Leonardo da Vinci's Cat Drawing and Word Search Title

Image Credit: via Flickr

What do Leonardo da Vinci, Christmas, and cats have in common, you wonder? A masterful drawing of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus, who is in turn holding a kitten that is struggling to get away. Leonardo da Vinci was more than just an artist, but a thinker who was way ahead of his time.

Young Leonardo da Vinci

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci self portrait, Chambord Castle, Loire Valley, France - The metallic stone effect is generated by computer

Leonardo da Vinci Self-Portrait
Image Credit: MAMJODH via Flickr

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in Florence, Italy. His father was Ser Peiro, a notary, and his mother was a young peasant woman named Caterina. Since he was born out of wedlock, Leonardo was denied many opportunities in life and was not even allowed to take his father’s last name. Instead of a last name, he was just called by the small town he was from, Leonardo da Vinci (from Vinci). He was given no formal education other than very basic reading, writing, and math.

Unable to follow into the family business because of his illegitimate birth, Leonardo da Vinci began an apprenticeship at the age of 14. His father was able to use his connections to get Leonardo under the wing of one of the best artists of the time – Verrocchio. It was here that Leonardo learned a great deal of skills that would make him very successful later on: drawing, painting, modeling, leather art, drafting, metal working, chemistry, mechanics, carpentry, metallurgy, chemistry.

By the age of 20, Leonardo da Vinci was accepted as a master into the Guild of St. Luke.  His first major commissioned work was The Adoration of the Magi for Florence’s San Donato in 1482. Leonardo would never finish this work. Throughout the rest of his career, his drive to begin something new would leave a trail of unfinished pieces.

Life in Milan

“Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?” – Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci moved from Florence to Milan seeking both refuge from the looming war in Florence and to change his career path. The militant state of Milan would allow him to present his ideas for new military weapons and technologies. However, he found that his skills as an artist were the most valued here in Milan as well. It was here that Leonardo painted on of his most famous pieces, The Last Supper.


The Last Supper by Leonardo DaVinici
Public Domain

The ruling family of Milan, the Sforzce clan, commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to make a statue of a horse that was larger than any other horse statue in existence (16 feet tall) called Grand Cavallo. After 12 years of creating the clay sculpture, Leonardo was forced to abandon the project. The bronze that was supposed to be cast over the clay was re-purposed to make cannon balls for an imminent war with France.

Return to Florence

“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” – Leonardo da Vinci

The Mona Lisa

Photo Credit: faungg’s photos via Flickr

War caused Leonardo da Vinci to move back to Florence in 1500. Here he was commissioned with his most famous work of all The Mona Lisa. Leonardo would consider this to be a work in progress for the rest of his life. It was never given to the person who commissioned it. Florence was also the place where he would form a bitter rivalry with another famous artist of the time – Michelangelo.

In 1502, Leonardo da Vinci entered the service of Cesare Borgia, who was the illegitimate son of the pope (Pope Alexander VI). Borgia was the ruthless leader upon which Machiavelli would later base his novel The Prince .  Leonardo finally got to build some of his war machines, but became disgusted by death after Borgia ordered the killing of one of Leonardo’s friends.

In 1516, King Francis I of France made Leonardo da Vinci his “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect to the King.” Leonardo was to make for him a mechanical lion that could not only walk forward but open its chest to reveal a cluster of lilies.  Leonardo da Vinci died at the age of 67 in Ambrose, France. He famously kept more than 15,000 page of notes of his lifetime that give us a glimpse into his life and work. His estate was left to his apprentice Count Francesco Melzi whose sons would later sell Leonardo’s works.

The Virgin and Child with Cat


Image Credit: Sailko via Wikimedia Commons

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Most people know the story of the biblical nativity. A heavily pregnant Virgin Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem for a government census only to find that the inn is full. The innkeeper allows them to stay in the stables outside with the livestock. While in the stable, Mary gives birth to Jesus and lays him in a manger. Soon shepherds receive the news of Jesus’ birth from a choir of angels and come to the manger to see him. A few days later a group of Wisemen come to town having followed a sign they saw in the stars and after a quick trip to see King Herod, they too go to see Jesus.

According to a medieval legend, there were also cats at the nativity! The legend says that a cat gave birth to kittens just as Mary was giving birth to Jesus. The cat was able to purr baby Jesus to sleep and so Mary honored the cat with an “M” on her forehead.

Leonardo da Vinci was very spiritual and honored this legend with a drawing. It is called The Virgin and Child with Cat. It is a drawing done with a quill pen and iron gall ink on very thin paper. Both sides of the paper have a different interpretation of the drawing (one traced from the other).

 Do you think Leonardo da Vinci was onto something with adding kitties the manger scene?

Sources & Digging Deeper

Leonardo Da Vinci – Biography

Leonardo Da Vinci – The History Channel

Leonardo Da Vinci – Britannica

Italian Renaissance Drawings Technical Examination Profoma ‘The Virgin and Child with a cat’ (Leonardo da Vinci) – British Museum

The Glorious Tabby – About.com