Leonardo Da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man

By Martin Kemp | Go to book overview

I
'Leonardo da Firenze'

'Leonardo from Florence'?

I am not seriously suggesting that henceforth we should actually abandon his time-honoured name. Indeed, such a radical recasting is unwarranted in strictly biographical terms. Even at the end of his life in his will he retained the surname 'da Vinci', denoting that he came from Vinci, the Tuscan hilltown near which he was born in 1452 and in which he probably spent most of his childhood. Not only is his name biographically accurate, but it also provided a nice opportunity for puns on the theme of vincere (to conquer), which those poets who sang his praises were quick to exploit. Italian court humanists of the Renaissance could rarely resist an elegant word manipulation and inevitably worked their variations on the theme of the painter who 'conquers nature' (vince la natura), a theme which was more than a mere pun in view of Leonardo's supreme achievements in capturing natural effects.

His legal name in the Italian usage of the time was alternatively Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci – as such he was listed when he first became due to pay his subscription to the painters' Company of St Luke in 1472 – an acknowledgement that he was the first son, albeit illegitimate, of Ser Piero da Vinci and a woman from a lower class called Caterina. Ser Piero, following the family profession, was a notary, a kind of official solicitor who drafted and interpreted legal documents in Latin. He established a prestigious practice in Florence during the 1450s and 1460s, rising to a prominent place in civic employment by 1469, and he was probably responsible for introducing his son to the city when the time came for Leonardo, who had apparently been raised in the family home in Vinci, to acquire a profession. This is unlikely to have occurred before 1464, and may have been considerably later.

In no sense, therefore, was Leonardo literally from Florence, and he was to live there for less than twenty of his sixty-seven years. But if intellectual and artistic ancestry are to count for anything, then he may legitimately be called a child of Florence. The basis for the aspirations which dominated his career had been conceived there by earlier generations of painters, sculptors, architects and engineers, and were generated in his own mind by direct contact with the Florentine masters of his own day, most notably Andrea del Verrocchio, with

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Leonardo Da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Praise for Martin Kemp's Leonardo ii
  • Leonardo Da Vinci iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Plates vii
  • List of Colour Plates xii
  • List of Figures xiii
  • Preface to the 1981 Edition xvii
  • Preface to This Edition xx
  • Acknowledgements, 1981 and 2006 xxv
  • Abbreviations and References xxviii
  • I - 'Leonardo Da Firenze' 1
  • II - The Microcosm 71
  • III - The Exercise of Fantasia 137
  • IV - The Republic: New Battles and Old Problems 204
  • V - The Prime Mover 271
  • Bibliography 349
  • Index 367
  • Photographic Acknowledgements 382
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