While Leonardo da Vinci is best known as an artist, his work as a scientist and an inventor makes him a true Renaissance man. He is a role model in applying the scientific method to every aspect of life, including art and music. Although he is best known for his dramatic and expressive artwork, Leonardo also conducted dozens of carefully thought-out experiments and created groundbreaking futuristic inventions.

da Vinci's keen eye and quick mind led him to make important scientific discoveries, yet he never published his ideas. He was a vegetarian who loved animals and despised war, yet he worked as a military engineer to invent advanced and deadly weapons. He was one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance, yet he left only a handful of completed paintings.

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Leonardo da Vinci: Biography

The illegitimate son of a 25-year-old notary, Ser Piero, and a peasant girl, Caterina, Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, Italy, just outside Florence. His father took custody of him shortly after his birth. Growing up in his father's Vinci home, Leonardo had access to scholarly texts owned by family and friends. He was also exposed to Vinci's longstanding painting tradition.

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When Leonardo was about 15, his father apprenticed him to the renowned workshop of Andrea del Verrochio in Florence. Even as an apprentice, Leonardo demonstrated his great talent. Indeed, his genius appears in several pieces produced by Verrocchio's workshop from 1470 to 1475. For example, one of Leonardo's first big breaks was to paint an angel in Verrochio's "Baptism of Christ."

Statue of Leonardo in front of the art museum
Statues of Leonardo were created from the self-portrait sketch found in his notes. | Image courtesy: wgbieber on Pixabay

First Milanese Period

Seeking to make a living, he entered the service of the Duke of Milan in 1482, abandoning his first commission in Florence, "The Adoration of the Magi." He spent 17 years in Milan, leaving only after Duke Ludovico Sforza's fall from power in 1499. The Duke kept Leonardo busy painting, sculpting, and designing elaborate court festivals, but he also had Leonardo design weapons, buildings, and machinery.

From 1485 to 1490, Leonardo studied many subjects, including nature, flying machines, geometry, mechanics, municipal construction, canals, and architecture (designing everything from churches to fortresses). His studies from this period contain designs for advanced weapons, including a tank and other war vehicles, various combat devices, and even submarines. Also, during this period, Leonardo produced his first anatomical studies.

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Leonardo's interests were so broad and often compelled by new subjects that he usually left projects unfinished. As a result, he only completed about six works in these 17 years, including "The Last Supper" and "The Virgin on the Rocks," leaving dozens of paintings and projects unfinished or unrealized.

Between 1490 and 1495, he developed his habit of recording his studies in meticulously illustrated notebooks. His work covered four main themes: painting, architecture, the elements of mechanics, and human anatomy. These studies and sketches were collected into various codices and manuscripts, which are now collected by museums and individuals.

Second Florentine Period

In December 1499 or, at the latest, January 1500—shortly after the victorious entry of the French into Milan—Leonardo left that city in the company of mathematician Lucas Pacioli. Leonardo left Florence in the summer of 1502 to enter the service of Cesare Borgia as a senior official in the latter's army.

On his return to Florence in 1500, he and his household were guests of the Servite monks at the monastery of Santissima Annunziata. Leonardo created the cartoon, The Virgin and Child, with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist. Upon his return to Florence, he rejoined the Guild of St Luke. He spent two years designing and painting a great mural of The Battle of Anghiari for the Signoria, with Michelangelo designing its companion piece, The Battle of Cascina.

In Florence in 1504, he was part of a committee formed to relocate, against the artist's will, Michelangelo's statue of David.

In 1506, he returned to Milan. Many of Leonardo's most prominent pupils or followers in painting either knew or worked with him in Milan, including Bernardino Luini, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, and Marco D'Oggione. However, he did not stay in Milan for long because his father died in 1504. In 1507, he was back in Florence trying to sort out problems with his brothers over his father's estate. By 1508, he was back in Milan, living in his own house in Porta Orientale in the parish of Santa Babila.

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Leonardo was capable of religious painting
We tend to think of da Vinci as a creator of famous art, but he saw himself as an engineer first. | Image on Pixabay

Later Years and Death of Leonardo da Vinci

From September 1513 to 1516, Leonardo spent much of his time living in the Belvedere in the Vatican in Rome, where Raphael and Michelangelo were both active. In October 1515, François I of France recaptured Milan. On 19th December, Leonardo was present at the meeting of Francois I and Pope Leo X, which took place in Bologna.

For Francois, Leonardo was commissioned to make a mechanical lion that could walk forward, then open its chest to reveal a cluster of lilies. In 1516, he entered François' service, being given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé near the king's residence at the royal Chateau Amboise. He spent the last three years of his life here, accompanied by his friend and apprentice, Count Francesco Melzi, supported by a pension totaling 10,000 scudi.

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Leonardo died at Clos Lucé, France, on May 2, 1519. François I had become a close friend. The King held Leonardo's head in his arms as he died, although this story, beloved by the French and portrayed in romantic paintings by Ingres, Ménageot, and other French artists, may be legend rather than fact. Leonardo sent for a priest to make his confession and receive the Holy Sacrament in his last days. By his will, sixty beggars followed his casket.

Leonardo was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the castle of Amboise. Melzi was the principal heir and executor, receiving money, Leonardo's paintings, tools, library, and personal effects. Leonardo also remembered his other long-time pupil and companion, Salai, and his servant Battista di Vilussis, who each received half of Leonardo's vineyards, his brothers who received land, and his serving woman who received a black cloak of good stuff with a fur edge.

Leonardo da Vinci: The Renaissance Man

Leonardo da Vinci was said to be a Renaissance man who had far more to offer to the world during his period than just art. His talents were noted to greatly exceed the arts of work that he created during his career. He did not create a divide between science and art, like many humanists of the time, which gave his work such depth and character. Over 13,000 pages of notes documented his inventions, creations, observations, and drawings. Architecture and anatomy, designs for flying machines, plant studies, and other work he was involved in were all documented in these pages.

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The Last Supper is priceless
Da Vinci's works are some of the most expensive in the world. | Image on Pixabay

Where Can You Find Leonardo da Vinci's Artwork in the World?

  • The Annunciation (1472): The Uffizi, Florence
  • Ginevra de’ Benci (1474-78): National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
  • The Adoration of the Magi (1481): Uffizi, Florence
  • The Virgin of the Rocks (1st version) (1483-85): Louvre, Paris
  • Portrait of a Musician (1486-87): Ambrosiana Gallery, Milan
  • Saint Jerome (c.1488-90): Picture Gallery, Vatican Museums
  • Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (The Lady with an Ermine) (1489-90): The Czartoryskich Museum, Krakow
  • The Last Supper (1490-97/98): Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan
  • The Virgin of the Rocks (2nd version) (1491-99 and 1506-08): National Gallery, London
  • Portrait of a Woman (La Belle Ferroniere) (1493-94): Louvre, Paris
  • Salvator Mundi (1499 onwards): Private collection
  • Saint John the Baptist (1500 onwards): Louvre, Paris
  • The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (1501 onwards): Louvre, Paris
  • The Mona Lisa (1503 onwards): Louvre, Paris

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Most of his ideas were theoretical and rarely, if ever, experimental. He was also known to have been one of the first to document the human body in the form of a child, as he stayed as close as possible to the actual anatomy and did not drift away from the sciences in his works.

There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see. ”- Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was well ahead of his time. He was a great thinker, and he developed a series of great works and inventions during the course of his career. Although he did have a few issues early in his career, he moved past these and became one of the most well-known artists throughout history. Still, his works remain some of the most famous throughout history and continue to influence young artists working in the art world.

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Shreyanjana

Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.