T here is something so obvious, so crude, about Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Cecilia Gallerani that it might seem beneath discussion. The year-old mistress of the ruler of Milan, Ludovico Sforza , is stroking an ermine. The creature is white, furry and bony. Scholars have written reams about this ermine's significance as an allegory of purity. To my mind, with its long snout and serpentine body, her pet looks unmistakably phallic — and her control of it suggests that Sforza has been tamed by his young mistress. Leonardo's Cecilia has sloping, slender shoulders, white skin over delicate collarbones, a pale throat adorned with a black necklace, an exquisitely elongated face with a superb nose.
In Renaissance Florence, a number of designated boxes placed throughout the city allowed citizens to make anonymous denunciations of various moral crimes—in , for example, the artist-monk Filippo Lippi was accused of fathering a child with a nun. But the crime that the government was really trying to control was sodomy, so notoriously prevalent that contemporary German slang for a homosexual was Florenzer. The common nature of the offense did not erase the threat of serious consequences. There is little doubt that Leonardo was arrested. Although any time he may have spent in jail was brief, and the case was dismissed, two months later, for lack of corroborating witnesses, he had plenty of time to ponder the possible legal punishments: a large fine, public humiliation, exile, burning at the stake. Private notebooks of all sizes, some carried about for quick sketches and on-the-spot observations, others used for long-term, exacting studies in geology, botany, and human anatomy, to specify just a few of the areas in which he posed fundamental questions, and reached answers that were often hundreds of years ahead of his time. Why is the sky blue? How does the heart function? Music, military engineering, astronomy.
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The personal life of Leonardo da Vinci 15 April — 2 May has been a subject of interest, inquiry, and speculation since the years immediately following his death. Leonardo has long been regarded as the archetypal Renaissance man , described by the Renaissance biographer Giorgio Vasari as having qualities that "transcended nature" and being "marvellously endowed with beauty, grace and talent in abundance". Leonardo was born on 15 April , "at the third hour of the night"  in the Tuscan hill town of Vinci , in the lower valley of the Arno River in the territory of the Republic of Florence. The inclusion of the title "ser" indicated that Leonardo's father was a gentleman. Leonardo spent his first five years in the hamlet of Anchiano in the home of his mother, then from lived in the household of his father, grandparents and uncle, Francesco, in the small town of Vinci. His father had married a sixteen-year-old girl named Albiera;  Ser Piero married four times and produced children by his two later marriages. At the age of about fourteen Leonardo was apprenticed by his father to the artist Andrea del Verrocchio.
But a new opera is shining fresh light on his private passions — by depicting his intense relationships with two of his assistants. But what do we know of the man, of his passions, of Leonardo in love? Leonardo left nothing that could be read directly as a diary or journal: his interest was in the outer, rather than the inner, world. Nevertheless, writers, from the 16th-Century biographer Giorgio Vasari to Sigmund Freud, have scoured the thousands of pages of written notes left by Leonardo for clues. Five hundred years after his death — with exhibitions around Europe celebrating his art, engineering, science and ideas — a new opera celebrates a more private side of the Renaissance master. The work of composer Alex Mills and librettist Brian Mullin, Leonardo focuses on the relationship between the great artist and two of his assistants. This young man, by contrast, was from a noble Milanese family, and developed a role in the workshop akin to private secretary. He and Leonardo soon developed a closer intimacy that Mills and Mullin liken to father and son.