Kettlewell Institute in San Francisco believe that the changing nature of the smile is caused by variable levels of random noise in human visual system.[13] Dina Goldin, Adjunct Professor at Brown University, has argued that the secret is in the dynamic position of Mona Lisa's facial muscles, where our mind's eye unconsciously extends her smile; the result is an unusual dynamicity to the face that invokes subtle yet strong emotions in the viewer of the painting.[14]

It is also notable that Mona Lisa has no visible facial hair at all - including eyebrows and eyelashes. This is probably because it was common at this time for genteel women to pluck them off, since they were considered to be unsightly.[15] [16] For modern viewers this adds to the slightly mysterious semi-abstract quality of the face.

Detail of the eyes


Detail of the eyes

Detail of the mouth


Detail of the mouth

In late 2005, Dutch researchers from the University of Amsterdam ran the painting's image through an "emotion recognition" computer software developed in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.[17] The software found the smile to be 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful, 2% angry, less than 1% neutral, and not surprised at all. Rather than being a thorough analysis, the experiment was more of a demonstration of the new technology. The faces of ten women of Mediterranean ancestry were used to create a composite image of a neutral expression. Researchers then compared the composite image to the face in the painting. They used a grid to break the smile into small divisions, then checked it for each of six emotions: happiness, surprise, anger, disgust, fear, and sadness.

Detail of the bust


Detail of the bust

Detail of the hands


Detail of the hands

Although using a seemingly simple formula for portraiture, the expressive synthesis that Leonardo achieved between sitter and landscape has placed this work in the canon of the most popular and most analyzed paintings of all time. The sensuous curves of the woman's hair and clothing, created through sfumato, are echoed in the undulating valleys and rivers behind her. The sense of overall harmony achieved in the painting—especially apparent in the sitter's faint smile—reflects Leonardo's idea of the cosmic link connecting humanity and nature, making this painting an enduring record of Leonardo's vision and genius.


Detail of the background (right side)


Detail of the background (right side)

Detail of the background (left side)


Detail of the background (left side)

The enigmatic woman is portrayed seated in what appears to be an open loggia with dark pillar bases on either side. Behind her a vast landscape recedes to icy mountains. Winding paths and a distant bridge give only the slightest indications of human presence. The blurred outlines, graceful figure, dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and overall feeling of calm are characteristic of Leonardo's style.

The painting was one of the first portraits to depict the sitter before an imaginary landscape. One interesting feature of the landscape is that it is uneven. The landscape to the left of the figure is noticeably lower than that to the right of her. This has led some critics to suggest that it was added later.

The painting has been restored numerous times; X-ray examinations have shown that there are three versions of the Mona Lisa hidden under the present one. The thin poplar backing is beginning to show signs of deterioration at a higher rate than previously thought, causing concern from museum curators about the future of the painting.

The Last Supper (1495-1498)

 Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) - The Last Supper (1495-1498)

tempera on gesso, pitch and mastic, 460 × 880 cm

Santa Maria delle Grazie (Milan)









The Last Supper (Italian: Il Cenacolo or L'Ultima Cena) is a 15th century mural painting in Milan, created by Leonardo da Vinci for his patron Duke Lodovico Sforza. It represents the scene of The Last Supper from the final days of Jesus as depicted in the Bible. The painting is based on John 13:21, where Jesus announced that one of his 12 disciples would betray him. The painting is one of the most well known and valued in the world; unlike many other valuable paintings, however, it has never been privately owned because it cannot easily be moved.

Composition and meaning

The painting measures 460 × 880 cm (15 feet × 29 feet) and can be found in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. The theme was a traditional one for refectories, but Leonardo's interpretation gave it much greater realism and depth. The lunettes above the main painting, formed by the triple arched ceiling of the refectory, are painted with Sforza coats-of-arms. The opposite wall of the refectory is covered by a Crucifixion fresco by Donato Montorfano, to which Leonardo added figures of the Sforza family in tempera. (These figures have deteriorated in much the same way as has The Last Supper.) Leonardo began work on The Last Supper in 1495 and completed it in 1498 — however, he did not work on the piece continuously throughout this period.

