While there are may online colleges that have classes studying the art of Da Vinci, anyone who wants to understand Leonardo Da Vinci the artist must first understand the times in which this most intelligent of men lived in. Born in 1452 in the tiny village of Da Vinci, Leonardo was handed the prospect of a future of servitude. While he was the son of a wealthy merchant, he was also illegitimate and in Catholic controlled Italy of the 15th Century his father simply was forbade from claiming him. The times were always perilous because the Italian peninsula was in a state of constant warfare. The young Leonardo was possessed by an enormous curiosity and wandered the countryside as a child studying nature. One story tells of the boy buying small birds in the local marketplace to study and then releasing them because he felt bad about depriving them of their freedom.
Da Vinci may have released the birds but before he did he sketched them all and studied the drawings. Da Vinci, during his entire life, was much more fascinated by mechanics than he was by art. He practiced his art at first to have drawings of objects and actions for study and later in life to earn a living, not out of love for art. But mechanics at the time were not respected and certainly not the mechanical efforts of a young boy. His drawings and natural artistic talent were respected however and he soon found himself sponsored to enter the prestigious studio of Andrea Verochio and it was not long before the Master recognized the enormous talent of the 14 year old Da Vinci. His first major collaborations were on the Baptism of Christ and the Annunciation and it was during this period that observers noticed how well he could paint expressions. In all of his paintings you can see the feelings of the models and this was something that no other artist up to that period. There are a few grad school scholarships for history that will allow students of the Renaissance to study his early years in much more detail.
We must remember that this was a time well before artists like Rembrandt and Picasso, both of whom had the lessons of Da Vinci to build on. Da Vinci´s innovations in painting made the art we have today possible. His figures were soft and not abruptly drawn as all of the previous figures and when he had backgrounds he developed the technique of “Sfumattoo”, which allowed the artist to slightly blur the background as a contrast to the figure. His studies in human anatomy made the highly lifelike figures to take on a life of their own and still have a natural look, a problem that had plagued the ancient Greeks for centuries.