Leonardo Da Vinci Biographical Essay

Early period: Florence

Leonardo’s parents were unmarried at the time of his birth. His father, Ser Piero, was a Florentine notary and landlord, and his mother, Caterina, was a young peasant woman who shortly thereafter married an artisan. Leonardo grew up on his father’s family’s estate, where he was treated as a “legitimate” son and received the usual elementary education of that day: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Leonardo did not seriously study Latin, the key language of traditional learning, until much later, when he acquired a working knowledge of it on his own. He also did not apply himself to higher mathematics—advanced geometry and arithmetic—until he was 30 years old, when he began to study it with diligent tenacity.

Leonardo’s artistic inclinations must have appeared early. When he was about 15, his father, who enjoyed a high reputation in the Florencecommunity, apprenticed him to artist Andrea del Verrocchio. In Verrocchio’s renowned workshop Leonardo received a multifaceted training that included painting and sculpture as well as the technical-mechanical arts. He also worked in the next-door workshop of artist Antonio Pollaiuolo. In 1472 Leonardo was accepted into the painters’ guild of Florence, but he remained in his teacher’s workshop for five more years, after which time he worked independently in Florence until 1481. There are a great many superb extant pen and pencil drawings from this period, including many technical sketches—for example, pumps, military weapons, mechanical apparatus—that offer evidence of Leonardo’s interest in and knowledge of technical matters even at the outset of his career.

First Milanese period (1482–99)

In 1482 Leonardo moved to Milan to work in the service of the city’s duke—a surprising step when one realizes that the 30-year-old artist had just received his first substantial commissions from his native city of Florence: the unfinished panel paintingThe Adoration of the Magi for the monastery of San Donato a Scopeto and an altar painting for the St. Bernard Chapel in the Palazzo della Signoria, which was never begun. That he gave up both projects seems to indicate that he had deeper reasons for leaving Florence. It may have been that the rather sophisticated spirit of Neoplatonism prevailing in the Florence of the Medici went against the grain of Leonardo’s experience-oriented mind and that the more strict, academic atmosphere of Milan attracted him. Moreover, he was no doubt enticed by Duke Ludovico Sforza’s brilliant court and the meaningful projects awaiting him there.

Leonardo spent 17 years in Milan, until Ludovico’s fall from power in 1499. He was listed in the register of the royal household as pictor et ingeniarius ducalis (“painter and engineer of the duke”). Leonardo’s gracious but reserved personality and elegant bearing were well-received in court circles. Highly esteemed, he was constantly kept busy as a painter and sculptor and as a designer of court festivals. He was also frequently consulted as a technical adviser in the fields of architecture, fortifications, and military matters, and he served as a hydraulic and mechanical engineer. As he would throughout his life, Leonardo set boundless goals for himself; if one traces the outlines of his work for this period, or for his life as a whole, one is tempted to call it a grandiose “unfinished symphony.”

As a painter, Leonardo completed six works in the 17 years in Milan. (According to contemporary sources, Leonardo was commissioned to create three more pictures, but these works have since disappeared or were never done.) From about 1483 to 1486, he worked on the altar painting The Virgin of the Rocks, a project that led to 10 years of litigation between the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, which commissioned it, and Leonardo; for uncertain purposes, this legal dispute led Leonardo to create another version of the work in about 1508. During this first Milanese period he also made one of his most famous works, the monumental wall paintingLast Supper (1495–98) in the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie (for more analysis of this work, see belowLast Supper). Also of note is the decorative ceiling painting (1498) he made for the Sala delle Asse in the Milan Castello Sforzesco.

During this period Leonardo worked on a grandiose sculptural project that seems to have been the real reason he was invited to Milan: a monumental equestrian statue in bronze to be erected in honour of Francesco Sforza, the founder of the Sforza dynasty. Leonardo devoted 12 years—with interruptions—to this task. In 1493 the clay model of the horse was put on public display on the occasion of the marriage of Emperor Maximilian to Bianca Maria Sforza, and preparations were made to cast the colossal figure, which was to be 16 feet (5 metres) high. But, because of the imminent danger of war, the metal, ready to be poured, was used to make cannons instead, causing the project to come to a halt. Ludovico’s fall in 1499 sealed the fate of this abortive undertaking, which was perhaps the grandest concept of a monument in the 15th century. The ensuing war left the clay model a heap of ruins.

As a master artist, Leonardo maintained an extensive workshop in Milan, employing apprentices and students. Among Leonardo’s pupils at this time were Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Ambrogio de Predis, Bernardino de’ Conti, Francesco Napoletano, Andrea Solari, Marco d’Oggiono, and Salai. The role of most of these associates is unclear, leading to the question of Leonardo’s so-called apocryphal works, on which the master collaborated with his assistants. Scholars have been unable to agree in their attributions of these works.

Leonardo da Vinci
BornLeonardo di ser Piero da Vinci
Apr. 15, 1452
Vinci, Republic of Florence, in the present day Province of Florence, Italy
DiedMay 2, 1519 (at age 67)
Amboise, Touraine (in present-day Indre-et-Loire, France)
MovementHigh Renaissance

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci is known to the world as an inventor, scientist, mathematician, and most of all, an artist. Da Vinci is considered to be a true Renaissance man. He was skilled in many subjects, and is respected because of his achievements. He helped pioneer the sciences, developed new art techniques, and was one of the first people to dissect the human body.