The Last Supper specifically portrays the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray him. All twelve apostles have different reactions to the news, with various degrees of anger and shock. From left to right:

  • Bartholomew, James the Lesser and Andrew form a group of three, all are surprised. Andrew holds both of his hands up in a "stop!" gesture.
  • Judas Iscariot, Peter and John form another group of three. Judas is wearing green and is in shadow, looking rather withdrawn and taken aback by the sudden revelation of his plan. He is clutching a small bag of silver, given to him as payment to betray Jesus. Peter looks angry; perhaps foreshadowing Peter's reaction in Gethsemane. Peter is holding a knife, which is pointed away from Christ, also a foreshadowing of Peter's violent protection of Christ in Gethsemane. The youngest apostle, John, appears to swoon.
  • Thomas, James Major and Philip are the next group of three. Thomas is clearly upset; James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air. Meanwhile, Philip appears to be requesting some explanation.
  • Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot are the final group of three. Both Jude Thaddeus and Matthew are turned toward Simon, perhaps to find out if he has any answer to their initial questions.

These names are all agreed upon by art historians. In the 19th century, a manuscript (The Notebooks Leonardo Da Vinci pg. 232) was found with their names; before this only Judas, Peter, John and Jesus were positively identified.

In common with other depictions of the Last Supper from this period, Leonardo adopts the convention of seating the diners on one side of the table, so that none of them have their backs to us. However, most previous depictions had typically excluded Judas by placing him alone on the opposite side of the table from the other twelve. Another technique commonly used was placing halos around all the disciples except Judas. Leonardo creates a more dramatic and realistic effect by having Judas lean back into shadow. He also creates a realistic and psychologically engaging means to explain why Judas takes the bread at the same time as Jesus, just after Jesus has predicted that this is what his betrayer will do. Jesus is shown saying this to Saints Thomas and James to his left, who react in horror as Jesus points with his left hand to a piece of bread before them. Distracted by the conversation between John and Peter, Judas reaches for a different piece of bread, as, unseen by him, Jesus too stretches out with his right hand towards it. All of the angles and lighting draw attention to Christ.

The painting contains several references to the number 3, which may be an allusion to the Holy Trinity. The Apostles are seated in groupings of three; there are three windows behind Jesus; and the shape of Jesus' figure resembles a triangle. There may have been many other references that have since been lost to the painting's deterioration.


Leonardo painted The Last Supper on a dry wall rather than on wet plaster, so it is not a true fresco. Because a fresco cannot be modified as the artist works, Leonardo instead chose to seal the stone wall with a layer of pitch, gesso and mastic, then paint onto the sealing layer with tempera. Because of the method used, the piece has not withstood time very well – within several years of completion it already began showing signs of deterioration.

Damage and restorations

As early as 1517 the painting was starting to flake. By 1556 — less than sixty years after it was finished — Leonardo's biographer Giorgio Vasari described the painting as already "ruined" and so deteriorated that the figures were unrecognisable. In 1652 a doorway was cut through the (then unrecognisable) painting, and later bricked up; this can still be seen as the irregular arch shaped structure near the centre base of the painting. It is believed, through early copies, that Jesus' feet were in a position symbolizing the forthcoming crucifixion. In 1768 a curtain was hung over the painting for the purpose of protection; it instead trapped moisture on the surface, and whenever the curtain was pulled back, it scratched the flaking paint.

A first restoration was attempted in 1726 by Michelangelo Bellotti, who filled in missing sections with oil paint then varnished the whole. This repair lasted very poorly and another restoration was attempted in 1770 by Giuseppe Mazza. Mazza stripped off Bellotti's work then largely repainted the painting; he had redone all but three faces when he was halted due to public outrage. In 1796 French troops used the refectory as a prison; it is not known if any of the prisoners may have damaged the painting. In 1821 Stefano Barezzi, an expert in removing whole frescoes from their walls intact, was called in to remove the painting to a safer location; he badly damaged the centre section before realising that Leonardo's work was not a fresco. Barezzi then attempted to reattach damaged sections with glue. From 1901 to 1908, Luigi Cavenaghi first completed a careful study of the structure of the painting, then began cleaning it. In 1924 Oreste Silvestri did further cleaning, and stabilised some parts with stucco.

During World War II, on August 15, 1943, the refectory was struck by a bomb; protective sandbagging prevented the painting being struck by bomb splinters, but it may have been damaged further by the vibration. From 1951 to 1954 another clean-and-stabilise restoration was undertaken by Mauro Pelliccioli.

