Ludovico on the project on and off

Ludovico Sforza also tasked da Vinci with sculpting a 16-foot-tall bronze equestrian
statue of his father and founder of the family dynasty, Francesco Sforza. With the help
of apprentices and students in his workshop, da Vinci worked on the project on and off
for more than a dozen years. Leonardo sculpted a life-size clay model of the statue, but
the project was put on hold when war with France required bronze to be used for
casting cannons, not sculptures. After French forces overran Milan in 1499 — and shot
the clay model to pieces — da Vinci fled the city along with the duke and the Sforza
Ironically, Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, who led the French forces that conquered Ludovico
in 1499, followed in his foe’s footsteps and commissioned da Vinci to sculpt a grand
equestrian statue, one that could be mounted on his tomb. After years of work and
numerous sketches by da Vinci, Trivulzio decided to scale back the size of the statue,
which was ultimately never finished. Born out of wedlock to respected Florentine notary
Ser Piero and a young peasant woman named Caterina, Leonardo da Vinci was raised
by his father and his stepmother. At the age of five, he moved to his father’s family
estate in nearby Vinci, the Tuscan town from which the surname associated with
Leonardo derives, and lived with his uncle and grandparents. Young Leonardo received
little formal education beyond basic reading, writing and mathematics instruction, but his
artistic talents were evident from an early age. Around the age of 14, da Vinci began a
lengthy apprenticeship with the noted artist Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence. He
learned a wide breadth of technical skills including metalworking, leather arts, carpentry,
drawing, painting and sculpting. His earliest known dated work — a pen-and-ink
drawing of a landscape in the Arno valley — was sketched in 1473.At the age of 20, da
Vinci qualified for membership as a master artist in Florence’s Guild of Saint Luke and
established his own workshop. However, he continued to collaborate with his teacher
for an additional five years. It is thought that del Verrocchio completed his “Baptism of
Christ” around 1475 with the help of his student, who painted part of the background
and the young angel holding the robe of Jesus. According to Lives of the Most Excellent
Painters, Sculptors and Architects, written around 1550 by artist Giorgio Vasari,
Verrocchio was so humbled by the superior talent of his pupil that he never picked up a
paintbrush again. Most scholars, however, dismiss Vasari’s account as apocryphal.
In 1478, after leaving Verrocchio’s studio, da Vinci received his first independent
commission for an altarpiece to reside in a chapel inside Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio.
Three years later the Augustinian monks of Florence’s San Donato a Scopeto tasked
him to paint “Adoration of the Magi.” The young artist, however, would leave the city and
abandon both commissions without ever completing them. Leonardo da Vinci thought
sight was humankind’s most important sense and eyes the most important organ, and
he stressed the importance of saper vedere, or “knowing how to see.” He believed in
the accumulation of direct knowledge and facts through observation. A good painter has
two chief objects to paint — man and the intention of his soul,” da Vinci wrote. “The
former is easy, the latter hard, for it must be expressed by gestures and the movement
of the limbs.”