Leonardo da Vinci Biography

(Italian Polymath & Artist Known for His Paintings: ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘The Last Supper’ and ‘Virgin of the Rocks’)

Birthday: April 15, 1452 (Aries)

Born In: Anchiano, Italy

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci is known to the world as a polymath, architect, mathematician, musician, sculptor, engineer, inventor, anatomist, and writer. Da Vinci is considered a true Renaissance man who had a great deal of proficiency in many subjects. He is revered today because of his artistic contributions that defined and molded the world of art. He is also revered because of his many achievements in other notable fields. He helped unravel sciences, developed new art techniques, and was one of the first anatomists to dissect a human body. Da Vinci was also an accomplished musician. As far as his skills at fine arts, such as ballet, intermezzo, and sonnet are concerned, he was beyond compare. He was an embodiment of the spirit of the Renaissance and was known for his inventive imagination and unquenchable curiosity. Very few artists of his time possessed the qualities and the vehemence that he possessed. Today, his art is priceless and his science is accredited. Though he created many paintings, only about 15 of them survived and the ‘Mona Lisa’ is by far the most valuable one.

Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In April

Also Known As: Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci

Died At Age: 67


father: Ser Piero

mother: Caterina Buti del Vacca

siblings: Bartolomeo da Vinci

Born Country: Italy

Quotes By Leonardo Da Vinci Renaissance Painters

Height: 5'9" (175 cm), 5'9" Males

Died on: May 2, 1519

place of death: Château du Clos Lucé, Amboise, France

Notable Alumni: Studio Of Andrea Del Verrocchio

Cause of Death: Stroke

discoveries/inventions: Viola Organista, Double Hull

More Facts

education: Studio Of Andrea Del Verrocchio

Early Years
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was born on 15 April 1452, in a farmhouse near the village of Anchiano in Tuscany, Italy. Very little is known about his early life, which has been the subject of historic surmise for many years. It is found that he was born to a notary named Ser Piero and a peasant woman named Caterina. He had 12 half-siblings from his father’s four legal marriages.
It is believed that he spent the first five years of his life in Anchiano and from 1457 onwards, he lived with his uncle Francesco in the town of Vinci. He received formal education in Latin, mathematics, and geometry.
He was greatly inspired by the unique and bizarre incidents that took place in his life when he was a young boy. Incidents, such as discovering a cave in the mountains where he believed a great monster lived. This went on to inspire many of his paintings and works in the later years.
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The Workshop Of Verrocchio
At the age of 14, Leonardo da Vinci became an apprentice to one of the greatest painters of the time, Andrea del Verrocchio. He learned to paint and sculpt under him and was also taught the basics of metallurgy, drafting, chemistry, botany, cartography, and carpentry at his workshop.
Although he was a star student and a thorough all-rounder, Da Vinci chose art as his main profession but also pledged to use all that he learned from the workshop.
He collaborated with Verrocchio on a number of paintings, such as ‘The Baptism of Christ.’ It was while painting this piece that Verrocchio was stunned by Da Vinci’s sheer talent and vowed never to use the paint brush again because Da Vinci’s work, he believed, was far too superior.
By 1472, Da Vinci had qualified as a master in the ‘Guild of Saint Luke,’ an association of artists and doctors. He was so attached to Verrocchio that he abandoned the workshop set-up by his father and continued to collaborate with his master on a number of pieces.
One of his earliest drawings was ‘Arno Valley,’ a sketch of the valley of the same name, which was created on August 5, 1473, with the help of Verrocchio.
Paintings, Sculptures & Architecture
In the 1480s, he received two important painting commissions, namely ‘Saint Jerome in the Wilderness’ and ‘The Adoration of the Magi,’ both of which were never completed.
From 1478 to 1480, he painted ‘The Madonna of the Carnation,’ an oil painting with a central motif of Young Mary having Baby Jesus on her lap and a carnation in her left hand. Initially, the painting was believed to have been created by Verrocchio, but historians later agreed that it was one of Leonardo’s early works.
His next important works were ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ and ‘Madonna of the Rocks’ which were similar in style but dissimilar in composition. The former version, made from 1483 to 1486, is housed in the ‘Musée du Louvre’ and the latter, made from 1495 to 1508, is a darker version and was transferred to the ‘National Gallery of London.’
