Leonardo da Vinci
One of the most recognizable figures of the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1510) is best remembered as an artist. Aside from creating masterpieces such as The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, though, he was also an accomplished sculptor, scientist, architect, inventor, engineer, cook, and musician.
Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in the Tuscan town of Vinci outside Florence, Italy. He was raised by his father, a notary, after his mother married another man and moved to a neighboring town. As a teenager he became an apprentice in the Florence workshop of Andrea del Verrochio, where he remained until setting up his own studio several years later.
The next stop for the artist was Milan, where in 1482 he entered into the service of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. Over the next decade his work included such paintings as Lady with an Ermine, a portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, and the first of three versions of Virgin of the Rocks. While in Milan, he also devoted several years to creating The Last Supper in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
In 1499, not long after the completion of The Last Supper, the duke of Ludovico il Moro fell to the French armies of King Louis XII. Leonardo abandoned Milan and worked for patrons in cities across Italy, including Mantua, Venice, and Friuli, and was also employed as a military architect and engineer by the infamous Cesare Borgia. He returned to Milan in 1508 and focused his efforts on studying anatomy, town planning, and hydraulic engineering.
Leonardo moved on to Rome in 1513 at the request of the newly-elected pope, Giuliano de Medici. He remained in the pope's service for three years before traveling to France in 1516. François I bestowed on Leonardo the title of Premier Painter, Engineer, and Architect of the King, along with a manor house near the royal château at Amboise.
Leonardo da Vinci died on May 2, 1519, and is buried in St. Hubert's Chapel at the Château Royal d'Amboise. According to legend, King François was at Leonardo's side when the famed artist breathed his last.
Matteo Bandello (1484-1561), who is 12 years old during the events in The Secret Supper, followed in Leonardo da Vinci's footsteps and became well-versed in a number of different areas. A monk, diplomat, and soldier, he was also one of most celebrated writers of the Italian Renaissance. He published 214 tales in four volumes between 1554 and 1573. His stories, which were translated into English and French, are believed to have inspired the themes for several Elizabethan plays, including Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi.
Lucrezia Crivelli (1452-1519) was a lady-in-waiting to Duchess Beatrice d’Este and the mistress of Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan. There is historical evidence suggesting that Lucrezia sat for a portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. It’s believed to be La Belle Ferronniere, which is on display in the Louvre in Paris.
Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), a famous intellectual, doctor, musician, and preacher, founded the Academy of Florence under the patronage of Cosimo de Medici. It was with the founding of this institution that the Renaissance was born. He's renowned for translating into Latin the complete works of Plato. Although he never left Florence, Ficino greatly influenced artists like da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, and Titian. He's described by biographer Giovanni Cosi as having "a rough, ruddy complexion with curly hair," much like the figure of Matthew in The Last Supper.
Ludovico Sforza (1452-1508), who usurped the throne from his nephew to become Duke of Milan, is best remembered for his patronage of Leonardo da Vinci and the architect Bramante. One of the wealthiest and most powerful regents of Renaissance Italy, he held a lavish court and was devoted to furthering the arts and sciences. Not long after the completion of The Last Supper, the armies of the French King Louis XII invaded Italy and laid claim to Milan. Ludovico attempted to recover his lands but was defeated, captured, and died in a French prison.
Master General Gioacchino Torriani (1417-1500), who in The Secret Supper bids Father Agostino to travel to Milan, was during Leonardo's time the highest authority of the Order of Saint Dominic. He was familiar with Milan and the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, having served as the Provincial of Lombardy on two occasions.