Grant Wood was born on a farm near the small town of Anamosa, in 1891. By painting simple scenes of the land and people he knew best, he helped create an important, all-American style of art. Grant Wood’s paintings show the love he had for the people and customs of the Midwestern United States. Grant Wood particularly loved the farmland of Iowa. While growing up, he enjoyed feeling the soft, warm soil between his toes as he walked barefoot through the fields. In his painting Young Cornit seems like the round, friendly hills are protecting the farmer and his children while they work in their fields.
Grant Wood showed an interest in art at a very early age. He often drew pictures with burnt sticks his mother gave him from her stove. Even though Grant drew pictures every chance he got, everyone thought he’d grow up to be a farmer like his father. Grant seemed to enjoy his farm chores, and had his own goats, chickens, ducks and turkeys. When Grant was ten years old, a very sad thing happened to him. His father died, and his mother found that it was too difficult to keep the farm running. She decided to move her family to the nearby city of Cedar Rapids. It was a hard move for Grant. He missed his farm pets, and felt out of place at the new city school. Some kids even made fun of him. Because of his good sense of humor and his talent for drawing, things eventually got better for Grant. In high school he made friends and was always busy working on projects, like designing scenery for school plays and drawing pictures for the school paper and yearbook. After he graduated in 1910, Grant did a lot of different things. He took art classes, taught art, made jewelry, learned carpentry, decorated people’s houses and cared for his mother and his sister Nan.
He loved gadgets and making things, and he worked slowly and carefully at all of his crafts. He was even able to use his artistic talent when he joined the army during World War 1. His job was to paint camouflage on tanks and cannons. During this time, American art students were often encouraged to study and paint in the style of the great 19th century French Impressionist artists. In 1920, Grant decided to travel to Europe to study artists like Pierre Bonnard, Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissarro. It was after his trip to Germany that Grant found a way to paint that was all his own. He decided to paint the subjects he knew and loved, using some of the simple ideas of the old European masters. Grant realized that scenes of the people and places he knew while growing up were as beautiful and important as anything he had seen in Europe.
In Woman with Plants, Grant painted his mother as a strong and loving frontier woman. He placed her in a farm landscape and paid special attention to the decorative stitching on her dress, the cameo around her neck, the potted plant and other details that were important to her. People all over Iowa were proud of Grant’s portrait of his mother. It was one of the first paintings about the Midwest that seemed like it was done by someone who really knew and understood the people there. Grant kept working in his new style and soon painted his most famous picture, American Gothic.
One day, while Grant was looking for something interesting to paint, he discovered a farmhouse with an unusual window. The arch-shaped window was based on a style of European architecture from the Middle Ages called Gothic architecture. Grant liked the contrast of a European window on an American farmhouse. After he made sketches of the house, Grant looked for just the right people to go with it. He thought his family dentist and his own sister, Nan, would be perfect for the farmer and his daughter. Grant entered American Gothic in a big show at the Art Institute of Chicago, and won the third place prize. People all over America loved the newspaper pictures they saw of it. Soon, Grant’s paintings started to become very popular. One reason for this was that many people felt Grant’s art was easier to understand than a lot of the new modern art being done. Another reason Grant’s paintings became so popular was that they came along during a rough time in history known as the Great Depression.
The depression caused many people to lose their jobs and savings. It made people feel better to look at Grant Wood’s painting of beautiful farmlands and proud, hard-working families who helped make America great. Grant also painted pictures of famous American legends. While growing up, he had loved the stories he heard about George Washington and Paul Revere. In Midnight Ride of Paul Revere Grant showed the story as he imagined it as a child. He painted broccoli-shaped trees and toy-like houses. The roads go off into the background and seem to glow in the dark. Grant gave his painting an almost fairytale look. Paul Revere’s horse even looks more like a wooden rocking horse than a real horse!
Grant also started an art colony, and designed one of the largest stained glass windows ever made. Grant wood died in 1942. It had taken him many years to find a way to paint that he felt was special enough to call his own. After searching the art center of Europe, Grant had finally realized the best place to create art was right in his own backyard. When Grant Wood painted American Gothic, he was just having fun showing the people he had known all his life. Some people thought Grant was making fun of farmers, while others thought he was honoring them. One reason American Gothic has become so popular is that very often people see something in it that reminds them of themselves.
