Elsa Franco Al Ghaslan
If, talking about Italian literature, one cannot avoid mentioning Dante Alighieri, once we speak about Italian art the first name that comes to one’s lips is Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo was born in Vinci, a village near Florence, in 1452, at the time when Italy was living the glory of Renaissance. Young Leonardo had an alert, precocious spirit and was interested in all that surrounded him. His father took him to the “bottega” (workshop) of famous painter Verrocchio, where Leonardo started his formation as an artist. Florence ruler and patron of the arts Lorenzo de’ Medici, called “The Magnificent,” immediately guessed the young artist’s talent and welcomed him at his court. After a few years Leonardo was sent to Milano, at the court of another great Remaissance prince, Ludovico Sforza. Here Leonardo reached the highest peaks of his career, an unbelievable array of successes that touched all possible fields of human science and knowledge. When he started having problems because of his medical studies on dead human bodies (forbidden at the time), he moved to France, where he lived — greatly honored — as a guest of King Francis I until his death, in 1519.
Leonardo has been rightly defined as the greatest genius of all times because his knowledge included … everything!
He is mainly known as the artist who painted the most famous painting in the world, “Mona Lisa,” that can nowadays be admired at the “Louvre” Museum in Paris. But not everybody knows that he was also a sculptor, an architect, a musician, a mathematician, an engineer, an anatomist, a geologist, a cartographer, a botanist and a writer. Last but not least, he was also a great inventor. Some of his inventions were too advanced for his time, so they were never actually exploited. The best known is a flying machine which, tested in modern times, has been proven to be perfectly working — the same as a war tank and a diving gear he had devised. He drew sketches of buildings, aqueducts, sewage plants, roads, musical instruments etc.. He studied the anatomy of animals (especially birds and horses) and the constitution of plants. He was obsessed with understanding the way the human body works (heart, muscles etc.). All his studies, discoveries, intuitions and reflections are recorded in his diaries (that he used to write backwards to prevent others from reading them).
A number of years ago a rare exhibition of his original drawings and writings was held in Venice historical mansion “Palazzo Grassi” and I was lucky enough to attend it. I can only say that the three-hour waiting in line was more than worth it. The emotion that witnessing such intellectual magnitude can transmit cannot be easily described.
Other well known paintings of his are “The Last Supper” and “The Virgin of the Rocks.” Interestingly enough, it seems that Leonardo was particularly fond of “Mona Lisa” and always carried it with him, wherever he went. Till now, no one has been able to say “for sure” whose portrait it is.