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He was commissioned to create a massive horse statue for a patron and over 70 tons of bronze was sent to him to create the horse. However, Da Vinci never used the bronze as he used clay to make the horse which was completed in 1492 and later became known as the ‘Gran Cavallo.’
One of his greatest paintings, ‘The Last Supper,’ was commissioned to him by the Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza and Leonardo worked on it from 1495 to 1498.
In the year 1499, Leonardo was appointed as the military architect and engineer and was asked to devise a plan to defend the city of Venice from naval attack.
In 1502, he entered the service of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, and created a map of Cesare’s city at a time when maps were not very common. Around the same time, he also created a town plan of Imola in order to win the dignitary’s patronage.
The same year, he produced another map, this time of Chiana Valley so as to give his benefactor a better strategic position during war. He created the map in combination with another project involving the construction of a dam for sustainable water supply in the same city.
In 1503, Leonardo went to Florence and began painting a mural of ‘The Battle of Anghiari,’ which took him two years to complete. He started painting his masterpiece ‘Mona Lisa,’ also called ‘La Gioconda,’ around the same time.
In 1506, he returned to Milan and many of his prominent pupils, including Bernardino Luini, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, and Marco d'Oggiono began to work with him.
Journals, Scientific Observations & Inventions
In the Renaissance period, both science and art were considered important and Leonardo was vastly ahead of his time. His works in science and engineering were as impressive as his art.
His approach to science was more observational than theoretical. He used his knowledge in Latin and mathematics to formulate and prepare a series of skeletal figures, which helped him in his scientific inventions.
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The contents of his journals made many historians believe that he was planning a series of treatises to be published on a variety of subjects, including a lucid treatise on human anatomy.
A man of many inventions, he was obsessed with flight and had plans for building something similar to a helicopter in 1502. He even made sketches of musical instruments and hydraulic water pumps, most of which were considered irrational at the time and were never made.
He wrote several books throughout his lifetime. One of his books ‘Codex on the Flight of Birds’ (1505) was a scientific palimpsest containing 18 folios.
Leonardo’s formal training on human anatomy began with his apprenticeship under Verrocchio. His precision as a sculptor helped him dissect human corpses with finesse. He made over 240 detailed drawings and wrote about 13,000 words on anatomy.
He also sketched various diagrams of the human skeleton, muscles, sinews, the vascular system, and genitalia, along with a couple of postscripts. Apart from studying the human anatomy, he dissected and studied the structure of amphibians, birds, and a couple of mammals like horses and cows.
Major Works
‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ as well as its variation ‘Madonna of the Rocks’ were painted during 1483-1508 and are considered one of his greatest works for its significant detailing and style. Of the two versions, the latter is housed at the ‘National Gallery of London,’ while the former can be seen at the ‘Musée de Louvre.’
‘The Vitruvian Man,’ which was created by Leonardo Da Vinci around 1490, depicts two superimposed pictures of a male figure. The drawing is often referred to as the ‘Canon of Proportions’ and was drawn in honor of an architect named Vitruvius. Considered one of his important scientific-mathematical contributions, it describes the correlation of ideal human proportions with geometry, based on Vitruvius’ classical orders of architecture.
‘The Last Supper,’ painted in 1498, is one of his famous paintings and was made for the refectory of the convent of ‘Santa Maria delle Grazie’ in Milan. It is believed that Leonardo worked on this from dawn to dusk without stopping to eat. The painting is considered one of his masterpieces due to its characterization and design. Although the original painting is now almost ruined, it remains as one of his highly reproduced works of art.
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‘The Mona Lisa’ is considered Da Vinci’s magnum opus. Although he was never satisfied with the work, he was extremely attached to it and never delivered it to its commissioner. For him, ‘The Mona Lisa’ was his attempt at excellence and he carried it with him wherever he traveled, keeping it with him till the end of his life. Today, the painting is housed at the ‘Musée de Louvre’ and is regarded as a priceless national treasure.