Painter, muralist. Born on December 8, 1886, in Guanajuato, Mexico. Now thought to be one of the leading artists of the twentieth century, Rivera began drawing as a child. He studied art at the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts while in his teens and then traveled to Europe to live and work on his art. He had some success as a Cubist painter, but the course of world events would strongly change the style and subject of his work. Inspired by the political ideals of the Mexican Revolution (1914-15) and the Russian Revolution (1917), Rivera wanted to make art that reflected the lives of the working class and native peoples of Mexico.
In 1921, through a government program, Rivera began to express his artistic ideas about Mexico, its people and its history by starting a series of murals in public buildings. In the 1930s and 1940s, Rivera painted several murals in the United States. Some of his works created controversy, especially the one he did for the Rockefeller family in the RCA building in New York City. The mural, known asMan at the Crossroads, featured a portrait of Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin. The Rockefellers protested, but Rivera refused to remove the portrait. The Rockefellers had Rivera stop work on the mural and had it destroyed.
His personal life was as dramatic as his artwork. In 1929, he married artist Frida Kahlo, who was roughly 20 years his junior. The two had a passionate, but stormy relationship, divorcing once in 1939 only to remarry later. She died in 1954. He then married Emma Hurtado, his art dealer. Rivera died of heart failure on November 24, 1957, in Mexico City, Mexico.
Claude Monet, also known as Claude Oscar Monet, was the original founder and practitioner of the French Impressionist movement in painting. Some of his best known works include Impression, Sunrise (for which the movement was named), Water Lilies, and Haystacks.
Monet was born Claude Oscar Monet on November 14, 1840 in Paris, France to Claude-Adolphe, a grocery store owner, and Louise-Justine Aubree, a singer. As the younger of two sons, Monet’s father hoped that he would continue the family grocer store business, but Monet had other ideas. To his father’s dismay, Monet openly declared his love of art and his hopes of living life as an artist.
In 1851, at the age of eleven, Monet began his studies at the Le Havre school for the arts and began selling charcoal paintings to locals in the area. After studying under the watchful eye of Jacques-Francois Ochard for a few years, Monet met and befriended Eugene Boudin who helped Monet master oil paints and “plein air” techniques. In 1857, Monet’s mother passed away and he left school to live with his aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre.
On a visit to the Louvre in Paris, Monet observed painters mimicking the work of famous artists. Instead of copying styles of other painters, Claude Monet, who always traveled with his paints, sat by the window and painted the view. His life in Paris brought him closer to other painters, many of whom he befriended. One of these painters was Edouard Manet.
In 1861 Monet joined the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry in Algeria where he stayed for two years. Although he was originally supposed to remain in Algeria for seven years, his aunt petitioned for his return after he contracted typhoid. In exchange for his unfulfilled work with the Cavalry, Monet agreed to study art at a university. After trying his hand at academics, Monet began studying with Charles Gleyre in 1862 and met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frederic Bazille with whom Monet shared ideas on new, rapid painting techniques.
During his time with Gleyre, Monet met Camille Doncieux with whom he had a son, Jean, in 1867. Shortly thereafter, Monet ran into financial difficulties and attempted suicide in 1868. Camille helped him recover and they married in June of 1870.
When the Franco-Prussian War began in July of 1870, Monet and Camille decided to leave France and take refuge in England where Claude Monet studied other artists like John Constable and Joseph William Turner. Although his paintings were denied exhibition by the Royal Academy, Monet refused to give up and, instead, moved to Zaandam to continue his work. In the fall of 1871 Monet returned to France where he settled in Argenteuil near Paris.
During his time at Argenteuil, Monet focused more on developing his impressionistic style, painting the famous Impression, Sunrise in 1872 which later served to name the impressionist movement.
Camille fell ill in 1876 and never fully recovered. Although she eventually gave birth to their second son, Michel, Camille’s body was weak and she passed away on September 5, 1879 from tuberculosis. Monet painted Camille Monet, on her death bed, a last tribute to his wife.
Camille’s death was very difficult on Monet and he grieved heavily for several months. Eventually Monet became even more determined to create masterpieces and he started painting in groups and series. He and his children moved into the home of Ernest Hoshede, a patron of the arts. After Hoshede experienced some financial problems, Monet moved to Poissy with Hoshede’s wife, Alice, and her six children and later to Giverny where Claude Monet planted a vast garden that later inspired his famous works featuring willows and water lilies. Although they’d been estranged for many years, Alice waited until after her husband’s death to accept Monet’s hand in marriage. They exchanged vows in 1892.
