Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Essay

Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo

I. Introduction

            Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti were two renowned personalities during the Renaissance period. These two have showed excellent jobs in the field of art. Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian painter, sculptor, and engineer. Da Vinci had one of the most alert and creative minds of all time. He not only mastered art but also did ingenious work in anatomy, botany, geology, hydraulics, and mechanics. On the other hand, Michelangelo was a Florentine sculptor, architect, and poet. He was one of the greatest masters of the Italian High Renaissance. Although he thought of himself as a sculptor primarily, Michelangelo produced paintings and buildings that are among the most treasured in the Western world. In painting and sculpture, he created a style that laid the foundation for the Mannerist and Baroque periods. His reflective, emotional sonnets made one of the outstanding lyrics poets of the 16th century. He great versatility, and the grandeur and vastness of his works, led Michelangelo’s contemporaries to regard him as a genius.

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            Thesis Statement: This paper scrutinizes the lives of the two respected personalities in the world of art which are Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo; thus, comparing their works and contributions during the Renaissance period.

II. Background

A. Early Life

o   Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo was born in the hillside village of Vinci, near Florence. He was the illegitimate son of a prosperous Florentine lawyer and an Italian peasant girl. Leonardo spent his early boyhood with his father’s parents in Vinci. In his free time, he roamed the hills and valleys, sketching.

When Leonardo was about 16, his father took him to Florence and apprenticed him to Verrocchio to learn painting. He was a popular student, who sang well and devised his own musical instruments. To many drawings, he added detailed notes, such as descriptions of clothing and mannerisms. He wrote left-handed in mirror writings, in which letters are made backward.

            By 1472, Leonardo joined the painters’ guild in Florence. About 1481, he moved to Milan. The duke of Milan employed him as court painter, sculptor, stage designer, and engineer. No sculptor by Leonardo remains. There are, however, powerful silverpoint sketches for a large statue of the duke’s warrior father riding a horse. While at court, Leonardo began his Treatise on Painting, which included instructions for chiaroscuro, the subtle effects of light and shade, in which he excelled.

After leaving the duke in 1500, Leonardo worked at different times in Florence, Venice, Milan, and Rome. In 1516, he joined the court of Francis I of France at Amboise, where he spent his last years. He was never married.

o   Michelangelo Buonarroti

On the other hand, Michelangelo was born in Caprese, near Arezzo, in Florentine territory. Overcoming his father’s objections, he was apprenticed to the Florentine painter Ghirlandajo at the age of 13. He soon turned to sculpture, studying the classical works in the collection of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Michelangelo went to Rome in 1496. There he did his important sculptural works, including the Pieta in St. Peter’s. In 1501, he returned to Florence, where he carved David and painted the Holy Family.

Michelangelo worked variously in Florence, Rome. The Medici family and the Vatican were his principal patrons. In 1505, Michelangelo was summoned to Rome to design a colossal tomb for Pope Julius II. Only a few of the 40 statues were ever finished, and the original plans were greatly altered when the tomb was completed in 1545.

In 1508, Michelangelo was ordered by Julius to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He devoted nearly four years to the project. It is ironic that his masterpiece of world art was painted against the artist’s will; he resented the interruption it caused in his work as a sculptor.

From 1527 to 1530, Michelangelo was back in Florence, building the city’s walls and fortifications. About 1534 he settled permanently in Rome. During the last 20 years of his life, Michelangelo was concerned chiefly with architecture and sculpture. Almost 90 years old, Michelangelo was carving the Rondanini Pieta shortly before his death.

III. Discussion

A. Works and Contributions

o   Leonardo da Vinci

Paintings. The few da Vinci paintings that remain are masterpieces. About 1495, he began Last Supper, or Cenacolo (super room). He painted it in a mixture of oil and tempera on the wall of the refectory (dining hall) of a Dominican monastery adjoining the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Leonardo showed the moment when Jesus Christ told his disciples, “One of you shall betray me.” Time, dampness, and the fragile nature of the paint soon left the great painting faded and crumbling. It has been restored several times.

            About 1503, Leonardo started Mona Lisa, La Gioconda, an oil portrait of a woman who was probably the wife of Giocondo, a rich Florentine merchant. Painting the young woman with the mysterious half-smile so interested Leonardo that he worked on it for years. Francis I bought the portrait, but let Leonardo keep it until the artist’s death. The painting is now in the Louvre in Paris.

The Louvre also has da Vinci’s Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and The Virgin of the Rocks. His other paintings include Lady with an Ermine in the Czartoryski Museum, Krakow, Poland.

Science. Leonardo discovered that the arrangement of leaves on plants follows a pattern that exposes them to a maximum amount of light. He also noted that the number of rings in a tree trunk show how long the tree lived. He suggested, correctly, that fossils had once been living creatures and that the sea had once covered large areas of land. Leonardo was a pioneer in the study of human anatomy and his notebooks contain accurate drawings of various organs and structures.