Leonardo da Vinci maintained diaries which contained a whopping 13,000 pages of scientific notes and drawings on natural philosophy, life, and travels. These diaries, which contain everything about Da Vinci’s life and exploits, are still preserved in major collections at ‘Windsor Castle,’ ‘Louvre,’ ‘The British Library,’ and ‘Biblioteca Nacional de Espana.’
Personal Life
It is said that Leonardo learned to play a musical instrument called the lyre when he was a child and began to compose his own tunes. It is also believed that the Duke of Milan preferred Leonardo’s musical performances over his own court musicians as his technique, talent, and skill were matchless.
Leonardo Da Vinci had many friends and patrons, such as Luca Pacioli, Cesare Borgia, Isabella d'Este, and Niccolo Machiavelli, who were all renowned in their respective fields.
Leonardo was a nature enthusiast, mainly because he was surrounded by trees, mountains, and rivers as a child. This may have also inspired many of his landscape works.
He was not attracted to women but developed a close friendship with his patrons, Cecilia Gallerani and the two Este sisters, Isabella and Beatrice.
His sexuality was often the subject of speculation for many. Though the curiosity died in the 16th century, it was revived once again by Sigmund Freud. It is believed that he developed passionate feelings for his male pupils and friends and these relationships were mostly erotic in nature. This eroticism has been exhibited in a couple of his paintings like ‘John the Baptist’ and ‘Bacchus.’
Court records belonging to the year 1476 show that Leonardo and three other men were charged with sodomy in an incident involving a notorious male prostitute. It is also believed that one of the men involved in the incident was related to the affluent Medici family.
He is described by early biographers as a man with great personal appeal, kindness, and generosity. It is also said that he was well-loved by his contemporaries.
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He passed away at Clos Luce in a manor house, where he spent the last three years of his life.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s legacy lies in the diversity of his knowledge and his broad range of disciplines that set him apart from the rest of his contemporaries. More than his paintings, it is his notebooks, which have documented everything he experienced, that give us valuable insights into his life and time.
All of his drawings were exported to England by Charles II and have been kept in the ‘Royal Collection’ since the late 17th century. Of his paintings, only 15 have survived and are dispersed around the world.
Leonardo treated his pupils with great indulgence and after his death, many of them like Francesco Melzi, Gian Giacomo Caprotti, and Marco d'Oggiono inherited his artistic works and scientific manuscripts.
Many books, such as ‘The Literary Works of Leonardo Da Vinci,’ ‘Leonardo Da Vinci,’ ‘Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci,’ and ‘Masters in art. Leonardo Da Vinci,’ have been written in his honor.
Many movies and historical documentaries based on this great personality were also made. Some of them include ‘Da Vinci: The Lost Treasure,’ ‘The Life of Leonardo da Vinci,’ and ‘Great Artists with Tim Marlow- Leonardo.’
The ‘Leonardo da Vinci Award’ was established in 1975 by the ‘Rotary Club of Florence.’ It is presented to young people involved in the study of arts, technology, literature, and science.
The ‘Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts’ was established as a means to acknowledge those who offer a confident message to mankind through art.
This famous Renaissance man was one of the first artists to use oil paints for his art works instead of the usual egg tempera.
Considering the era and the place he lived in, this renowned painter, sculptor, and polymath was quite an exception as he chose to be a vegetarian for humanitarian reasons.
This famous polymath of the Renaissance was ambidextrous while writing. However, he painted with his right hand.
He wrote everything in mirror image form so that his works could not be copied by others.
This famous personality used to dig graveyards and steal corpses at night to study human anatomy.
It took this painter 10 years to paint Mona Lisa’s lips.
‘The Mona Lisa’ is believed to be the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a merchant.
It is believed that Leonardo da Vinci was a prolific draftsman as he kept journals of all his paintings in the form of small yet detailed sketches and drawings.

See the events in life of Leonardo Da Vinci in Chronological Order

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