Fact Sheets

Biography Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

September 12, 2013

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, a town about 25 miles west of Florence, Italy. He was the illegitimate son of Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, a wealthy notary, and Caterina, a peasant. Da Vinci had no surname in today’s sense, da Vinci simply meaning of Vinci. He was raised primarily by his grandparents and uncle.

At the age of 14, da Vinci began an apprenticeship with the highly successful artist Andrea del Verrocchio, whose workshop was the center of intellectual life in Florence. During his six years there, da Vinci studied a wide variety of technical skills, including drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics and carpentry, as well drawing, painting, sculpting and modeling. By 1472, when da Vinci was 20, he had qualified as a master artist in the Guild of Saint Luke and his father set him up in his own workshop.

In 1482, Lorenzo de' Medici commissioned da Vinci to create a silver lyre and bring it to Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan, as a gesture of peace. After doing so, da Vinci wrote a letter to Ludovico describing his skills in many crafts, in particular in military engineering, mentioning that he had worked out improved methods for shooting catapults and diverting rivers. Impressed, Ludovico commissioned da Vinci to work on a great many projects until 1499. It was during this period that da Vinci painted “The Last Supper.”

Da Vinci returned to Florence in 1500, where he was received as a great man. During his years in Florence (1500-1506), which were interrupted in 1502 by a term as military engineer for Cesare Borgia, da Vinci completed more projects than in any other period of his life. He painted the “Mona Lisa,” his most famous painting, during this time.

In 1506, da Vinci traveled back to Milan to work for the French governor in charge, Charles d’Amboise, and he now turned more and more to scientific observation rather than painting. He undertook extensive research on human anatomy and produced numerous anatomical drawings, many of which are still considered valid today. He filled notebooks with data and drawings that also reveal his other scientific interests such as firearms, the action of water, the flight of birds (leading to designs for human flight), the growth of plants and geology.

In 1513 da Vinci went to live at the Vatican, where he remained until 1516. He was much honored but relatively inactive as an artist. He continued to fill his notebooks with scientific entries.

The French king, Francis I, invited da Vinci in 1516 to his court at Fontainebleau, giving him the title of first painter, architect and mechanic to the king. While in France, da Vinci died May 2, 1519, at the age of 67, and was buried in the church of Saint-Florentin. The church was ruined during the French Revolution, and completely torn down during the nineteenth century. Today, there are no markings to identify da Vinci’s gravesite.

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SI-80-2013

Media only
Alison Mitchell
(202) 633-2376
mitchellac@si.edu

Claire Brown
(202) 633-2371
brownch@si.edu

 



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