Robin Urton: dimensional paintings on glass


Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) also employed linear perspective in paintings which contained architecture, and was one of the first artists to make note in his writings about the existence of atmospheric perspective. To give the illusion of receding depth in nature, he painted with warm tones in the foreground, and cool tones in the distance. He also employed a sfumato effect in his figures, one of the trademarks of his Mona Lisa. In addition, he created mathematical formulas for human proportions. This is exemplified in his famous drawing of the human figure inside of a square and a circle, expressing the perfection of the harmony between mathematics and nature. Combining science and art, he was the prototype of a Renaissance Man.

portrait by an unknown Tuscan artist


 A Brief Biography of Leonardo da Vinci's life:

Apri1 15, 1452 - Leonardo was born in Vinci, near Florence. He was the illegitimate son of a notary, Ser Piero, and a young woman named Caterina.
1457 - At five Leonardo moved to his father's home. Meanwhile his father had married Alberia Amadori.
- He moved to Florence with his father.
1469 - He began his apprenticeship in Verrocchio's artisan workshop.
- He moved to Milan where he carried to the court of Ludovico il Moro a letter in which his services were recommended as an engineer, architect, sculptor, painter and musician (paintings during this period included the portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, "Lady with an Ermine", and the first version of the "Virgin of the Rocks").
1495 - He began his best known work, the Last Supper, in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie (completed in 1499). The Duke Ludovico il Moro fell under the control of the French armies of Louis XII. Leonardo abandoned Milan and started wandering from court to court, from Mantua and Venice to Friuli.
- He was once again in Florence where he began the Mona Lisa.
1508 - He returned to Milan where he took up his studies on anatomy, town-planning, optics and hydraulic engineering.
1513 - Following the return of the Sforzas as rulers of Milan once more, Leonardo moved to Rome on the invitation of the pope, Giuliano dei Medici (Pope Leo X).
1516 - The King of France, François I, invited him to France where, at the Castle of Cloux, near Amboise, he was given the post of "first painter, engineer and architect to the King".
May 2, 1519 -Leonardo died at Cloux and was buried in the Church of St. Valentine at Amboise, France. In his will, dated April 23 of the same year, he bequeathed all his manuscripts, drawings and various instruments and tools to his favourite pupil, Francesco Melzi.



Over 5000 drawings survived the centuries since Leonardo's death

Leonardo's notebooks are the chief claim to his genius, since many of his paintings are unfinished or in poor repair. The sheer quantity of over 5000 drawings has not been approached by any other Renaissance artist, and few things escaped the range of his interests. Among his subjects were men, women, horses, dogs, trees, flowers, fruit, moving water, monsters, caricatures, anatomy, architecture, mechanical diagrams, and maps. These incredible records were almost lost .


 Old Man and Water Studies:

One of Leonardo's pioneering interests were his studies of the patterns of flowing water. Long before slow-motion photography, he was probably the first to grasp the geometrical swirling of currents. In his notes, he even makes mention to its similarity with the curls of hair. It is unknown who the old man in this drawing is. I like to think of it is a self-portrait... a picture of the artist alongside one of the problems which took much of his focus).

In his will, dated April 23, 1519, Leonardo bequeathed all his manuscripts, drawings and various instruments and tools to his favorite pupil, Francesco Melzi. With the death of Melzi in 1570, the manuscripts were scattered by Melzi's heirs. Having no idea of their importance, they initially stored Leonardo's drawings and manuscripts in a loft, later giving parts of it away or selling sheets cheaply to friends and collectors. A significant portion fell into the hands of a sculptor named Pompeo Leoni, who lost part of the collection and also rearranged the order of its contents. In an effort to sort the artistic drawings from the technical ones, he split up the original manuscripts, cut and pasted pages and created two separate collections. Leonardo's manuscripts are today nothing like the way they appeared and were grouped together during his lifetime. Today they consist of several bound volumes which are scattered in collections across the world.

Leonardo's design for a helicopter employed
the use of a giant screw to displace the air.

