Leonardo's earliest known drawing, the Arno Valley (1473), Uffizi
Leonardo was born on 15 April 1452 (Old Style) "at the third hour of the night"[b] in the Tuscan hill town of Vinci, in the lower valley of the Arno river in the territory of the Medici-ruled Republic of Florence. He was the out-of-wedlock son of the wealthy Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, a Florentine legal notary, and Caterina, a peasant.[c] Leonardo had no surname in the modern sense – "da Vinci" simply meaning "of Vinci"; his full birth name was "Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci", meaning "Leonardo, (son) of (Mes)ser Piero from Vinci". The inclusion of the title "ser" indicated that Leonardo's father was a gentleman.
Little is known about Leonardo's early life. He spent his first five years in the hamlet of Anchiano in the home of his mother, and from 1457 lived in the household of his father, grandparents and uncle in the small town of Vinci. His father had married a sixteen-year-old girl named Albiera Amadori, who loved Leonardo but died young in 1465 without children. When Leonardo was sixteen (1468), his father married again to twenty-year-old Francesca Lanfredini, who also died without children. Piero's legitimate heirs were born from his third wife Margherita di Guglielmo (who gave birth to six children: Antonio, Giulian, Maddalena, Lorenzo, Violante and Domenico) and his fourth and final wife, Lucrezia Cortigiani (who bore him another six children: Margherita, Benedetto, Pandolfo, Guglielmo, Bartolomeo and Giovanni).
In all, Leonardo had twelve half-siblings, who were much younger than he was (the last was born when Leonardo was forty years old) and with whom he had very few contacts, but they caused him difficulty after his father's death in the dispute over the inheritance.
Leonardo received an informal education in Latin, geometry and mathematics. In later life, Leonardo recorded only two childhood incidents. One, which he regarded as an omen, was when a kite dropped from the sky and hovered over his cradle, its tail feathers brushing his face. The second occurred while he was exploring in the mountains: he discovered a cave and was both terrified that some great monster might lurk there and driven by curiosity to find out what was inside.
Leonardo's early life has been the subject of historical conjecture. Vasari, the 16th-century biographer of Renaissance painters, tells a story of Leonardo as a very young man: A local peasant made himself a round shield and requested that Ser Piero have it painted for him. Leonardo responded with a painting of a monster spitting fire that was so terrifying that Ser Piero sold it to a Florentine art dealer, who sold it to the Duke of Milan. Meanwhile, having made a profit, Ser Piero bought a shield decorated with a heart pierced by an arrow, which he gave to the peasant.
Verrocchio's workshop, 1466–1476
In 1466, at the age of 14, Leonardo was apprenticed to the artist Andrea di Cione, known as Verrocchio, whose bottega (workshop) was "one of the finest in Florence". He apprenticed as a garzone (studio boy) to Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading Florentine painter and sculptor of his day (and would do so for 7 years). Other famous painters apprenticed or associated with the workshop include Domenico Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Botticelli, and Lorenzo di Credi. Leonardo would have been exposed to both theoretical training and a vast range of technical skills, including drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics and carpentry as well as the artistic skills of drawing, painting, sculpting and modelling.[d]
Much of the painted production of Verrocchio's workshop was done by his employees. According to Vasari, Leonardo collaborated with Verrocchio on his The Baptism of Christ, painting the young angel holding Jesus' robe in a manner that was so far superior to his master's that Verrocchio put down his brush and never painted again, although this is believed to be apocryphal. Close examination reveals areas that have been painted or touched-up over the tempera, using the new technique of oil paint, including the landscape, the rocks seen through the brown mountain stream and much of the figure of Jesus bearing witness to the hand of Leonardo. Leonardo may have been the model for two works by Verrocchio: the bronze statue of David in the Bargello and the Archangel Raphael in Tobias and the Angel.