Major restoration

From 1978 to 1999 Pinin Brambilla Barcilon guided a major restoration project which undertook to permanently stabilise the painting, and reverse the damage caused by dirt, pollution, and the misguided 18th century and 19th century restoration attempts. Since it had proved impracticable to move the painting to a more controlled environment, the refectory was instead converted to a sealed, climate controlled environment. Then, detailed study was undertaken to determine the painting's original form, using scientific tests (especially infrared reflectoscopy and microscopic core-samples), and original cartoons preserved in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. Some areas were deemed unrestorable. These were re-painted with watercolour in subdued colours intended to indicate they were not original work, whilst not being too distracting.

This restoration took 21 years and on May 28, 1999 the painting was put back on display, although intending visitors are required to book ahead and can only stay for 15 minutes. When it was unveiled, considerable controversy was aroused by the dramatic changes in colours, tones, and even some facial shapes. James Beck, professor of art history at Columbia University and founder of ArtWatch International, has been a particularly strong critic.

The painting as it appeared before the major restoration in 1979 can be seen here.

Legends and alternative theories

A common legend surrounding the painting is that the same model was used for both Jesus and Judas. The story often goes that the innocent-looking young man, a baker, posed at nineteen for Jesus. Some years later Leonardo discovered a hard-bitten criminal as the model for Judas, not realizing he was the same man. There is no evidence that Leonardo used the same model for both figures and the story usually overestimates the time it took Leonardo to finish the mural.

There is a theory, first publicized in 1997 in the pseudohistorical book The Templar Revelation by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, that the person to the left of Jesus (to His right) is actually Mary Magdalene, rather than the apostle John (as most art historians identify the figure). This theory is central to Dan Brown's popular 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code.

In the novel, it is said that John/Mary Magdalene has a womanly bosom, feminine facial features, and is swaying gracefully toward Peter. Peter appears to be making a threatening gesture across Mary's throat. The author uses this theory to advance his view that Leonardo da Vinci was once the head of a secret society, the Priory of Sion, which protects the secret of Jesus' royal bloodline, and the location of his modern descendants. In actuality, despite the book's claim that the existence of the Priory was a "fact", it was proven to be a hoax that had initiated in 1956.

Critics of the novel's theories also point out that:

  • While damage makes it impossible to be sure of the figure's gender, it appears to be wearing male clothing.
  • There are only thirteen figures in the painting, so if one is Mary Magdalene, an apostle is missing: somebody would have noted a missing male apostle earlier. Some have suggested that on the front of the figure of Simon Peter there is one hand with a dagger which is associated to nobody in the picture, but in clearer reproductions  this is seen to be Peter's right hand, resting against his hip with the palm turned outward; the knife points towards Bartholomew (far left) who was to be executed by being flayed. It may also indicate Peter's impulsive nature, as he cuts off a soldier's ear in John 18:10. A detailed preliminary drawing of the arm exists.
  • Some of the painting's cartoons (preliminary sketches) are preserved, and none show female faces.

Castagno's version of The Last Supper, depicting St. John sleeping


Castagno's version of The Last Supper, depicting St. John sleeping

  • Other paintings from that period (Castagno’s 1447 and Ghirlandaio’s 1480) also show John to be a very boyish or feminine looking figure with long fair hair.[3] This was because John was supposed to have been the youngest and most unquestioningly devoted of the apostles. Hence he is often shown asleep against Jesus's shoulder. It was common in the period to show neophytes as very young or even feminine figures, as a way of showing their inferior position.
  • Leonardo also portrayed a male saint with similar effeminate features in his painting St. John the Baptist.

There have also been other popular speculations about the work:

  • It has been suggested that there is no cup in the painting, yet Jesus's left hand is pointing to the Eucharist and his right to a glass of wine. This is not the glorified chalice of legend as Leonardo insisted on realistic paintings. He often criticised Michelangelo for painting muscular, superhuman figures in the Sistine Chapel.
  • It is claimed that if one looks above the figure of Bartholemew, a Grail-like image appears on the wall.[2] Whether Leonardo meant this to be a representation of the Holy Grail cannot be known, since as pointed out earlier there is a glass on the table within Christ's reach. The "Grail image" has become noticed probably because it only appears when viewing the painting in small scale reproductions. Zooming in on the painting reveals a cluster of geometrical shapes, possibly intended to represent marble wall decoration, or more likely, panneling on a door.[4] They only appear to form a golden chalice when parts are deliberately occluded.
  • It is argued that the color of Jesus' and "Mary"'s clothes are inversions of each other, which suggest the two halves of marriage. However, there are other apostles with clothing of the same colors. Philip's clothing is also an inversion of Jesus's.
  • No credible researchers have ever supported the suggestion that the doorway was cut purposely to eliminate a sleeping apostle John from beneath the table, an image that would supposedly have proved that the figure appearing to the left of Jesus was Mary Magdalene. Several copies were painted before the door was cut. None show another figure, only table-legs and the sandled feet of Jesus. [3]