Da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452 in Vinci, Italy. His father was a public notary in Milan, and his mother, a simple maiden. When Leonardo was little, he would always try to invent new things, he was very intelligent. At the age of 14, he became an apprentice to one of the best painters at the time, Andrea del Verrocchio. Under Verrocchio, he learned how to paint and sculpt. He also learned skills in metallurgy, drafting, chemistry, and carpentry. Out of all these, Da Vinci chose art as his main profession, but used all that he learned throughout his life.

Da Vinci collaborated with Verrocchio on a few pieces. There is a legend that says when Leonardo painted Gabriel in The Baptism of Christ (1472), Verrocchio never painted again, because his skills could not compare to those of Da Vinci. But, this is not a certain fact.

There are only 15 paintings of Da Vinci that survive. The most famous of which is the Mona Lisa that was painted between 1503-1507. The model who posed for the painting was said to be a young merchant’s wife, but who knows. In this painting, Da Vinci used a new technique called “sfumato”, which is the hazy atmosphere in the picture. The Mona Lisa is one of the most analyzed paintings of all time, because Da Vinci’s face also fits that of Mona’s, which is unusual for any painting.

There are many drawings by Da Vinci that still exist, the most famous is the Vitruvian Man. The drawing represents the proportions of man according to the work of Vitruvius, an ancient Roman architect. Along with the Mona Lisa, it is one of the most recognized and most reproduced image of all time.

Though Da Vinci was talented, he did not work on any sculptures. He had plans for an equestrian statue in 1492 but he never got started. The bronze he was use for the statue was instead used for cannons to protect the city of Milan from the invasion of Charles V, King of France at the time.

Da Vinci wrote several books throughout his lifetime. He collaborated with another mathematician to write a treatise on Mathematics, and then by himself, the Codex on the Flight of Birds (1505). After his death, his Treatise on Painting was printed in 1680, it included many drawings on anatomy.

He had many inventions. He was obsessed with flight and had plans for something similar to a helicopter. He also created musical instruments and hydraulic water pumps, most of which were never built. He was commissioned to make a mechanical lion for the King of France. It walked forward and the chest would open to reveal a bunch of lilies.

Throughout his life, Da Vinci never married, nor was he linked to anyone. In 1476, when he was 24 years old, he and three other guys were charged with sodomy, which was illegal in Florence where he was living. Records show they were acquitted.

Unlike most other artists, Da Vinci was famous during his lifetime and only became even more so after his death. He was called upon by important church officials and royals to paint for them, or invent things for them. For instance, The Last Supper, which was painted on a convent wall in 1498 was one such commission. It has deteriorated badly over the years due to Da Vinci trying tempera on plaster instead of a fresco. (Tempera is egg whites mixed with paint, and it makes the paint shiny; a fresco is paint mixed with plaster, making it more durable against the ravages of time) During war, he was employed as a military architect, to design a siege against the invading enemies, like during the Second Italian War. He was employed as a naval architect in Venice. He was a favorite of the Governor of Milan, Ludovic, and King Francois I of France.

Leonardo had two apprentices, which lived with him for most of his life. One was Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, nicknamed Salaì, and the other was Count Francesco Melzi. Salaì became an apprentice in 1490, and Melzi in 1506. Neither of them ever became distinguished artists, but they worked with their master until he died.

Da Vinci died on May 2, 1519 in France. Stories say he died in King Francois’s arms. He spent the last two years of his life in France, with his apprentices, and they had lived at the King’s personal Château. Before his death, Da Vinci requested that 60 beggars walk behind his coffin through the streets to the graveyard. So they did. Most of his belongings were left to Melzi, his favorite apprentice and only his drawings, were divided up among his friends.

77 responses to “Leonardo da Vinci”

    • Dear lauryn,

      No offence, but I think you might have to go back to school and learn how to spell. No offence intented.

      By a concerned person who read your comment,

      P.S. with all due respect i am in no way offending you

      • Dear Anonymous,

        After seeing your comment, I thought to myself, “why has this person just complained about another person’s spelling, when he/she cannot spell that well he/she’s self.”

        By a concerned person who read your comment

        P.S. I am refering to how you spelt “intended”

    • Thanks i apreshate this n it helps alot n i dont care if you spelt things wrong because im not a good speller in general n im only 16 going to be 17 in dec. so yah i aprecate this thanks agen n i learnd things to day to reading this

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  1. Im doing a peice of art at school, old art into new art. I want to jazz up monalisa, and im meant to draw her, twice in one day. what the hell??

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    • If you were doing an information report about LEONARDO DA VINCI how would you not know how to spell his name correctly?

  6. Slightly disappointed. Is this a historical documentation of his life or a personal interpretation of historical events? Let’s let history speak for itself. But you know, simply because he wasn’t proven to have been conspired against, and falsely accused of sodomy doesn’t mean that that didn’t happen either.


  7. Wow!!!
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  9. this has very incorrect info leonardo did not infact live with his real parrents he lived with step parents and the man that took oim in married several times before he had an actual son of blood relation

  10. I can’t beileive that you people are complaining about that some kid just made a spelling mistake! SO what?! God you people are soe dumb! Oh look I just misspelled something!


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