Monet continued his focus on series’ paintings, using his garden as constant inspiration. After his wife’s death in 1911 and Jean’s death in 1914, Monet developed cataracts that affected his ability to see accurate colors. Claude Monet even went back and adjusted some of these colors after his surgery.
Claude Monet died in 1926 from lung cancer. He is buried in the cemetery of the Giverny church. His remaining family and heirs bequeathed his Giverny home and gardens to the French Academy of Fine Arts in 1966.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (15 July 1606 – 4 October 1669) was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history and the most important in Dutch history. His contributions to art came in a period of great wealth and cultural achievement that historians call the Dutch Golden Age, when Dutch Golden Age painting, although in many ways antithetical to theBaroque style that dominated Europe, was extremely prolific and innovative.
Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt’s later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships. Yet his etchings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime, his reputation as an artist remained high, and for twenty years he taught many important Dutch painters. Rembrandt’s greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity.
In his paintings and prints he exhibited knowledge of classical iconography, which he molded to fit the requirements of his own experience; thus, the depiction of a biblical scene was informed by Rembrandt’s knowledge of the specific text, his assimilation of classical composition, and his observations of Amsterdam's Jewish population. Because of his empathy for the human condition, he has been called “one of the great prophets of civilization.”
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (July 10, 1834 – July 17, 1903) was an American-born, British-based artist. Averse to sentimentality and moral allusion in painting, he was a leading proponent of the credo “art for art’s sake”. His famous signature for his paintings was in the shape of a stylized butterfly possessing a long stinger for a tail. The symbol was apt, for it combined both aspects of his personality—his art was characterized by a subtle delicacy, while his public persona was combative. Finding a parallel between painting and music, Whistler titled many of his paintings “arrangements”, “harmonies”, and “nocturnes”, emphasizing the primacy of tonal harmony. His most famous painting is Whistler’s Mother (1871), the revered and oft parodied portrait of motherhood. Whistler influenced the art world and the broader culture of his time with his artistic theories and his friendships with leading artists and writers.
Painter, founder of the 19th-century French school of Neo-Impressionism whose technique for portraying the play of light using tiny brushstrokes of contrasting colours became known as Pointillism. Using this techique, he created huge compositions with tiny, detached strokes of pure colour too small to be distinguished when looking at the entire work but making his paintings shimmer with brilliance. Works in this style include Une Baignade(1883-84) and Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte (1884-86).
A French painter who was a leader in the neo-impressionist movement of the late 19th century, Georges Seurat is the ultimate example of the artist as scientist. He spent his life studying color theories and the effects of different linear structures. His 500 drawings alone establish Seurat as a great master, but he will be remembered for his technique called pointillism, or divisionism, which uses small dots or strokes of contrasting color to create subtle changes in form.
Georges-Pierre Seurat was born on Dec. 2, 1859, in Paris. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1878 and 1879. His teacher was a disciple of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Young Seurat was strongly influenced byRembrandt and Francisco de Goya.
After a year of military service at Brest, Seurat exhibited his drawing Aman-Jean at the official Salon in 1883. Panels from his painting Bathing at Asnieres were refused by the Salon the next year, so Seurat and several other artists founded the Societe des Artistes Independants. His famous canvas Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte was the centerpiece of an exhibition in 1886. By then Seurat was spending his winters in Paris, drawing and producing one large painting each year, and his summers on France’s northern coast. In his short life Seurat produced seven monumental paintings, 60 smaller ones, drawings, and sketchbooks. He kept his private life very secret, and not until his sudden death in Paris on March 29, 1891, did his friends learn of his mistress, who was the model for his painting Young Woman Holding a Powder Puff.
Rene Magritte was born in Lessines, in the province of Hainaut, in 1898, the eldest son of Leopold Magritte, who was a tailor and textile merchant, and Regina (nee Bertinchamps), a milliner until her marriage. Little is known about Magritte’s early life. He began lessons in drawing in 1910. On 12 March 1912, his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Sambre. This was not her first attempt; she had made many over a number of years, driving her husband Leopold to lock her into her bedroom. One day she escaped, and was missing for days. She was later discovered a mile or so down the nearby river, dead. According to a legend, 13-year-old Magritte was present when her body was retrieved from the water, but recent research has discredited this story, which may have originated with the family nurse. Supposedly, when his mother was found, her dress was covering her face, an image that has been suggested as the source of several oil paintings Magritte painted in 1927-1928 of people with cloth obscuring their faces, including Les Amants.