The Last Supper in culture


The Last Supper made in salt in Wieliczka salt mine (Poland)


The Last Supper made in salt in Wieliczka salt mine (Poland)

A fine 16th century oil on canvas copy is conserved in the abbey of Tongerlo, Antwerp, Belgium. It reveals many details that are no longer visible on the original. The Roman mosaic artist Giacomo Raffaelli made another life-sized copy (1809-1814) in the Viennese Minoritenkirche.

In modern times the painting has also been much imitated and parodied in art and photography. Mary Beth Edelson's "Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper" (1971) reproduced the composition with Georgia O'Keeffe in the central position. Likewise, Yo Mama's Last Supper, a controversial work of art by Renée Cox, was a montage of five photographs of 12 black men and a naked black woman (the artist's self portrait) posed in imitation of Leonardo's painting. Cox is pictured naked and standing, with her arms reaching upwards, as Jesus. The piece is exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and received acclaim and criticism in heavy measure, the latter notably by former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani.

In 1988, modern artist Vik Muniz famously displayed a recreation of The Last Supper, made entirely out of Bosco Chocolate Syrup.

In 2003, when pop star Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch was raided in a search for evidence regarding child molestation charges, a pastiche of The Last Supper was found. A photograph of this piece of art was taken and it depicts a similar scene as in the original work, except this one has Jackson posing in the position of Jesus, with the apostles replaced by great creative figures of history. It hangs above Jackson's bed in his private quarters.

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci


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                    Vitruvian Man

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The 'Vitruvian Man' is a famous drawing with accompanying notes by Leonardo da Vinci made around the year 1492 in one of his journals. It depicts a naked male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing and text are sometimes called the Canon of Proportions or, less often, Proportions of Man. It is on display in the Gallerie dell' Accademia in Venice, Italy.

Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, an example of the blend of art and science during the Renaissance.


Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, an example of the blend of art and science during the Renaissance.

This image provides the perfect example of Leonardo's keen interest in proportion. In addition, this picture represents a cornerstone of Leonardo's attempts to relate man to nature. Encyclopaedia Britannica online states, "Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe." It is also believed by some that Leonardo symbolised the material existence by the square and spiritual existence by the circle. Thus he attempted to depict the correlation between these two aspects of human existence.

According to Leonardo's notes in the accompanying text, written in mirror writing, it was made as a study of the proportions of the (male) human body as described in a treatise by the Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, who wrote that in the human body:

  • a palm is the width of four fingers
  • a foot is the width of four palms
  • a cubit is the width of six palms
  • a man's height is four cubits (and thus 24 palms)
  • a pace is four cubits
  • the length of a man's outspread arms is equal to his height
  • the distance from the hairline to the bottom of the chin is one-tenth of a man's height
  • the distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin is one-eighth of a man's height
  • the maximum width of the shoulders is a quarter of a man's height
  • the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand is one-fifth of a man's height
  • the distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eighth of a man's height
  • the length of the hand is one-tenth of a man's height
  • the distance from the bottom of the chin to the nose is one-third of the length of the head
  • the distance from the hairline to the eyebrows is one-third of the length of the face
  • the length of the ear is one-third of the length of the face

Leonardo is clearly illustrating Vitruvius De Architectura 3.1.3 which reads:

The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.

There is of course no such thing as a universal set of proportions for the human body. The field of anthropometry was created in order to describe these individual variations. Vitruvius' statements may be interpreted as statements about average proportions, or perhaps as descriptions of an ideal human form. Vitruvius goes through some trouble to give a precise mathematical definition of what he means by saying that the navel is the center of the body, but other definitions lead to different results; for example, the center of mass of the human body depends on the position of the limbs, and in a standing posture is typically about 10 cm lower than the navel, near the top of the hip bones.

