The Artwork of Leonardo da Vinci

Week 16 Dataset and Historical Background

Posted by David Velleca on June 21, 2018

Historical Background

Born in the heart of the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci is one of the icons of his era. Beyond being an artist, Leonardo was also an inventor, mathemetician, scientist, cartographer and more. His work is immediately recognizable with the Mona Lisa and her engimatic smile being the the subject of countless books, movies and television shows.

Leonardo's story begins in the town of Vinci outside of Tuscany in the Republic of Florence, the Medici ruled territory that is part of current day Italy. Born out of wedlock to a peasant mother and prominent legal notary, Leonardo had no surname as we would think of it today. The 'da Vinci' we are all familiar with, means 'from Vinci.' Though little is known about his childhood years, it is safe to say that his family life was complicated. Leonardo lived with his mother for a time before living within his father's home. During this time, his father married multiple wives and gave Leonardo twelve half-siblings. Despite this, Leonardo was educated informally, and at the age of fourteen, he became an apprentice to the artist Verrocchio.

Over his 7 years as an apprentice, Leonardo would gain exposure to multiple disciplines - honing his skills and expanding his interests. As an apprentice, Leonardo would create artwork in his master's studio that would never bear his name. Experts have studied paintings attributed to Verrocchio for evidence that Leonardo was involved in the piece for years. Sometimes there are telltale signs that Leonardo was involved - from fingerprints to painting methods not used by Verrocchio (oil, a technique newer than Verrocchio's standard tempera) - and other times there is no evidence.

At the age of twenty, Leonardo was named a master in the Guild of St. Luke. Shortly thereafter, Leonardo embarked on his professional career. As a professional, Leonardo won many commissions from the household of Lorenzo de' Medici, winning favor from the ruling family of Florence. During his professional career, Leonardo was frequently sent throughout modern day Italy. In 1482, Lorenzo de' Medici sent Leonardo to Milan, where he curried favor with another powerful ruler of the time, Ludovico Sforza. During his time in Milan, he painted one of his key pieces, The Last Supper. Following the overthrow of Ludovico in 1499, Leonardo relocated to Venice for a short time before returning to Florence.

His return to Florence was short lived, however and Leonardo soon found himself in Cesena where he began working for Cesare Borgia, the powerful son of Pope Alexander VI. Expanding his skillset, Leonardo proved to be an incredible cartographer, creating an impressively accurate map of the town of Imola. Leonardo would be well traveled over the next few years, spending time in Milan, Florence and eventually Rome, working directly for the Vatican and Pope Leo X. It was during this time that he worked in close proximity to well known contemporaries Raphael and Michelangelo. Following the French overthrow of Milan in 1515, Leonardo entered the services of King Francis I of France, relocating to Amboise France, where he would live out the rest of his life.

This dataset focuses only on the extant artwork by Leonardo, and does not include the volumes of codices, maps, inventions or other works he created. This is only a fraction of the work completed by Leonardo during his lifetime, but is still impressive. Take some time to explore this dataset, and post your viz to Tableau Public, and Twitter with the hashtag #ThrowbackThursday, tagging @TThrowbackThurs.

Data Source

The dataset this week was sourced from Wikipedia, with several individual citations on the page. Due to the lack of records from the time of Leonardo da Vinci, attributions and dates of works are based off of evidence and analysis by Leonardo experts, scholars and biographers. The data source includes only known extant works completed by (or attributed to be completed by) Leonardo during his lifetime. Please be sure to cite the source on your viz.