The Legacy Of The Second Most Important Leonardo In The World

When you hear the name "Leonardo," who is the first person that comes to mind? If his last name is DiCaprio, we don't blame you. He's a bona fide movie star, a founding member of "The Pussy Posse," and (finally) an Oscar-winning actor.

But we're here to talk about the OG Leonardo. Leonardo da Vinci.

Where to begin? He was a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician, and writer. He was born April 15, 1452, and his artistic legacy has endured over five long centuries.

Did you know that DiCaprio was named after Leonardo da Vinci? DiCaprio's mother chose the name Leo because she, an art-lover herself, was staring at a Leonardo painting when she first felt her baby kick. (Note to self for future baby-name inspiration: Leonardos seem destined for success.) Beyond international recognition, a shared forename, and Italian heritage, the two Leos are quite different. Whether you're a novice art historian or a painterly pro, it's time to learn more about the man referred to as the greatest artist of all time.

A true Renaissance man, Leonardo experimented in various industries, constantly striving to create and engineer something new. His interests had no bounds; his talents no limit. Whether you minored in art history but forgot everything (like me), or are in the mood to appreciate some seriously amazing art, here are the eight most iconic works by Leonardo da Vinci — the second most important Leo in your life.
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"Mona Lisa," 1504
The meaning and backstory of the "Mona Lisa" are as mysterious as the female sitter's haunting eyes, which seem to follow the viewer from one side of the room to the other. Leonardo never made clear who commissioned the painting or who the subject was, which was unusual for paintings made during the Renaissance. The subject is also not dressed in the elaborate clothing that characterized other portraits of nobel or influential women.

Did You Know?
"Mona Lisa" roughly translates to "My Lady Lisa." Art historians' best guess is that the woman is Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy merchant.

This painting is currently on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
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"Madonna Litta," 1490
Renaissance art, like Medieval art, is deeply rooted in religion. In this painting, Madonna, the Virgin Mary, is seen breastfeeding Christ. This recurring scene was often referred to as "Madonna Lactans" — a typical devotional presentation. Christ is holding a goldfinch in his left hand, which is a symbol for the Passion. It is interesting to note that neither Mary nor Christ have halos, which was not the norm at the time. The name "Litta" in the title is for the work's commissioners, a noble Milanese family from the House of Litta.

Did You Know? Many art historians believe that Leonardo was not actually the artist responsible for this painting. Based on the details and brush strokes, experts believe a student of Leonardo's executed the bulk of the painting, while Leonardo applied final touches to Mary to reflect his signature style of portraiture.

This painting is currently on display in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
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"The Virgin of the Rocks," 1508
Leonardo was commissioned to paint this altarpiece with two peers of his, who also happened to be brothers, Cristoforo and Giovanni de Predis. The Milanese Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception commissioned the work for their chapel in San Francesco, Italy. Leonardo was responsible for the center panel titled, "The Virgin of the Rocks." Contrary to the name of the fraternity, the piece does not depict the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. Instead, it depicts Christ alongside his mother and John the Baptist.

Did You Know? There are two versions of this work. One was sent to France, and the other was sent to San Francesco upon completion. The fact that there are two identical versions of this painting is quite intriguing to many scholars.

This painting is currently on display in the National Gallery in London, England.
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"The Last Supper," 1498
"The Last Supper" is Leonardo's depiction of the pivotal biblical event of the same name. Christ appears in the center, surrounded by his apostles as they eat the last supper before Christ's arrest and sacrifice on the cross. The piece was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, and took Leonardo nearly 18 years to finish. The completed painting takes up an entire wall measuring about 15 by 29 feet.

Did You Know? It's long been believed that subliminal secrets are embedded into the composition of this painting. Conspiracy theories continue to unfurl thanks to a certain book and movie you may have heard of, The Da Vinci Code. One major theory is that the person seated to Christ's right is Mary Magdalene.

This painting is currently on display in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.
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via National Gallery of Art.
"Ginevra de' Benci," 1474-1478
Ginevra de'Benci, a wealthy patron of the arts, represents a more typical subject of a Renaissance portrait. Like the sitter in the "Mona Lisa," she faces out, and her slightly downcast eyes engage with the viewer's space. Her angle is almost completely forward-facing, a first in female portraiture. This is the only Leonardo painting currently on display in the Americas.

Did You Know? This portrait side of the painting is referred to as the "obverse," to denote that this is only one side of the piece of art. The reverse side is a painting of a Ginevra's family emblem. It depicts wreaths of laurel, palm, and juniper with a scroll inscribed, "Virtutem Forma Decorat."

This painting is currently on display in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
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"Vitruvian Man," ~1492
The meaning behind this drawing goes all the way back to 15 BCE. That is when Marcus Vitruvius, a Roman architect, authored De architectura, which became an iconic piece of writing about architecture and design. Vitruvius believed that the navel was the center of one's body, and that a perfect circle could be drawn from that middle point. Using the outstretched extremities of man, Leonardo was later able to make a figure fill both the spaces within a circle and a square, metaphorically completing an impossible math equation called "squaring a circle."

Did You Know? Leonardo's sketch was considered to have "[combined] the mathematics, religion, philosophy, architecture, and artistic skill of his age."

This drawing is currently on display in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Venice, Italy.


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"The Skeleton," 1510
These detailed sketches show specific and, for the most part, accurate depictions of the inner skeleton. The two studies on the top half of the page present a close-up view of the thorax, spinal column, and upper arm. The figure on the bottom shows the pelvis and leg bones. Leonardo also created accompanying sketches to show muscles and tendons, and some even showing arteries and nerves. Leonardo quickly became a hybrid artist-anatomist, beautifully rendering the inner mechanical structure of the human body. He worked with Marcantonio della Torre, a professor of anatomy at a medical college, to ensure the accuracy of his sketches.

Did You Know? Leonardo also participated in human dissections. He is believed to be one of the first people to record the condition of cirrhosis of the liver. At the time of his death, he claimed to have dissected more than 30 bodies.

This drawing is currently on display in the Royal Library Windsor Castle in London, England.
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"Study Sheet With Cats, Dragon, And Other Animals," 1513
When Leonardo wasn't painting masterpieces, he was trying his hand at sketching all types of mammals, beasts, and rodents. Leonardo's interest in anatomy did not stop at the human body.

Did You Know? Leonardo wrote from right to left, instead of the usual left to right, in his journals and notebooks. He also flipped his texts, making his notes legible only when reflected off a mirror. He did this to protect his ideas, and because he was just a creative genius.

This drawing is currently on display in the Royal Library Windsor Castle in London, England.
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