Magritte’s earliest oil paintings, which date from about 1915, were Impressionistic in style. From 1916 to 1918 he studied at the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, under Constant Montald, but found the instruction uninspiring. The oil paintings he produced during the years 1918-1924 were influenced by Futurism and by the offshoot of Cubism practiced by Metzinger. Most of his works of this period are female nudes.
In 1922 Magritte married Georgette Berger, whom he had met as a child in 1913. From December 1920 until September 1921, Magritte served in the Belgian infantry in the Flemish town of Beverlo near Leopoldsburg. In 1922-1923, he worked as a draughtsman in a wallpaper factory, and was a poster and advertisement designer until 1926, when a contract with Galerie la Centaure in Brussels made it possible for him to paint full-time. In 1926, Magritte produced his first surreal oil painting, The Lost Jockey (Le jockey perdu), and held his first exhibition in Brussels in 1927. Critics heaped abuse on the exhibition. Depressed by the failure, he moved to Paris where he became friends with Andre Breton, and became involved in the surrealist group.
Galerie la Centaure closed at the end of 1929, ending Magritte’s contract income. Having made little impact in Paris, Magritte returned to Brussels in 1930 and resumed working in advertising. He and his brother, Paul, formed an agency which earned him a living wage.
Surrealist patron Edward James allowed Magritte, in the early stages of his career, to stay rent free in his London home and paint. James is featured in two of Magritte’s pieces, Le Principe du Plaisir (The Pleasure Principle) and La Reproduction Interdite, an oil painting also known as Not to be Reproduced.
During the German occupation of Belgium in World War II he remained in Brussels, which led to a break with Breton. He briefly adopted a colorful, painterly style in 1943-44, an interlude known as his “Renoir Period”, as a reaction to his feelings of alienation and abandonment that came with living in German occupied Belgium. In 1946, renouncing the violence and pessimism of his earlier work, he joined several other Belgian artists in signing the manifesto Surrealism in Full Sunlight. During 1947-48-Magritte’s “Vache Period”-he painted in a provocative and crude Fauve style. During this time, Magritte supported himself through the production of fake Picassos, Braques and Chiricos-a fraudulent repertoire he was later to expand into the printing of forged banknotes during the lean postwar period. This venture was undertaken alongside his brother Paul Magritte and fellow Surrealist and ‘surrogate son’ Marcel Marien, to whom had fallen the task of selling the forgeries. At the end of 1948, he returned to the style and themes of his prewar surrealistic art.
His work was exhibited in the United States in New York in 1936 and again in that city in two retrospective exhibitions, one at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965, and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1992.
Magritte died of pancreatic cancer on 15 August 1967 in his own bed, and was interred in Schaerbeek Cemetery, Evere, Brussels.
Popular interest in Magritte’s work rose considerably in the 1960s, and his imagery has influenced pop, minimalist and conceptual art. In 2005 he came 9th in the Walloon version of De Grootste Belg (The Greatest Belgian); in the Flemish version he was 18th.
Renoir was born in Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France, on February 25, 1841 as a child of a working class family. Renoir’s first encounter with painting dates from his childhood he worked in a porcelain factory where his drawing talent led to him painting designs on China.
From the beginning in early 1860s when Renoir started studying art under Charles Gleyre in Paris, when he didn’t have enough money to buy paint, to his last day when rheumatoid arthritis severely hampered his movement and he was forced to paint by strapping a brush to his arm, and created sculptures by directing an assistant who worked the clay, Renoir’s painting was always beautiful and optimistic! So was his view of life and his painful condition. The pain passes, but the beauty remains was Renoir’s words.
Renoir’s paintings are probably the most popular, well-known, and frequently reproduced images in the history of art. Almost everybody has heard of the Bathers, The Umbrellas,Luncheon of the Boating Party and one of the most expensive paintings ever, Le Moulin de la Galette along with many other. They present a vision of a forgotten world, full of sparkling color and light. Renoir once said: Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.
