Leonardo da Vinci
  • Leonardo da Vinci is responsible for two of the world’s most recognizable paintings — The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. Not bad for a man who would have preferred to work as an architect or military engineer…’At forty-three, in an era when he had almost reached the age of life expectancy, he had failed … to complete anything that truly fulfilled his astonishing promise,’” – Ross King, “Leonardo and the Last Supper”

Failure Magazine’s article “Leonardo and the Last Supper” (appropriately enough), Leonardo da Vinci (born today in 1452) describes just how much failure this icon of ingenuity and creativity actually endured…

  • In the book you note that when Leonardo received the commission for The Last Supper he had still not achieved anything that fulfilled his promise. Why? – It’s hard for us to grasp that Leonardo — who is, after all, one of history’s greatest geniuses — did not succeed at everything he attempted. Part of the problem was his perfectionism. He was always repainting and rethinking his works, endlessly experimenting, and happily taking all of the time (and more) that was available to him. In an age when artists were regarded as mere craftsmen who were often paid by the square foot that did not please his patrons.
  • There were many Last Supper’s done before Leonardo’s — and many since. Why is the Last Supper now synonymous with him? The tragedy for us is that, beautiful though the painting still is, it’s only a shadow of what it was in 1498. The seeds of its eventual degradation lay in one of the secrets of its power and beauty — Leonardo’s experimental (and flawed) painting technique. This technique meant he was able to paint with many more nuances and much brighter colors than anyone before him, but it also meant the pigment didn’t stick to the wall.
  • What do you view as Leonardo’s greatest failure? – Unquestionably his greatest and most tragic failure was his inability to cast the giant bronze equestrian monument to honor Francesco Sforza. He spent the better part of a decade on the project, but circumstances beyond his control (as well as the inherent impossibility of the gargantuan task) meant it was never created.But failure stalked his career. In about 1490 he tried to get the commission to design a dome for the cathedral of Milan, but his plan was rejected by the officials; likewise his plans for casting the bronze doors of the cathedral in Piacenza. Hard as it is to believe, Leonardo had to learn how to deal with rejection and failure.
  • How did Leonardo look back on his life when it was all over? Did he view himself as a failure? – It’s amazing — and poignant — to think that Leonardo did consider himself as something of a failure. He didn’t believe that he had achieved everything he might have done. His notebooks have a repeated refrain: “Tell me if I ever did a thing.”
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