At die age of 17, in about 1469, Leonardo was apprenticed as 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 techniques, from the painting of altarpieces and panel pictures to the creation of large sculptural projects in marble and bronze.
Leonardo expanded his skills to other branches of interest, and in 1481 Leonardo wrote an astonishing letter to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. In this letter he stated that he knew how to build portable bridges; that he knew the techniques of constructing bombardments and of making cannons; that he could build ships as well as armoured vehicles, catapults, and other war machines; and that he could execute sculpture in marble, bronze, and clay.
While in Milan Leonardo kept up his own work and studies with the possible help of apprentices and pupils, for whom he probably wrote the various texts later compiled as Treatise on Painting (1651). The most important painting of those created in the early Milan age was The Virgin of the Rocks. Leonardo worked on this piece for an extended period of time. It is his earliest major painting that survives in complete form. From 1495 to 1497Leonardo laboured on his masterpiece, The Last Supper, a mural in the refectory of the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. While painting The Last Supper, Leonardo rejected the fresco technique.
Leonardo wanted to work slowly, revising his work, and use shadows-which would have been impossible in using fresco painting. He invented a new technique that involved coating the wall with a compound that he had created. This compound, which was supposed to protect the paint and hold it in place, did not work, and soon after its completion the paint began to flake away For this reason The Last Supper still exists, but in poor condition.
During Leonardo’s 18-year stay in Milan, he also produced other paintings and drawings, but most have been lost. He created stage designs for theatre, architectural drawings, and models for the dome of Milan Cathedral. Leonardo also began to produce scientific drawings, especially of the human body. He studied anatomy by dissecting human corpses and die bodies of animals. Leonardo’s drawings did not only clarify the appearance of bones, tendons, and other body parts but their function in addition. These drawings are considered to be the first accurate representations of human anatomy.
In December 1499, the Sforza family was driven out of Milan by French forces and Leonardo was forced to leave Milan. His unfinished statue of Ludovico Sforza’s father was destroyed by French archers. Leonardo then returned to Florence in 1500.
When Leonardo returned to Florence the citizens welcomed him with open arms because of the fame he acquired while in Milan. The work he did there strongly influenced other artists such as Sandro Botticelli and Piero di Cosimo. The work he was to produce would influence other masters such as Michelangelo and Raphael. In 1502, Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia, Duke of Romagna and son and Chief General of Pope Alexander VI. For this post, he supervised work on the fortress of the papal territories in central Italy, to 1503, he was a member of a commission of artists to decide on die proper location for the David by Michelangelo.
Towards the end of the year Leonardo began to design a decoration for the Great Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio. Leonardo chose the Battle of Anghiari as the subject of the mural, a victory for Florence in a war against Pisa. He made many drawings and sketches of a cavalry battle, with tense soldiers leaping horses and clouds of dust. In painting The Battle of Anghiari Leonardo again rejected Fresco and tried an experimental technique called encaustic. Once again the experiment was unsuccessful. Leonardo went on a trip and left the painting unfinished. When he returned he found that the paint had run and he never finished the painting. The paintings general appearance is known from Leonardo’s sketches and other artists’ copies of it.
During the time Leonardo painted the Palazzo Vecchio, he also painted several other works, including the most famous portrait ever, the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa, also known as La Giaconda, (after the presumed name of the model’s husband) became famous because of the unique expression on Lisa del Giaconda’s face.
In 1506, Leonardo returned to Milan to finish up some of his projects that he had to abandon during his hasty departure. Later, in 1516, he moved to Cloux, France, where he stayed with his pupil Melzi. While in Milan, he was named Court Painter to King Louis XH of France, who was then residing in Milan. For the next six years he travelled from Milan to Florence repeatedly to look after his inheritance. In 1514 he travelled to Rome under the patronage of Pope Leo X. During this time Leonardo’s energy was focussed mainly on his scientific experiments. He then moved to France to serve King Francis I. It is here in Chateau de Cloux that he died on May 2,1519.