Note that Leonardo's drawing combines a careful reading of the ancient text, combined with his own observation of actual human bodies. In drawing the circle and square he correctly observes that the square cannot have the same center as the circle, the navel, but is somewhat lower in the anatomy. This adjustment is the innovative part of Leonardo's drawing and what distinguishes it from earlier illustrations. He also departs from Vitruvius by drawing the arms raised to a position in which the fingertips are level with the top of the head, rather than Vitruvius's much higher angle, in which the arms form lines passing through the navel.

The drawing itself is often used as an implied symbol of the essential symmetry of the human body, and by extension, to the universe as a whole.

It may be noticed by examining the drawing that the combination of arm and leg positions actually creates sixteen different poses. The pose with the arms straight out and the feet together is seen to be inscribed in the superimposed square. On the other hand, the "spread-eagle" pose is seen to be inscribed in the superimposed circle.

The Vitruvian Man remains one of the most referenced and reproduced artistic images in the world today. The proportions for the human body, as proposed by Vitruvius, have inspired many other artists in drawing their version of the Vitruvian Man :

  • Cesare Ceasariano (1521) who edited the important 1521 edition of “De Archtectura” of Vitruvius (Leonardo da Vinci is supposed to have provided the illustrations for this edition).
  • Albrecht Dürer (1528) in his book “Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion” (Four books on human proportions)
  • Pietro di Giacomo Cataneo (1554)
  • Heinrich Lautensack (1618)
  • William Blake (1795) “Glad Day” (now known as "Albion rose"). This representation is without the circle and square.

Vitruvian Man on the Italian €1 coin


Vitruvian Man on the Italian €1 coin

Representations in modern times

In modern times, the Vitruvian man has been reinterpreted many times, among them :

The Skylab 2 patch show a Vitruvian Man, with a globe in rear.


The Skylab 2 patch show a Vitruvian Man, with a globe in rear.

  • In Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen #4, the cover of a fictional report depicts Dr. Manhattan in the Vitruvian Man's position inscribed in his symbol (a hydrogen atom).
  • In the TV Show, America's Next Top Model, the models posed for a representation of art photoshoot. One of the models, Nik, posed as the Vitruvian Man.
  • In Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code, one of the characters is found dead, having placed himself in the position of the Vitruvian man.
  • In Tim Burton's movie Corpse Bride Elder Gutknecht is finding out how to make a certain potion for Victor and the Corpse Bride (Emily) to use and as he flips through a dusty book there is a quick shot of "Vitruvian Man" in the bottom right corner of the left page. Instead of a human being there, there is a skeleton.
  • In the opening sequence of the 1997 British television satire Brass Eye, Christopher Morris assumes both positions of the Vitruvian Man (thanks to special effects).
  • In the logo of Enciclopedia Libre, a fork of the Spanish Wikipedia.
  • The logo of the Knoppix linux distribution is similar to the Vitruvian Man, but with a penguin instead.
  • Under the cd tray of Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar is a version of the Vitruvian Man but in a skeletal form.
  • The comic strip "Monty" features a version of the Vitruvian Man (wearing boxer shorts) in the title panel of its Sunday strips.
  • Power trio Triumph's Thunder Seven album cover art depicts the Vitruvian Man with three superimposed metallic figures.



Personal life

Leonardo kept his private life particularly secret. He claimed to have a distaste of physical relations: his comment that "the act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions", was later interpreted by Sigmund Freud, in an analysis of the artist, as indicative of his "frigidity".

Leonardo's alleged love of boys was a topic of discussion even in the sixteenth century. In "Il Libro dei Sogni" (The Book of Dreams), a fictional dialogue on l'amore masculino (male love) written by the contemporary art critic and theorist Gian Paolo Lomazzo, Leonardo appears as one of the protagonists and declares, "Know that male love is exclusively the product of virtue which, joining men together with the diverse affections of friendship, makes it so that from a tender age they would enter into the manly one as more stalwart friends."

