To me, Leonardo da Vinci meant the Mona Lisa, the Vitruvian Man and The Last Supper, all while making a conscious effort not to slip up and accidentally say Leonardo Di Caprio. Little did I know about the extent of Da Vinci's colourful career, until yesterday when I attended the most enthusiastic lecture delivered by Martin Clayton, Head of Prints and Drawings for Royal Collection Trust at Windsor Castle. Not an everyday occurrence in Sunderland. Clayton's passion was absolutely infectious as he discussed everything from Da Vinci's greatest works to tidbits of information that painted him in a much more human light.
The first thing which blew my mind a little bit was that Leonardo da Vinci was left-handed and he wrote his extensive personal notes perfectly mirrored from right-to-left. This differentiated his own studies from his commissioned works when he wrote in the usual way of left-to-right. Isn't that just weirdly cool? Saying that, I did understand Da Vinci's thorough approach, as I too take great pride in my sketchbooks, annotations and all of that preparatory work. Clayton explained that this was much more about Da Vinci's own character and perfectionism rather than what was actually required of him. It was typical of Da Vinci to go above and beyond what was necessary. Touché. While that might sound stuffy and scholarly, this thinking was applied to all aspects of his life. He is known to have been very fashionable, taking great pride in his appearance while obviously loving the finer details and accuracy of proportions in his artworks. Da Vinci often drew focus to careful hand gestures and the decorative elements, such as ornate hairstyles and draped clothing. My goodness, Leo, illustrating hair is the bane of my life but I know how fulfilling it is once it's all done.
Leonardo da Vinci was a multidisciplinary artist. He was an illustrator, a painter, a muralist, a mapmaker, a costume designer and so much more. He had a very scientific mind and a thirst for knowledge which was limited not by his own curiosities, but routinely interrupted by political turmoil during the Italian Renaissance, meaning that he left behind a trail of unfinished projects. Clayton thankfully told us about the lulls in Da Vinci's career too.
While Michelangelo was busy painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Leonardo was drawing cats.
Phew. It was reassuring to hear that Da Vinci was no stranger to competition and there were times when he simply couldn't measure up to his younger contemporaries, despite how seriously he took his craft. After all, Da Vinci had been earnestly signing and dating his work since his earliest known sketches, which was not standard practice at that time for the masters of art, let alone for a 23-year-old with no reputation and little creative experience. Despite that, Da Vinci must have had big dreams that his illustrations would one day be viewed by many.
So, as a 23-year-old illustrator with a constant want for perfectionism and preoccupation with detail, much like Leonardo da Vinci, I left the lecture feeling hopeful that maybe one day I could be drawing cats while some younger and more popular woman is busy painting a new wonder of the world. Just kidding. Maybe I can create my own Mona Lisa someday too.