Gustav Klimt was born in Vienna, in 1862, into a lower middle-class family of Moravian origin. His father, Ernst Klimt, worked as an engraver and goldsmith, earning very little, and the artist’s childhood was spent in relative poverty. The painter would have to support his family financially throughout his life.
In 1876, Klimt was awarded a scholarship to the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule), where he studied until 1883, and received training as an architectural painter. He revered the foremost history painter of the time, Hans Makart. Klimt readily accepted the principles of a conservative training; his early work may be classified as academic. In 1877 his brother Ernst, who, like his father, would become an engraver, also enrolled in the school. The two brothers and their friend Franz Matsch began working together; by 1880 they had received numerous commissions as a team they called the “Company of Artists”, and helped their teacher in painting murals in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
After finishing his studies, Klimt opened a studio together with Matsch and Ernst Klimt. The trio specialized in interior decoration, particularly theaters. Already by the 1880s, they were renowned for their skill and decorated theaters throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and much of their work can still be seen there. In 1885, they were commissioned to decorate the Empress Elizabeth’s country retreat, the Villa Hermes near Vienna (Midsummer Night’s Dream). In 1886, the painters were asked to decorate the Viennese Burgtheater, effectively recognizing them as the foremost of decorators of Austria. Works that Klimt painted for this project include the Cart of Thespis, the Altars of Dionysosand Apollo and the Theater at Taormina, as well as scenes from the Shakespearean Globe Theater.
At the completion of the work in 1888, the painters were awarded the Golden Service Cross (Verdienstkreuz), and Klimt was commissioned to paint the Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater, the work that would bring him to the height of his fame. This painting, with its almost photographic accuracy is considered one of the greatest achievements in Naturalist painting. As a result, Klimt was awarded the Emperor’s Prize and became a fashionable portraitist, as well as the leading artist of his day. Paradoxically, it was at this point, with a fabulous career as a classicist painter unfolding before him, that Klimt began turning towards the radical new styles of the Art Noveau.
In the coming few years, the artistic trio fell apart. Franz Matsch wanted to branch out into portrait painting, which he did with some success. Meanwhile, Gustav Klimt’s changing style made it impossible for them to work together on any project. Furthermore, Ernst Klimt died in 1892, shortly after the death of their father.
Struck by this double tragedy, Gustav retreated from public life, focusing on experimentation and the study of contemporary styles of art, as well as historical styles that were overlooked within the establishment, such as Japanese, Chinese, Ancient Egyptian and Mycenaean art. In 1893, he began work on his last public commission: the paintings Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence, for the University of Vienna. The three would only be completed in the early 1900s, and they would be criticized severely for their radical style and what was, according to the mores of the time, lewdness. Unfortunately, the paintings were destroyed during the Second World War and only black-and-white reproductions of them remain.
The painter was not alone in his opposition to the Austrian artistic establishment of the time. In 1897, he, together with forty other notable Viennese artists, resigned from the Academy of Arts and founded the “Union of Austrian Painters”, more commonly known as the Secession. Klimt was immediately elected president. While the Union had no clearly defined goals or support for particular styles, it was against the classicist establishment, which it found to be oppressive.
In 1902, Klimt finished the Beethoven Frieze for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition, which was intended to be a celebration of the composer and featured a monumental, polychromed sculpture by Max Klinger. Meant for the exhibition only, the frieze was painted directly on the walls with light materials. After the exhibition the painting was preserved, although it did not go on display until 1986.
During this period Klimt did not confine himself to public commissions. Beginning in the late 1890s he took annual summer holidays with the Flöge family on the shores of Attersee and painted many of his landscapes there. Klimt was largely interested in painting figures; these works constitute the only genre aside from figure-painting which seriously interested Klimt. Klimt’s Attersee paintings are of a number and quality so as to merit a separate appreciation. Formally, the landscapes are characterized by the same refinement of design and emphatic patterning as the figural pieces. Deep space in the Attersee works is so efficiently flattened to a single plane, it is believed that Klimt painted them while looking through a telescope.