Leonardo's servant and assistant, Caprotti il Salaino by an anonymous artist (1495)


Leonardo's servant and assistant, Caprotti il Salaino by an anonymous artist (1495)

Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, nicknamed Salai or il Salaino ("The Little Unclean One" i.e., the devil), was described by Vasari as "a graceful and beautiful youth with fine curly hair, in which Leonardo greatly delighted." Il Salaino entered Leonardo's household in 1490 at the age of 10. The relationship was not an easy one. A year later Leonardo made a list of the boy’s misdemeanours, calling him "a thief, a liar, stubborn, and a glutton." The "Little Devil" had made off with money and valuables on at least five occasions, and spent a fortune on apparel, among which were twenty-four pairs of shoes. Nevertheless, il Salaino remained his companion, servant, and assistant for the next thirty years, and Leonardo’s notebooks during their early years contain pictures of a handsome, curly-haired adolescent.

Il Salaino's name also appears (crossed out) on the back of an erotic drawing (ca. 1513) by the artist, The Incarnate Angel, at one time in the collection of Queen Victoria. It is seen as a humorous and revealing take on his major work, St. John the Baptist, (based on Salaino's appearance) also a work and a theme imbued with homoerotic overtones by a number of art critics such as Martin Kemp and James Saslow. In 1506, Leonardo met Count Francesco Melzi, the 15 year old son of a Lombard aristocrat. Melzi himself, in a letter, described Leonardo's feelings towards him as a sviscerato et ardentissimo amore ("a deeply passionate and most burning love"). Salai eventually accepted Melzi's continued presence and the three undertook journeys throughout Italy. Melzi became Leonardo's pupil and life companion, and is considered to have been his favourite student.

Though Salai was always introduced as Leonardo's "pupil", the artistic merit of his work has been a matter of debate. He is credited with a nude portrait of Lisa del Gioconda, known as Monna Vanna, painted in 1515 under the name of Andrea Salai.[11] The other portrait of Lisa del Gioconda, the Mona Lisa was bequeathed to Salai by Leonardo, a valuable piece even then, as it is valued in Salai's own will at £200,000.

Both of these relationships follow the pattern of eroticized apprenticeships which were frequent in the Florence of Leonardo's day, relationships which were often loving and frequently sexual. (See Historical pederastic couples.) Besides them, Leonardo had many other friends who are figures now renowned in their fields, or for their influence on history. These included Cesare Borgia, in whose service he spent the years of 1502 and 1503. During that time he also met Niccolò Machiavelli, with whom later he was to develop a close friendship. Also among his friends are counted Franchinus Gaffurius and Isabella d'Este, whose portrait he drew while on a journey which took him through Mantua.[10]



It is apparent from the works of Leonardo and his early biographers that he was a man of high integrity and very sensitive to moral issues. His respect for life led him to being a vegetarian for at least part of his life . The term "vegan" would fit him well, as he even entertained the notion that taking milk from cows amounts to stealing. Under the heading, "Of the beasts from whom cheese is made," he answers, "the milk will be taken from the tiny children.". Vasari reports a story that as a young man in Florence he often bought caged birds just to release them from captivity. He was also a respected judge on matters of beauty and elegance, particularly in the creation of pageants.

It is possible that Leonardo da Vinci embraced vegetarianism at a young age, and unverified claims have been made that he remained so for the entire duration of his life.

Johannite heresy

It has been the subject of much speculation whether da Vinci was an orthodox Christian or whether he was a heretic. Many conspiracy theorists believe that he was "infected" with the Johannite heresy, that is, he regarded not Jesus Christ but John the Baptist as the real Christ. This subject has also been the source for many best-selling books in recent time

Representations in popular culture

Main article: Leonardo da Vinci in popular culture

With the genius and legacy of Leonardo da Vinci having captivated authors and scholars generations after his death, many examples of "da Vinci fiction" can be found in culture and literature. As of 2006, the most prominent example is Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code (2003), which is concerned with Leonardo's role as a supposed member of a secret society called the Priory of Sion.


Further reading

  • Frank Zollner & Johannes Nathan (2003). Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Drawings. Taschen. ISBN 3-8228-1734-1 (hardback).
  • Fred Bérence (1965). Léonard de Vinci, L'homme et son oeuvre. Somogy. Dépot légal 4° trimestre 1965.
  • Charles Nicholl (2005). Leonardo da Vinci, The Flights of the mind. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-029681-6.
  • Simona Cremante (2005). Leonardo da Vinci: Artist, Scientist, Inventor. Giunti. ISBN 88-09-03891-6 (hardback).
  • John N. Lupia, "The Secret Revealed: How to Look at Italian Renaissance Painting," Medieval and Renaissance Times, Vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer, 1994): 6-17. (ISSN 1075–2110)