Information on the history, materials and location of Leonardo Da Vinci’s sculpture.
The Mona Lisa. The Vitruvian Man. It is true; Leonardo Da Vinci left his mark on the world in the form of brush strokes and pencil sketches. However, there is another side to the great artist; a side that deals with bronze rather than oil paint, a mallet rather than a pencil.
For although he considered sculpture to be one of the lesser arts, Da Vinci (1452-1519) dabbled in the creation of the three-dimensional form when he was an apprentice under the artist Verrocchio. However, the knowledge of exactly what pieces can claimed as Da Vinci’s have been lost to history. Some experts will go as far as to attribute some of Verrocchio’s works to the student Da Vinci; one example is Verrocchio’s Bust of Woman with Flowers, a piece significant to the Renaissance period because it was one of the first to show a figure with hands.
The Young Christ is one piece that, some believe, was created by Da Vinci. Made out of terracotta, this sculpture dates from 1470-1480. Others will attribute a variety of small bronze horse figurines to the artist; some are cast as rearing, some walking, some carry riders and others are bare. No matter if Da Vinci is responsible for these pieces, one thing is certain – he was fascinated by the anatomy and structure of the horse in three-dimensional form. Questions remain about a terracotta bust of a woman, the bronze figure of a downed soldier, and a wax bust of a young woman.
Bronze was a popular medium of the time, especially as Florence rose to great heights as the center of bronze foundries. A malleable, durable material, bronze required furnaces that blazed at incredibly high temperatures and many molds that were often created from clay and later, rubber. Terracotta, on the other hand, is simply clay that has been fired in a kiln, literally translating as “baked earth.”
No matter what Da Vinci may have accomplished, there is one piece known to be from the great master’s hands. Titled Horse and Rider, the piece is a small bronze of a rearing horse carrying a figure on its back. This piece is estimated to date from 1516-1519. Many believe the sculpture is the prelude what Da Vinci had hoped to construct in a much larger form – the Statue of Francesco Sforza, or the Trivulzio Monument. Both were sketched and designed, extensively, but never built.
In 1483 the Sforza family, based in Milan, ordered a gigantic statue featuring Francesco Sforza, the father of the clan, as the rider on a rearing horse. Da Vinci was in Milan studying art and perfecting his talent. The statue was to measure 17 meters tall and weight over 80 tons. It would have been the largest equestrian statue ever – if it was finished. Da Vinci tackled the project with gusto, frequenting the stables to draw his horses from life. He drew and drew, planned and plotted. But by 1493, after ten years of waiting, Da Vinci had nothing to show for all his brain power but a series of sketches.
And the sketches were something – in the sense of equine art. The rider, it seemed, was thrown on as an afterthought rather than acting as the piece’s commanding presence. The Sforza family, irate, wrote again and ordered that he provide the statue. Da Vinci responded by sending the clay model of the intended sculpture to Milan, where it was received with glee and nicknamed “colosso.”
Da Vinci went on to design the numerous enormous furnaces that would melt the bronze for the statue; he also designed a crate that would transport the clay model to the furnace yard. However, the entire 16-year project was canceled when the French attacked Milan. The Statue of Francesco Sforza was lost.
Da Vinci was given a second try to complete an equine statue – the Trivulzio family of Florence decided to commission a funeral monument for Gian Giacomo Trivulzio. This sculpture was to be of a bronze horse and rider set upon a base of marble, supported by columns. Although the idea was grand and it gave Da Vinci another opportunity to sketch horses, there are far fewer plans available for what would have been the Trivulzio Monument. This project, too, fell through.
After living in Florence, Da Vinci eventually traveled to Rome, and then on to France, when he died in 1519 at the age of 67.