Born in 1519 in Venci, Italy, Leonardo Da Vinci was born in the center of the Italian Renaissance. He became an artist’s apprentice early in life and spent a considerable amount of time studying architecture, music, science, literature, and invention. Since his life, Da Vinci’s work has been recognized to the extent that he is a face for the Italian Renaissance as a whole. These masterpieces are just eight of the paintings that showcase why Da Vinci remains a household name even centuries later.
1. The Last Supper
This painting has become one of the most well-known pieces of religious iconography in the Christain world. Painted in the late fifteenth century, this work shows Jesus Christ at the center of a table, with the twelve disciples seated on either side. This painting can be seen hanging in churches, art history exhibits, and private homes all across the world. Impressively, this deeply religious painting has reached fame in both secular and non-secular settings.
2. Mona Lisa
Second only to The Last Supper, this painting is the most famous Da Vinci work of his lifetime. Scholars and art critics have toiled for hundreds of years to understand this painting. This painting focuses on a woman who is seated at a slight angle and facing the viewer. The woman has a slight smile on her face, the nature of which has stumped viewers, critics, and art scholars for centuries.
The subject of the painting is Lisa del Giocondo, an Italian noblewoman whose portrait was commissioned by her husband. The story behind her smile has dozens of stories behind it but this mystery has kept this Da Vinci painting in the public eye for centuries.
3. Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with an Ermine) 1483-90
This is another one of Da Vinci’s most famous paintings, but people often forget that this was also his work. At the center of the work is a young woman, whose expression is open to a thousand interpretations. In her hands she holds an ermine, a feral creature similar to a weasel. The calm expression on the woman’s face is at odds with the ermine struggling to get out of her grasp.
4. Portrait of Ginevra de Benci
Similar to the Mona Lisa, this portrait is focused on a young woman in the aristocracy around the time of her marriage. She wears a grave, somewhat negative expression, which many scholars have debated the nature of over the years. As one of the only seventeen surviving Da Vinci works, Portrait of Ginevra de Benci is prized as one of the most important works in the art world. This painting currently hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where thousands of people visit it every year.
5. Self Portrait
This work comes not in the form of a painting, but rather as a sketch from one of Da Vinci’s many sketchbooks. Self Portrait was penned in red chalk and captures Da Vinci at approximately age 50. This sketch is interesting as there is a debate about the true identity of the man. While described as a self-portrait, it depicts a man older than Da Vinci would have looked at the age when it was created. This has led many scholars to question whether the man in the sketch is truly Da Vinci or not. It’s also prompted questions as to if this was a self-portrait contemplative of the future.
6. Vitruvian Man, Study of proportions, from Vitruvius’s De Architectura
While not a painting, the Vitruvian Man is one of Da Vinci’s most famous sketches. This sketch is based on the work of Roman architect Vitruvius, who wrote about the relationship between the human body and the universe. This sketch has appeared countless times as a representation of man’s role in scientific thought and the greater scope of the universe.
7. Virgin of the Rocks 1495-1508
This work may not be as well known as The Last Supper or the Mona Lisa, but it definitely deserves a place on this list. What’s interesting is that there are actually two paintings by this name that are connected, both almost identical except for a few important details. Both versions show the Madonna, alongside three young children who represent Jesus, John the Baptist, and an angel.
Both works are highly prized, with one hanging in The Louvre in Paris, and the other hanging in the National Gallery in London. Together the two companion pieces form a larger work focused on religious iconography, much like many of Da Vinci’s other works.
8. Adoration of the Magi
This is an early work of Da Vinci’s, having been started in 1481. This work captivates viewers and scholars because it remains unfinished, as Da Vinci departed for Milan a year after he began work on the painting. This painting is crafted in oil on wood and depicts the Virgin Mary and Child in the foreground with the Magi kneeling nearby. As with many Renaissance works, this painting is focused on religious imagery and remains well regarded by the Christian world.
With so many famous works, Leonardo Da Vinci will forever be known as a Renaissance man who changed the world. From the Mona Lisa to The Last Supper and all of his other works, Leonardo Da Vinci has changed the course of the entire art world as we know it.