The Young Leonardo: Art and Life in Fifteenth-Century Florence

The Young Leonardo: Art and Life in Fifteenth-Century Florence

Larry J. Feinberg

Language: English

Pages: 216

ISBN: 1107002397

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Leonardo da Vinci is often presented as the "Transcendent Genius," removed from or ahead of his time. This book, however, attempts to understand him in the context of Renaissance Florence. Larry J. Feinberg explores Leonardo's origins and the beginning of his career as an artist. While celebrating his many artistic achievements, the book illuminates his debt to other artists' works and his struggles to gain and retain patronage, as well as his career and personal difficulties. Feinberg examines the range of Leonardo's interests, including aerodynamics, anatomy, astronomy, botany, geology, hydraulics, optics, and warfare technology, to clarify how the artist's broad intellectual curiosity informed his art. Situating the artist within the political, social, cultural, and artistic context of mid- and late-fifteenth-century Florence, Feinberg shows how this environment influenced Leonardo's artistic output and laid the groundwork for the achievements of his mature works.

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his works, he rarely chose – or was given the opportunity – to tackle classical subject matter in his art. Nonetheless, his knowledge and talents profoundly impressed the Medici, who gave him as many commissions as he could handle; his earliest surviving sculptures, the lavamano and La Piagnona, were created for Medici churches, and Sassetti, of whom he carved an arresting bust, was the Medici’s banker. After Verrocchio completed those works, the family assigned him a range of projects in various

related work, depicting the Virgin and Child with a Cat (figs. 38 and 39), indicate the artist’s desire to make the compositions as dynamic and intricate as possible – a major advance from the more staid, frontal stance of the Munich Madonna, which, as we have seen, was based on a Verrocchio prototype. Leonardo had attempted, tactfully and minimally, to distinguish his Virgin and Child with the Carnation from the standard Verrocchio shop piece by including beautiful, if improbable, flourishes –

had he placed the finishing glint or sparkle on a Verrocchio-shop picture. This form-over-color approach was in accord with notions espoused by the Neoplatonists, particularly Ficino, who wrote in his treatise, “On the Immortality of the Soul,” that “sight cannot perceive colors unless it assumes [first] the forms of these colors.” That is, color has no reality independent of a solid object. Powerful as the Adoration of the Magi was in its unfinished state, Leonardo’s failure to consummate it

Though my flesh, before its tenant, was already as good as dead, the fires of passion kept boiling within me. Reacting to unseen powers, Leonardo’s lion roars as the emaciated saint strikes his chest with a rock to drive out his own bestial and carnal spirits. In one of his moralizing tracts on animals, Leonardo wrote that, at the sound of a lion’s roar, “Evil flees away, shunning those who are virtuous.” During the day, the artist would have observed and drawn the Florentine pride of lions

have acquainted him primarily with standard religious texts, including the Fior di virt`u (Flowers of Virtue). This medieval book illustrated virtues and vices through engaging stories about biblical and classical heroes and various legends of animals. He would also have read the Epistole e Evangeli (extracts from the Epistles and Gospels read daily at mass) and the thirteenth-century Legenda aurea (Golden Legend) of Jacobus da Voragine, a popular compendium of saints’ lives. He would have

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