Leonardo da Vinci was born in May 1519 in Vinci, the Republic of Florence – soon to be the center of Italian Renaissance. Coming from a simple family, the artist’s full name is Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, meaning he was the son of Piero, a gentleman, and from Vinci. Although little is known from his early life, he began creating and studying at a young age and went on to become successful in many areas, like painting and sculpting. Leonardo also delved into the world of invention, architecture, music, science, literature, engineering, astronomy, geology, botany, cartography, among others. Many historians consider the artist’s studies to be essential to the birth of paleontology, as well as ichnology – which involves biology and geology in the study of natural history.
There is little information about his life as a child, but at the early age of fourteen, in 1466, he was already learning about art with his mentor Verrocchio in one of the best workshops in Florence. Leonardo studied artistic techniques, like painting and sculpting, as well as other highly technical skills – like working with leather, plaster casts, metallurgy, mechanics, carpentry, among many others – for about seven years. During this period, Leonardo collaborated by painting with other artists, as well as posing as a model for their work. Many other standout artists studied in Verrocchio’s shop, like Sandro Botticelli, Perugino, and more.
During Leonardo’s youth in Florence, he was inspired by other artists like Masaccio, Ghiberti, and especially Piero Della Francesca’s detailed perspective studies – all contemporaries of Donatello. While studying the Renaissance in art history, three artists stand out and, although they were not from the same generation, they’re mostly named together – Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo. Leonardo was the oldest of the three, and Michelangelo continued working for about forty-five years after his death, delving into Mannerism.
The multifaceted artist – who also studied anatomy – was fit to be a master in the Guild of Saint Luke at the age of twenty, an association of artists and doctors of the city, in 1472. Even though his father helped him achieve his studio, Leonardo continued to work with his past master, Verrocchio. In 1476, the artist and other young men who worked in his shop were accused of having relations with other men, which were strictly prohibited by law in Florence of this period. Because of this, virtually nothing is known about his work and life from this period until 1478.
It was while working in Milan that Leonardo concluded his most famous artworks, like the religious mural The Last Supper, housed in Santa Maria Delle Grazie, as well as the commission for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, entitled Virgin of the Rocks. He resided in Milan from 1482 until the beginning of the Second Italian War in 1499. By this time, the artist was using his knowledge of engineering and architecture to defend the city from the invasion of French troops. Leonardo passed away at 67, possibly due to a stroke, in May 1519. Until this day, Leonardo da Vinci is considered one of the most genius human beings to have walked upon this earth, not to mention a brilliant artist of the humanist Renaissance era.