Engineering and Inventions. Leonardo’s genius was both practical and theoretical. He built an air-conditioning system, devised new methods of plumbing and drainage, designed canals, and developed a printing press, coinage press, and water mill.

Leonardo’s theoretical sketches show designs for a machine gun, double-hulled ship, man-powered army tank, and a cogged-wheel variable-speed drive, much like an automobile transmission. His sketchbooks also show a breathing mask and hand flipper for diving, a parachute, a helicopter, and a man-powered ornithopter (a flying machine with flapping wings). When 20th-century technicians made models from Leonardo’s sketches, many worked well.

The discovery of two lost notebooks in Madrid in 1965 revealed more of da Vinci’s achievements. Drawings and notes show designs for a pendulum clock, a set of ball bearings, a spinning frame, and drive chains. These notebooks, called The Madrid Codices, were published in a facsimile edition in 1974.

o   Michelangelo Buonarroti

A sensitive man with a stormy personality, Michelangelo expressed his intense emotions in his art. He concentrated on the human figure, and used it as his vehicle to portray the strivings and sufferings of man. His paintings, sculptures, and drawings show a thorough understanding of anatomy and a mastery of form and movement. Like his contemporary Leonardo da Vinci, he left some of his greatest works unfinished.

Sculpture.  Michelangelo established his reputation while in his 20’s with the deeply moving Pieta in St. Peter’s and the gigantic David in the Florence Academy. Carved in marble, they are feats of great technical skill. David, more than 13 feet (4 m) high, was carved from a block abandoned by other sculptors as unworkable.

Much of Michelangelo’s sculpture was designed to be part of an architectural setting. Moses is the major figure for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Bound Slave and Dying Slave, originally planned for this tomb, are in the Louvre. The reclining figures Dawn, Twilight, Day, and Night were designed for the Medici tombs in the New Sacristy, San Lorenzo, Florence.

Painting. Michelangelo did not consider himself a painter—yet he produced some of the greatest paintings of his day. The frescoes decorating the Sistine Chapel ceiling are awesome and overpowering. The ceiling measures 133 by 43 feet (40 by 13 m) and contains hundreds of figures. The centre scenes, depicting the Creation, Fall of Man, and story of Noah, are framed in painted architecture. Colossal figures of prophets, sibyls, and athletic youths surround the centre scenes. For years, scholars believed Michelangelo used cool and subdued colors. In the 1980’s, restorers began cleaning the frescoes and removed layers of dirt, soot, and varnish. They found that Michelangelo painted in bright luminous colors and that he used unusual color combinations to create shadows and depth.

Michelangelo also painted the Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel and two frescoes—Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul—in the Pauline Chapel. The Holy Family, or Doni Tondo, painted about 1504, is the only easel painting known to be by Michelangelo.

Architecture. Michelangelo did not turn to architecture until he was almost 45 years old. In Florence he built the Medici Chapel, or New Sacristy, of the San Lorenzo church (1521-34), and the Laurentian Library (begun 1525). In Rome, he designed the Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill (begun about 1546). From 1546 until his death, he directed the renovation of St. Peter’s. The dome is considered his greatest architectural achievement.

IV. Conclusion

            In conclusion, Leonardo da Vince and Michelangelo are two of the incomparable artists we have in the past or at present. Their works contributed much to the world history as great advocates in the field of arts. Leonardo da Vinci was not only an artist but also involved himself into science and engineering that made him versatile. He was lucky enough that he got support from his father who supported him all the way compared to Michelangelo. He never wasted a time to improve his work but indulged himself to be trained; in fact, he maybe forgot his love life because he was never been married until he died. On the other hand, Michelangelo also did a very remarkable job for most of his works. In spite of his father’s objection because of the chosen field (during his time, art was considered as a low occupation), he still chose to be an artist and pursued his dream. He showed the reality of life by painting and sculpturing human figure that has experienced suffering, hence, painting was his way of expression of what he really felt. Like da Vinci, Michelangelo also involved himself to other field of arts that make him notified.


Michelangelo Buonarroti. http://www.michelangelo.com/buon/bio-index2.html
Michelangelo: Artist and Aristocrat. A Biography.  Excerpted from the book Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture. Hugh Lauter Levin Associates. http://www.hlla.com/reference/mb-bio.html
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/vinci.html
Leonardo da Vinci.  http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Biographies/Leonardo.html
Richter, J.-P. 1883 (reprinted 1970). The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci: Compiled and Edited from the Original Manuscripts. Dover Publications, New York.
Vasari, G. (B. Burroughs, Ed.) 1946. Lives of the Artists: Biographies of the Most Eminent Architects, Painters and Sculptors of Italy. Simon and Schuster, New York.


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