Leonardo Da Vinci: The Life of the Universal Man

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, Verocchio, Burlington Cartoon, Madonna of the Rock, Battle of Cascina, Isabella d’Este, Lodovico Sforza, Salvator Mundi

26 September – 28 November 2019
Thursdays 10.45am - 12.45pm
The University Women’s Club, 2 Audley Square, London W1K 1DB
Leslie Primo
Full course (10 sessions) £499.00
Single lecture £59.00
(includes morning coffee, tea and biscuits)

Book your place now on Leonardo Da Vinci: The Life of the Universal Man

“A highly informative, interesting and entertaining course. Well‐paced given the breadth and depth of detail covered. Leslie is a very engaging speaker, lightening his impressive erudition with amusing anecdotes and asides. Detailed lecture notes are extremely useful as an aide memoire”

We have all heard of the great master of the Renaissance – Leonardo da Vinci. Speculation regarding the true life and meaning of his work has been rife for centuries. Books such as the Da Vinci Code and many others only serve to confirm and equally to confuse us. So how much do we really know? How did he become such a great artist, how famous was he in his own lifetime, was he rich and where and how did he learn his craft? This series of lectures will give you an insight into the life of this great artist; charting the beginnings of his career, the highs and the lows, and finding out just how and why he became the ultimate and universal genius we now regard him.

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, Leonardo da Vinci, c.1500
Leonardo Da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine, c.1490 Leonardo flying machine

Course outline

Beginnings, Schooling And Influences

We will look at the unconventional circumstances surrounding the birth of Leonardo, his family background, his father’s profession and how that impacted on Leonardo’s early education. We will examine his early training in the Florentine workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio; look closely at the latter’s techniques and working practices, the students who passed through this workshop and what possible impact all this may have had on the future development of Leonardo’s art. We will end with his departure from the Verrocchio workshop.

Masters At Work: Techniques And Mediums

We will examine Leonardo’s decisions behind his choice of techniques and mediums, including his use of metal point, black chalk, red chalk, pen and ink and wash, and his early use of oil paint. We will look at exquisite examples of all these, asking what were their uses and how they would affect Leonardo’s choices.

Sculpture And The World Of The Antique

Although no sculptures by Leonardo exist, we will examine his influences from the antique world, his sculptural design ideas and how they would play into the narrative of the Renaissance aesthetic. We will also consider the drawings that were made to demonstrate how he might have constructed these artworks.

The Art And The Meaning Of Portraiture

We will look at Leonardo’s interest in portraiture; his own image and what that might tell us about the man as well as portraits of ruling families, including La Giocondo or Lisa Gherardini, now known as the Mona Lisa. We will also examine his obsession with the Madonna and child grouping, his sources for these compositions and what he hoped to achieve with his constant revisiting of this subject.

Inside The Mind Of Man – Grotesques, Personality & Caricature

Leonardo’s mind and its supposed impact on physiognomy and ultimately personality will be the subject for this session. We will look at a wide variety of his drawings of physiological types and ask if these can tell us about the social mores of Leonardo’s times and ultimately how the explorations into the human psyche affected Leonardo’s finished works such as The Last Supper.

Obsession With Nature, Anatomical & Experiment

Leonardo was obsessed with how everything worked and the close relationship between man and nature. Here, we will look at his exploration of the workings of nature and his attempt to understand these processes and thus understand the soul of man. We will look at examples of anatomical drawings that demonstrate Leonardo’s unflinching eye and ability to investigate areas of human anatomy that many would find repulsive.

Drawing Becomes Art

The emergence of drawing as an art form has always been hard to pinpoint. In this lecture, we will look at Leonardo’s drawings and examine how and why this art form might be attributed to him. We will also look at the Burlington Cartoon in London’s National Gallery, its life, history and production, and ask why this unfinished work has been seen as the earliest example of drawing as art and why it holds such a special place in the Gallery’s collection.

Signature Projects

We will look in detail at some of Leonardo’s major projects: the Last Supper, The Madonna of the Rock and The Battle of Cascina and discuss how these works were realised, what was the thinking behind them and how do they compare with works by his contemporaries? We will also look at the work of collaborators on these projects and ask how much is theirs and how much Leonardo’s and why do we care?

The Art Of War & Mechanical Engineering

In the middle and latter part of Leonardo’s life, he became increasingly in demand for his designs and this would see him ultimately working for powerful patrons such as Isabella d’Este and Lodovico Sforza. We will look at his complex mechanical designs for flying machines, underwater breathing apparatus and ultimately weapons of mass destruction. Why did Leonardo carry out such work and what were his thoughts on these?

His Legacy, School, Influences And Followers

In our final session, we consider artists such as Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (about 1467 – 1516) and Francesco Melzi (1493 – 1570) with whom Leonardo worked and trained and compare their works with those of the Master. We will also look at his followers such as Antonio Allegri (active 1494 – 1534), known as Correggio. What did they learn and what can we learn from these works? We will examine the misattributions surrounding Leonardo’s collaborators and finally the current obsession with Leonardo culminating in the sale of the Salvator Mundi.