Leonardo's design for an armored car.
The idea became actualized only centuries later


Since the primary function of Leonardo's employment for the Duke of Milan was to be a military engineer, his notebooks include many designs for military machines, such as this design for a crossbow, at left. It was also probably for the duke that he devised the armored car (above). His notebooks also describe a chariot with revolving knives at the axles, catapults, and even stink bombs! He also employed as an architect, and there are many drawings related to the design of cathedrals. The study of weights and hydraulic machines may have also been related to his employment with the duke. His personal interests were recorded in his study of the flight of birds, optics, geometry, the movement of water, anatomy, geography, horse studies, and a series of maps. He also did drawings in preparation for his paintings, and many studies of the diversity of human expressions. The manuscripts also contain numerous pages testifying to Leonardo's self-taught efforts to improve his literary education. He was, in every sense of the term, a true "Renaissance Man".


Flying Machines: It was from Leonardo's studies of the flight of birds that he was able to devise his inventions of flying machines. It is known that he created models from some of these drawings, though he was never actually able to make any of them fly. Some of themhave since been recreate into models by the Leonardo Museum in the town of Vinci. See



Anatomical Studies:

Leonardo was one of the first artist/scientists to systematically map the human body in his drawings. This work began as a preliminary understanding for the purpose of creating art, but once he entered this field (like so many other of Leonardo's pursuits) it brought him into a whole new world of study. Leonardo claimed to have dissected more than 30 cadavers of both sexes and all ages. He also made notes on comparative studies between the larger animals.

I noticed that this embryonic drawing is accompanied by smaller images of seeds, thus comparing human anatomy with botany. Probably the first image of an embryo which is still in the womb, it is one of his most famous studies.


Grotesque Old Men:

Leonardo was equally interested in images of beautiful youths and ugly, toothless men. He felt that it was important to study all human characteristics for their expressive potential. His ability to render anything that captivated his interests creates a beautiful drawing, though the subject may be a caricature of grotesque features.


The numerous studies of horses which Leonardo created are probably related to the Colossal Horse statue that he was commissioned to create as a memorial for the duke of Milan. He created a gigantic clay sculpture of the horse and gave detailed instructions for how it was to be cast in bronze. The drawing at right is a diagram for an armature that was to hold the separately cast pieces together. See story below.


 Leonardo's Colossal Horse Recreated

(Smithsonian Article, September 98)


In the days when Milan was one of the richest and most powerful city-states in northern Italy, its duke, Ludovico Sforza, liked to do things in a grand way. In 1482 he commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to create the biggest horse statue ever. Made to honor the duke's father, it was to be 24 feet high. Leonardo spent years sketching a great charger, eventually sculpting a full-sized model in clay and leaving notes about how to cast it - the bronze would weigh 80 tons! But then a French army threatened and the metal was needed for cannon. When Milan fell in September 1499, Leonardo fled. French archers used the clay horse for target practice. For more than four centuries it was lost to history.

Then a most unlikely thing happened. United Airlines pilot Charles Dent, a lover of Italy and an amateur sculptor, saw copies of the Leonardo sketches that had been rediscovered in Spain in 1966. Dent sculpted a rough clay model of Leonardo's charger, and resolved that somehow he would build the famous animal as a gift from the American people to the people of Italy. Such a horse looked like a 100-to-1 shot, but Dent persevered. He created an organization, Leonardo da Vinci's Horse, Inc., which raised $4 million.

The job of making the horse was given to the Tallix, Inc., foundry in Beacon, New York. Charles Dent died in 1994, but the work went on, most recently under the direction of sculptor Nina Akamu, who created the eight-foot master model. From it, a larger, clay version was made and will be cast in bronze. On September 10, 1999, five hundred years to the day after the archers shot Leonardo's model to pieces, the bronze horse - broken down into seven manageable sections and flown for free from the United States by Alitalia - will take its place on a pedestal in the ancient city of Milan.


Leonardo had intended to combine all of his notebooks into encyclopedaic volumes, connecting all of the observed sciences. As he aged, he probably realized that this work was never to be finished. He had also witnessed the beginnings of deterioration of his most important work, the Last Supper, and the total destruction of his colossal horse. Though still esteemed a great painter, the reputation of his younger contemporaries, Michelangelo and Raphael were succeeding his own, and he was no longer called upon to create great commissions. He may have been concerned that the world would soon forget him when he sat down to create his famous self-portrait. His magnificence and sadness are recorded in his expression.

The following is a list of some of the collections which contain the Leonardo manuscripts: The Royal Windsor collection (London, England), The National Library of Madrid (Spain), Biblioteca Trivulziana at the Castello Sforzesco (Milan, Italy), Biblioteca Reale of Turin, Institute de France (Paris), Victoria and Albert Museum (England), and a recently purchased collection of Bill Gates.

to Leonardo's Paintings