LEONARDO DA VINCI
In the fifteenth century, Italy was not the unified country we know today. At that time the boot-shaped peninsula was divided into many small independent states. Naples in the south was ruled by a series of kings. Popes of the Roman Catholic Church ruled the middle section. To the north different families controlled the largest and wealthiest city-states of Florence, Milan, and Venice. They fought wars against each other and against smaller neighboring states to increase their power.
Leonardo da Vinci was born in the year 1452 in the small hill town of Vinci. His father was a successful notary and his mother a peasant woman.
The little town of Vinci has changed very little in 544 years since then. Stone houses are clustered together around the protective battlements of a castle. The tall church bell tower is still an important landmark which can be seen for miles.
Vinci is surrounded by fertile farmland. The hillsides are planted with grape vines and fruit trees and patches of silvery green olive trees dot the landscape.
The slopes above Vinci lead to Mount Albano, a high peak where Leonardo later hiked and made observations about the atmosphere. Small mountain streams run down from the mountain past Vinci to the valley of the Arno River below.
For a curious boy who loved nature, the area around Vinci must have been a wonderful childhood home. Leonardo was free to explore the woods and streams and to study the insects, animals, and birds which he later sketched in great detail in his notebooks.
Leonardo's early fascination with nature clearly inspired the paintings he would create as an adult. The detailed and lifelike plants and wildflowers that he painted at the feet of the angel in The Annunciation and the rocky caves and...