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Leonardo Da Vinci

November 14, 2011 by staff 

Leonardo Da Vinci, Unexpectedly, the subtitle to the National Gallery’s Leonardo show – Painter at the Court of Milan – is more about its first word than it is the other five.

This is not the narrow reappraisal of a period in Leonardo’s career so much as a reminder that he was a painter at all: a necessary nudge, given that Da Vinci the artist has recently been hidden by so many other Da Vincis. There has been Leonardo the inventor of submarines (as seen at the V&A in 2006); Leonardo the anatomist and cartographer (ditto); Leonardo the tortured hmosxl; Leonardo the Renaissance genius; and, last and most wearisomely, Leonardo the occult anti-hero of The Da Vinci Code. Buried beneath these and easy to lose sight of is the man who merely created the two most famous images in the history of art, Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

If the first is the best known of Leonardo’s works, the second is his masterpiece, the culmination of the 17 years he spent as court painter to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. The bstrd son of a Tuscan notary, the 30-year-old Da Vinci was already known as a gifted maker – of war machines, water screws, silver lyres – when Lorenzo de’ Medici sent him to the Milanese ruler as a living objet de luxe in 1482. It was in this time away from Florence that Leonardo came into his own as a painter, as something more than the talented student of his master, Verrocchio.

There were certain things he did not leave behind in Florence, however, among them a woeful inability to finish projects. Commissioned to make a vast equestrian statue in bronze of Ludovico’s father, Francesco, Leonardo never got further than a full-scale clay model. Catastrophic in one sense, this did at least mean that he spent his time in Milan thinking about sculpture, and – being Leonardo – about sculpture vis-à-vis painting.

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