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Knights of the Art

Leonardo Da Vinci
On the sunny slopes of Monte Albano, between Florence and Pisa, the little town of
Vinci lay high among the rocks that crowned the steep hillside. It was but a little town.
Only a few houses crowded together round an old castle in the midst, and it looked from
a distance like a swallow's nest clinging to the bare steep rocks.
Here in the year 1452 Leonardo, son of Ser Piero da Vinci, was born. It was in the age
when people told fortunes by the stars, and when a baby was born they would eagerly
look up and decide whether it was a lucky or unlucky star which shone upon the child.
Surely if it had been possible in this way to tell what fortune awaited the little Leonardo,
a strange new star must have shone that night, brighter than the others and unlike the rest
in the dazzling light of its strength and beauty.
Leonardo was always a strange child. Even his beauty was not like that of other children.
He had the most wonderful waving hair, falling in regular ripples, like the waters of a
fountain, the colour of bright gold, and soft as spun silk. His eyes were blue and clear,
with a mysterious light in them, not the warm light of a sunny sky, but rather the blue that
glints in the iceberg. They were merry eyes too, when he laughed, but underneath was
always that strange cold look. There was a charm about his smile which no one could
resist, and he was a favourite with all. Yet people shook their heads sometimes as they
looked at him, and they talked in whispers of the old witch who had lent her goat to
nourish the little Leonardo when he was a baby. The woman was a dealer in black magic,
and who knew but that the child might be a changeling?
It was the old grandmother, Mona Lena, who brought Leonardo up and spoilt him not a
little. His father, Ser Piero, was a lawyer, and spent most of his time in Florence, but
when he returned to the old castle of Vinci, he began to give Leonardo lessons and tried
to find out what the boy was fit for. But Leonardo hated those lessons and would not
learn, so when he was seven years old he was sent to school.
This did not answer any better. The rough play of the boys was not to his liking. When he
saw them drag the wings off butterflies, or torture any animal that fell into their hands,
his face grew white with pain, and he would take no share in their games. The Latin
grammar, too, was a terrible task, while the many things he longed to know no one taught
him.
So it happened that many a time, instead of going to school, he would slip away and
escape up into the hills, as happy as a little wild goat. Here was all the sweet fresh air of
heaven, instead of the stuffy schoolroom. Here were no cruel, clumsy boys, but all the
wild creatures that he loved. Here he could learn the real things his heart was hungry to
know, not merely words which meant nothing and led to nowhere.
For hours he would lie perfectly still with his heels in the air and his chin resting in his
hands, as he watched a spider weaving its web, breathless with interest to see how the
 
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