Leonardo’s Biography

April 15, 1452 May 2, 1519BR                             Chronology               Leonardo's universal studies

On April 15, 1452 in Anchiano, a small town near Vinci, Leonardo was born the illegitimate son of a Ser Piero who belonged to a family of notaries. About his mother we know only that her name was Caterina. Leonardo grew up at home, most certainly raised by those closest to him, a grandmother and his stepmother.

In the countryside around Vinci, Leonardo began to be interested in nature, observing the flight of birds and the workings of windmills. But before too long, after the death of Ser Piero's father, the family moved to Florence where young Leonardo began a respectable career, though with little success. In that period Florence was an open-air workshop: architectural and artistic works were underway everywhere, and Leonardo was drawn into the happenings in the artists' workshops surrounding him. Therefore Ser Piero decided to send his son to one of the most well known workshops of the period: Verrocchio's.

There, Leonardo remained for eight years. Due to his marked pictorial talents, he was already taking part in the Company of Artists in 1472. In this period he collaborated with his teacher on many works. 1482 signaled for Leonardo the beginning of a series of trips that brought him to visit many Italian courts and even that of the French King Louis XII. His stay at the court of Ludovico Sforza, where he acted as engineer, architect, sculptor, artist, and singer extended until 1499. It was in this period that Leonardo painted some of his most famous works: The Last Supper and The Virgin of the Rocks.

At the same time he was also intensifying his studies of machinery, architecture, hydraulics, city planning and anatomy, passing entire nights in the mortuaries of hospitals. After the fall of the dukedom, Leonardo began a period of wandering which carried him to Mantova and Venice. A year later he was back in Florence, and afterwards he entered into the service of Cesare Borgia as military engineer. Between 1503 and 1505 Leonardo returned to Florence where he began his most famous work: La Gioconda (The Mona Lisa). In 1506 he was again in Milan where he dedicated himself full-time to scientific speculation, studies in biology and physics, anatomical research, hydraulics, and geophysical mathematics. These studies also continued during his stay in Rome.

In 1517 the son of the king of France Francis I, who appreciated Leonardo's great talent, called him to the French court. Here, Leonardo passed the last years of his life. He died in Cloux on May 2, 1519 at the age of 67 and was buried at the church of Saint-Florentin in Amboise. In his will, Leonardo left all of his writings to his favourite student Francesco Melzi, while to his other pupil, Salai, he left the paintings still in his studio, among these La Gioconda. This is the summary of an exceptional life, intense and of prodigious activity, of which remain few paintings and a great number of writings and drawings, fragments of studies and unordered notebooks.