By 1472, at the age of 20, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of Saint Luke, the guild of artists and doctors of medicine,[e] but even after his father set him up in his own workshop, his attachment to Verrocchio was such that he continued to collaborate with him. Leonardo's earliest known dated work is a drawing in pen and ink of the Arno valley, drawn on 5 August 1473.[f]
Professional life, 1476–1513
's Heraclitus and Democritus
is thought by some to portray Leonardo as Heraclitus
(left) and Bramante as Democritus
It would be the only portrait made of Leonardo in his young adulthood.
Florentine court records of 1476 show that Leonardo and three other young men were charged with sodomy but acquitted; homosexual acts were illegal in Renaissance Florence. From that date until 1478, there is no record of his work or even of his whereabouts. In 1478, he left Verrocchio's studio and was no longer a resident at his father's house. One writer, called the Anonimo Gaddiano, claims that in 1480 Leonardo was living with the Medici and working in the Garden of the Piazza San Marco in Florence, a Neo-Platonic academy of artists, poets and philosophers that the Medici had established. In January 1478, he received an independent commission to paint an altarpiece for the Chapel of St. Bernard in the Palazzo Vecchio; in March 1481, he received a second independent commission for The Adoration of the Magi for the monks of San Donato a Scopeto. Neither commission was completed, the second being interrupted when Leonardo went to Milan.
In 1482, Leonardo, who according to Vasari was a talented musician, created a silver lyre in the shape of a horse's head. Lorenzo de' Medici sent Leonardo to Milan, bearing the lyre as a gift, to secure peace with Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. At this time, Leonardo wrote an often-quoted letter describing the many marvellous and diverse things that he could achieve in the field of engineering and informing Ludovico that he could also paint.
Leonardo worked in Milan from 1482 until 1499. He was commissioned to paint the Virgin of the Rocks for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception and The Last Supper for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. In the spring of 1485, Leonardo travelled to Hungary on behalf of Ludovico to meet Matthias Corvinus, and was commissioned by him to paint a Madonna. Between 1493 and 1495, Leonardo listed a woman called Caterina among his dependents in his taxation documents. When she died in 1495, the list of funeral expenditures suggests that she was his mother.
Leonardo was employed on many different projects for Ludovico, including the preparation of floats and pageants for special occasions, designs for a dome for Milan Cathedral and a model for a huge equestrian monument to Francesco Sforza, Ludovico's predecessor. Seventy tons of bronze were set aside for casting it. The monument remained unfinished for several years, which was not unusual for Leonardo. In 1492, the clay model of the horse was completed. It surpassed in size the only two large equestrian statues of the Renaissance, Donatello's Gattamelata in Padua and Verrocchio's Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice, and became known as the "Gran Cavallo".[g] Leonardo began making detailed plans for its casting; however, Michelangelo insulted Leonardo by implying that he was unable to cast it. In November 1494, Ludovico gave the bronze to be used for cannon to defend the city from invasion by Charles VIII.
At the start of the Second Italian War in 1499, the invading French troops used the life-size clay model for the Gran Cavallo for target practice. With Ludovico Sforza overthrown, Leonardo, with his assistant Salai and friend, the mathematician Luca Pacioli, fled Milan for Venice, where he was employed as a military architect and engineer, devising methods to defend the city from naval attack. On his return to Florence in 1500, he and his household were guests of the Servite monks at the monastery of Santissima Annunziata and were provided with a workshop where, according to Vasari, Leonardo created the cartoon of The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist, a work that won such admiration that "men and women, young and old" flocked to see it "as if they were attending a great festival".[h]
In Cesena in 1502, Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, acting as a military architect and engineer and travelling throughout Italy with his patron. Leonardo created a map of Cesare Borgia's stronghold, a town plan of Imola in order to win his patronage. Maps were extremely rare at the time and it would have seemed like a new concept. Upon seeing it, Cesare hired Leonardo as his chief military engineer and architect. Later in the year, Leonardo produced another map for his patron, one of Chiana Valley, Tuscany, so as to give his patron a better overlay of the land and greater strategic position. He created this map in conjunction with his other project of constructing a dam from the sea to Florence, in order to allow a supply of water to sustain the canal during all seasons.
