Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519
by Anna Niederlander
The most expensive work of art ever to be sold at auction is the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, c.1500. Close to triple that of the second most expensive work ever sold, Picasso’s Women of Algiers, 1955, Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism bought Salvator Mundi for an incredible $450 million in November of 2017. Da Vinci is one of the most renowned artists of all time; he was the leading light of the Renaissance and the epitome of the “Renaissance man.” It comes as a surprise, then, that this is one of fewer than twenty paintings of his still in existence.
Da Vinci was born on April 15th, 1452, in Anchiano, a small Tuscan town. His father was a Florentine notary and his mother was a peasant; however, his stepmother raised him, which, by the law at the time, made him ‘illegitimate’. Because of this, he did not receive much formal education until the age of fourteen, when he moved to Florence and entered an apprenticeship under the esteemed artist, Andrea del Verrocchio. At twenty, he became a member of Florence’s Guild of Saint Luke and opened his own workshop. In 1482, da Vinci received a commission from Lorenzo de Medici, the ruler of the Florentine Republic and influential patron of the arts. He was asked to create a silver lyre as a peace gesture to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. After the completion of this work, da Vinci applied to work for Ludovico as a military machines engineer. He received the position. Ludovico funded him for seventeen years, during which time he was commissioned to do many of his most famous works, such as The Last Supper, 1495-6.
Da Vinci was an intellectual, whose curiosity drove him into numerous fields outside of art, such as geology, hydraulics, physics and aeronautics. He was an engineer, who designed a flying machine that resembled a bicycle and a helicopter. Art and science were deeply connected in da Vinci’s mind, and he believed that one’s artistic merit could be improved through the study of science and the natural world. He was deeply devoted to the study of anatomy, dissecting human and animals during the 1480s. His illustrations of a heart, vascular system, sex organs and other structures are some of the first on record. Over six million people go to the Louvre each year to see Mona Lisa, gazing at them with her mysterious smile from behind bulletproof glass. Debatably the most famous work of art in the world, da Vinci started working on it in 1503, though he never completed it. It was here that he showcased the sfumato technique for the first time.
He was an illegitimate child, self-taught while many scholars at the time received lengthy and prestigious educational training, and his flamboyant style, which was composed of a lot of pink tones, made him stand out. He was an outsider and, still to this day, is esteemed as one of the most gifted, inventive and accomplished men in history.
"Leonardo Da Vinci." Biography.com. Accessed April 05, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/leonardo-da-vinci-40396.
Morrison, Blake. "Leonardo Da Vinci: The Biography by Walter Isaacson Review – Unparalleled Creative Genius." The Guardian. December 16, 2017. Accessed April 05, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/dec/16/leonardo-da-vinci-the-biography-walter-isaacson-review.
"The Last Da Vinci." The Last Da Vinci Comes to Auction at Christie's | Christie's. November 12, 2017. Accessed April 05, 2018. http://www.christies.com/features/The-last-da-Vinci-Salvator-Mundi-8598-3.aspx.
"The Last Da Vinci." Christies. November 12, 2017. Accessed April 05, 2018. http://www.christies.com/features/The-last-da-Vinci-Salvator-Mundi-8598-3.aspx.