Klimt’s ‘Golden Phase’ was marked by positive critical reaction and success. Many of his paintings from this period used gold leaf; the prominent use of gold can first be traced back to Pallas Athene (1898) and Judith I (1901), although the works most popularly associated with this period are the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907–1908). Klimt travelled little but trips to Venice and Ravenna, both famous for their beautiful mosaics, most likely inspired his gold technique and his Byzantine imagery. In 1904, he collaborated with other artists on the lavish Palais Stoclet, the home of a wealthy Belgian industrialist, which was one of the grandest monuments of the Art Nouveau age. Klimt’s contributions to the dining room, including both Fulfillment and Expectation, were some of his finest decorative work, and as he publicly stated, “probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornament.” Between 1907 and 1909, Klimt painted five canvases of society women wrapped in fur. His apparent love of costume is expressed in the many photographs of Flöge modeling clothing he designed.
As he worked and relaxed in his home, Klimt normally wore sandals and a long robe with no undergarments. His simple life was somewhat cloistered, devoted to his art and family and little else except the Secessionist Movement, and he avoided café society and other artists socially. Klimt’s fame usually brought patrons to his door, and he could afford to be highly selective. His painting method was very deliberate and painstaking at times and he required lengthy sittings by his subjects. Though very active sexually, he kept his affairs discreet and he avoided personal scandal.
By 1910, Klimt had moved past his Golden Style. One of his last pictures in that style was Death and Life (1908-1910). In 1911, the painting was shown at the International Exhibition in Rome, where it won first place. However, the artist was dissatisfied with the work, and in 1912, he changed the background from gold to blue.
In 1915 his mother Anna died. Klimt died three years later in Vienna on February 6, 1918, having suffered a stroke and pneumonia. He was buried at the Hietzing Cemetery in Vienna. Numerous paintings were left unfinished.
Klimt’s paintings have brought some of the highest prices recorded for individual works of art. In 2006, the 1907 portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, was purchased for the Neue Galerie in New York by Ronald Lauder for a reported US $135 million, surpassing Picasso’s 1905 Boy With a Pipe (sold May 5, 2004 for $104 million), as the highest reported price ever paid for a painting.
Klimt’s work is often distinguished by elegant gold or coloured decoration, spirals and swirls, and phallic shapes used to conceal the more erotic positions of the drawings upon which many of his paintings are based. This can be seen in Judith I (1901), and in The Kiss (1907–1908), and especially in Danaë (1907). One of the most common themes Klimt used was that of the dominant woman, the femme fatale.
Art historians note an eclectic range of influences contributing to Klimt’s distinct style, including Egyptian, Minoan, Classical Greek, and Byzantine inspirations. Klimt was also inspired by the engravings of Albrecht Dürer, late medieval European painting, and Japanese Rimpa school. His mature works are characterized by a rejection of earlier naturalistic styles, and make use of symbols or symbolic elements to convey psychological ideas and emphasize the “freedom” of art from traditional culture.
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519) was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance Man, a man of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination”. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent and “his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote”. Marco Rosci points out, however, that while there is much speculation about Leonardo, his vision of the world is essentially logical rather than mysterious, and that the empirical methods he employed were unusual for his time.
Born out of wedlock to a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant woman, Caterina, at Vinci in the region of Florence, Leonardo was educated in the studio of the renowned Florentine painter, Verrocchio. Much of his earlier working life was spent in the service of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna and Venice, and he spent his last years in France at the home awarded him by Francis I.
Leonardo was and is renowned primarily as a painter. Among his works, the Mona Lisa is the most famous and most parodied portrait and The Last Supper the most reproduced religious painting of all time, with their fame approached only byMichelangelo's The Creation of Adam. Leonardo’s drawing of the Vitruvian Man is also regarded as a cultural icon, being reproduced on items as varied as the euro, textbooks, and T-shirts. Perhaps fifteen of his paintings survive, the small number because of his constant, and frequently disastrous, experimentation with new techniques, and his chronic procrastination. Nevertheless, these few works, together with his notebooks, which contain drawings, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting, compose a contribution to later generations of artists only rivalled by that of his contemporary, Michelangelo.
Leonardo is revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualised a helicopter, a tank, concentrated solar power, a calculator, the double hull, and he outlined a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or were even feasible during his lifetime, but some of his smaller inventions, such as an automated bobbin winder and a machine for testing the tensile strength of wire, entered the world of manufacturing unheralded. He made important discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, optics, and hydrodynamics, but he did not publish his findings and they had no direct influence on later science.