Leonardo returned to Florence, where he rejoined the Guild of Saint Luke on 18 October 1503. He spent two years designing and painting a mural of The Battle of Anghiari for the Signoria, with Michelangelo designing its companion piece, The Battle of Cascina.[i] 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, Leonardo returned to Milan. Many of his most prominent pupils or followers in painting either knew or worked with him in Milan, including Bernardino Luini, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio and Marco d'Oggiono.[j] At this time he may have commenced a project for an equestrian figure of Charles II d'Amboise, the acting French governor of Milan. A wax model survives and, if genuine, is the only extant example of Leonardo's sculpture.
Leonardo did not stay in Milan for long because his father had died in 1504, and in 1507 he was back in Florence trying to sort out problems with his brothers over his father's estate. By 1508, Leonardo was back in Milan, living in his own house in Porta Orientale in the parish of Santa Babila.
Burial site of Leonardo da Vinci in Amboise
Old age and death, 1513–1519
From September 1513 to 1516, under Pope Leo X, Leonardo spent much of his time living in the Belvedere in the Vatican in Rome, where Raphael and Michelangelo were both active at the time. In October 1515, King Francis I of France recaptured Milan. On 19 December, Leonardo was present at the meeting of Francis I and Pope Leo X, which took place in Bologna. Leonardo was commissioned to make for Francis a mechanical lion that could walk forward then open its chest to reveal a cluster of lilies.[k] In 1516, he entered Francis' service, being given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé, now a public museum, near the king's residence at the royal Château d'Amboise. He spent the last three years of his life here, accompanied by his friend and apprentice, Count Francesco Melzi, and supported by a pension totalling 10,000 scudi.
in France, where Leonardo died in 1519
Leonardo died at Clos Lucé, on 2 May 1519 at the age of 67. The cause is generally stated to be recurrent stroke; this diagnosis is consistent with accounts of the state of Leonardo's alleged remains as described in 1863. Francis I had become a close friend. Vasari describes Leonardo as lamenting on his deathbed, full of repentance, that "he had offended against God and men by failing to practice his art as he should have done." Vasari also records that the king held Leonardo's head in his arms as he died, although this story, portrayed in romantic paintings by Ingres, Ménageot and other French artists, as well as by Angelica Kauffman, may be legend rather than fact.[l] Vasari states that in his last days, Leonardo sent for a priest to make his confession and to receive the Holy Sacrament. In accordance with his will, sixty beggars followed his casket.[m] Melzi was the principal heir and executor, receiving, as well as 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 received land, and his serving woman received a black cloak "of good stuff" with a fur edge.[n] Leonardo da Vinci was buried in the Collegiate Church of Saint-Florentin in Château d'Amboise in France.
Some 20 years after Leonardo's death, Francis was reported by the goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini as saying: "There had never been another man born in the world who knew as much as Leonardo, not so much about painting, sculpture and architecture, as that he was a very great philosopher."
Location of remains
Leonardo's remains were originally interred in the Collegiate Church of Saint-Florentin at the Château d'Amboise in the Loire Valley. However, following the church's destruction in 1802, the whereabouts of Leonardo's remains became subject to dispute. While excavating the site in 1863, the poet Arsène Houssaye found a partially-complete skeleton and stone fragments bearing the inscription "EO [...] DUS VINC". The unusually large skull led Houssaye to conclude he had located the remains of Leonardo, which were re-interred in their present location of the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, also at the Château d'Amboise. Reflecting doubts about the attribution, a plaque above the tomb states that the remains are only "presumed" to be those of Leonardo. In 2016, it was announced that DNA tests were to be conducted to investigate the veracity of the attribution, with results expected in 2019.