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Leonardo da Vinci,
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Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci Self-Portrait


Leonardo da Vinci (not Giovanni Cariani): Self-portrait, c. 1480 (not 1520). Washington DC, The National Gallery of Art (Courtesy of Peter Ackermann)

Very shortly we will commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. But of course nothing changed. The old stories about him, invented in the 19th century by intellectual men who loved little boys with curly hair, are still being told. Don't buy any biography about Leonardo da Vinci. They are not worth the money you have to pay for them. Instead have a look at him! This painting is a portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, made by himself, when he was around 28 years old. He had just spent around two years in Venice at the workshop of Gentile and Giovanni Bellini. Nowadays this work is attributed to a Venetian painter, Giovanni Cariani (c. 1490-1547), who was not even born, when this painting was made around 1480. The painting is of course datable through the costume of the depicted, which was in fashion in the 1470s to the beginning of the 1480s.
As I told you already again and again, the landscape in a background of a painting is always very closely related to the depicted. The landscapes are never fantasies of the painters! Therefore viewing the countryside through the window of this portrait painting, you can see the beautiful landscape of the Mugello with its hills and mountains. Not far in the distance you can discover the township of Fiesole. That is where the rich Florentine citizens, including one uncle of Leonardo da Vinci, had their summer houses, and where they spent the unbearably hot summer months. When Leonardo visited Florence, he often lived with his uncle. On the nearby Monte Ceceri he carried out his famous flight experiments. And in the far background you see the famous Florentine landmark “Libro Aperto” (the open Book), part of the northern Apennine ridge and composed by the two mountains Mt. Rotondo (1937 m) and Mt. Belvedere (1896 m).
Could it be that this self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci is the same portrait mentioned by Giorgio Vasari in his famous book “Lives of seventy of the most eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects”, published in 1568, when he speaks about Francesco da Melzo, the elder son of Leonardo da Vinci: “… (Francesco da Melzo) a Milanese gentleman, who, in the time of Leonardo, was a child of remarkable beauty, much beloved by him, and is now a handsome and amiable old man, who sets great store by these drawings, and treasures them as relics, together with the portrait of Leonardo of blessed memory.” (in: Giorgio Vasari: Lives of seventy of the most eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, edited and annotated by E.H. and E.W. Blashfield and A.A. Hopkins. Vol. II. London 1897, p. 392).


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