It is as though prophesy is being fulfilled. After decades of hard work and eventual Oscar-winning, Leonardo DiCaprio is finally paying homage to his namesake and making a Leonardo da Vinci biopic.
DiCaprio will star as Leonardo da Vinci in a film adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s biography about the famous inventor, artist and scholar. DiCaprio was named for da Vinci after his mother felt him kick for the first time while looking at a da Vinci painting in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy in 1974.
Notoriously picky about which projects he tackles as an actor, DiCaprio hasn’t made a film since finally winning an Oscar for Best Actor in The Revenant. His next film is a Quentin Tarantino project, but after that he will tackle the story of da Vinci.
The famed Renaissance man was a fascinating, complex figure and the film is intended to be an ambitious, broad exploration of the man’s life and character. Based on thousands of pages from da Vinci’s astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, the film is expected to connect his art to his science.
Not only did da Vinci produce two of the most famous paintings in history, The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, but in his own mind, he was just as much a man of science and technology. With a passion that sometimes became obsessive, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology and weaponry. His ability to stand at the crossroads of the humanities and the sciences made iconic by his drawing of Vitruvian Man, made him history’s most creative genius.
The artist’s creativity, like that of other great innovators, came from having wide-ranging passions. He peeled flesh off the faces of cadavers, drew the muscles that move the lips and then painted history’s most memorable smile. He explored the math of optics, showed how light rays strike the cornea and produced illusions of changing perspectives in The Last Supper. In the process, he invented the technique of ‘chiaroscuro,’ the interplay between light and dark tones to create a three-dimensional effect. He also created ‘sfumato,’ the softening or smokiness of edges so that visual elements blend.
Leonardo da Vinci has been portrayed countless times on television and in movies, from “My Favorite Martian” in 1966 to the most recent (and credible) 2014 biopic “Inside the Mind of Leonardo.” There was an Italian miniseries called The Life of Leonardo da Vinci in 1971 and in 2003, the BBC broadcast a three-part series titled “Leonardo – An exploration of the life of Leonardo da Vinci.” Over three gripping episodes and three hours, the docudrama reconstructed the life of Leonardo from early boyhood to death.
You may think you have heard all there is to know about the famed Renaissance genius, but there may be a few lesser-known facts about his life that may surprise you and no doubt some of these will find their way from Isaacson’s book into DiCaprio’s movie. When da Vinci died in 1519, he left behind more than 6,000 journal pages filled with his personal musings, grocery lists and even some jokes. He also detailed his sources of inspiration, his desire for lasting fame and his deeply felt heartaches. Here are a few facts to ponder.
He was illegitimate. He was born in 1452 in Vinci. As in those days, illegitimate children took their last names from their birth towns and not their father’s name. By most accounts, his father was a notary and landlord named Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio. His mother, Caterina, is commonly believed to have been a local peasant. However, some experts believe that she was actually a slave owned by Piero. His parents never married and therefore their offspring could not take his father’s name. The young Leonardo lived with his mother until he was five years old and later moved into the home of his father, who had married another woman. The artist’s journals show that he maintained a somewhat distant relationship with his mother throughout his adult life, exchanging letters with her only from time to time. His writings suggest a much closer connection with his father, whose death da Vinci mourned deeply.
He was unschooled. Unlike other well-known Renaissance artists, da Vinci never received any kind of formal education. He did, however, receive instruction at home in subjects such as reading, writing and mathematics. Growing up in rural Tuscany, he spent much of his time outdoors, where he marveled at the natural world. His journals indicate that he had an especially ardent interest in the properties of water, as well as the movements of birds of prey.
It wasn’t until his teenage years that the budding artist was sent to Florence to serve as an apprentice for Andrea del Verrocchio, a prominent Florentine painter. It didn’t take long for the student to become the master. Rumor has it that after da Vinci painted one of the angels in Verrocchio’s work “The Baptism of Christ,” the much more experienced artist was so humbled by the young man’s talent that he vowed never to paint again.
Many of his works are unfinished. Leonardo was a notoriously slow painter and many of his works were never finished. In addition to housing the famed (and finished) “Mona Lisa,” the Louvre in Paris is home to “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne,” an unfinished painting depicting the Virgin Mary, an infant Jesus and Mary’s mother, St. Anne. Hanging in one of the Vatican Museums is “St. Jerome in the Wilderness,” another unfinished da Vinci painting, this one portraying the hermitic St. Jerome and his companion, a tamed lion.
Perhaps the most intriguing of da Vinci’s unfinished works is his painting “The Adoration of the Magi,” which allegedly features a depiction of the young artist himself. The painting, left incomplete in 1481, has been held at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy since 1670. In addition to these unfinished paintings, he left behind many unfinished inventions. In fact, there’s no evidence that any of the artist’s inventions were ever built. Similarly, none of his writings were ever published during his lifetime.
He had a militant side. After abandoning his patrons in Florence to start afresh in Milan, da Vinci needed to drum up new business. His strategy was to ingratiate himself to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. Under Sforza, da Vinci was commissioned to create what would have been the crowning achievement of his artistic career: a giant bronze statue of a horse. The project was abandoned when France invaded Italy at the turn of the 15th century. But a giant warhorse wasn’t all that da Vinci had planned for the Duke of Milan. Upon offering himself to the House of Sforza, he set forth his plans to build numerous “war devices.” Included in da Vinci’s sketchbooks are plans for cannons, smoke machines, portable bridges and even armored vehicles. Like his flying machine, however, there is no evidence that any of these war machines were ever constructed.
We now await more news about the DiCaprio project and given the body of work by the actor, his talents and interest in da Vinci, the film should be well worth the wait.