Leonardo da Vinci: Complete biography and Famous artworks

Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, popularly known as “Leonardo da Vinci”.

He was an Italian painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, scientist, inventor, anatomist, geologist, musician, mathematician, engineer, astronomer, cartographer, botanist, historian, and writer. But he was mainly known for his work in diverse fields of science and art.

Did You Know?

His full name “Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci”, means “Leonardo, son of Piero, from Vinci”.

Two of his works, the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper occupy unique positions as the most famous, most reproduced and most parodied portrait and religious painting of all time. His drawing of the Vitruvian Man is also iconic.


“Leonardo da Vinci” was born on 15 April 1452, in a farmhouse near “Anchiano” in the comune of “Vinci”, “the Republic of Florence” (present-day Tuscany, a region in central Italy).

His father Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci was a wealthy attorney and notary (a public official who certifies legal documents) and his mother Caterina was a peasant.

He spent his first 5 years with her mother in Anchiano. Then from 1457 he lived with his father and his stepmother, in the small town of “Vinci”.

Did you know?

Leonardo da Vinci’s father and his mother were never married to one another, and Leonardo was the only child they had together. With other partners, they had a total of 17 other children, da Vinci’s half-siblings.

In 1466 When he was 14, He became an apprentice to a famous artist named Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading artist of Florence and the early Renaissance, where he worked as a Garzone (studio boy) and learned metalworking, leather art, sculpting and drawing. By the age of 20 he established himself as a master artist and started his own workshop.

In 1478, he left Verrocchio’s studio and was no longer resident at his father’s house and started living with the Medici( powerful Italian family) and working in the Garden of the Piazza San Marco. Where he was commissioned to paint the Adoration of the Magi (probably his first painting) for the Chapel of Bernard in 1478.

Adoration of the Magi
Adoration of the Magi

In 1482, Leonardo moved to Milan to work in the service of the city’s duke Ludovico’s. He worked as a painter and engineer of the duke. Where 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. (read about paintings)

Leonardo spent 17 years in Milan until Ludovico’s fall from power in 1499.

In 1499 At the start of the second Italian war, Leonardo fled Milan for Venice, with his assistant Salai and mathematician friend Luca Pacioli. In Venice, he was employed as a military architect and engineer.

In 1500, he returned to Florence, where Leonardo created the cartoon The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist.

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne
The Virgin and Child with St. Anne
St. John the Baptis
St. John the Baptis

In 1502 Leonardo left Florence to enter the service of “Cesare Borgia”, the notorious son of “Pope Alexander VI” as a senior military architect and general engineer. During his service, he travelled across the Italy. He sketched some of the city plans and topographical maps, creating early examples of aspects of modern cartography.

In the spring of 1503 Leonardo returned to Florence. Where he painted a mural of The Battle of Anghiari for the “Signoria” for three years. His father had died in 1504.

The second Florentine period was a time of intensive scientific study for the Leonardo. He studied the structure and function of the human organism. He made systematic observations of the flight of birds, about which he planned a treatise. His also made hydrological studies, “on the nature and movement of water,” broadened into research on the physical properties of water, especially the laws of currents, which he compared with those pertaining to air. During these same years, Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa (c. 1503–06).

In 1506, he returned to Milan, in 1507 he was back in Florence to sort out problems with his brothers over his father’s estate. During his stay, he helped the sculptor “Giovanni Francesco Rustici” to execute his bronze statues for the Florence Baptistery.

By 1508, he was back in Milan, living in his own house in Porta Orientale in the parish of Santa Babila. Leonardo’s scientific activity flourished during this period. He intensified his studies of anatomy and hydraulics. Also Gian Giacomo Trivulzio (marshal of the French army) commissioned Leonardo to sculpt his tomb, which was to take the form of an equestrian statue and be placed in the mortuary chapel donated by Trivulzio to the church of San Nazaro Maggiore. (The project was aborted after some time).

Did you know?

When he was twenty-four years old, Leonardo was arrested, along with several young companions, on the charge of sodomy. No witnesses appeared against them and eventually the charges were dropped.

In September 1513, Leonardo da Vinci moved to Vatican in Rome. Where under Pope Leo X, He spent much of his time living in the Belvedere.

At the end of 1516 he left Italy forever and moved to France to work in the service of Francois I. Where He proudly bore the title Premier peintre, architecte et méchanicien du Roi (“First painter, architect, and engineer to the King”). Leonardo spent the last three years of his life in the small residence of Cloux (later called Clos-Lucé), near the king’s summer palace at Amboise on the Loire.

Just a few weeks after his 67th birthday Leonardo died at Clos Lucé, on 2 May 1519 in Amboise, Kingdom of France. He was buried in the Church of St Florentine. The place is famous for being the official residence of Leonardo da Vinci between 1516 and 1519 when Leonardo died.

Famous Artworks

Leonardo da Vinci is regarded as one of the greatest artists in history. Leonardo excelled in many areas including drawing, painting, and sculpture. Although we don’t have a lot of his paintings today (only 17 left).

He created many art works during his life. His famous artworks which includes “Virgin of the Rocks,” “The Last Supper,” and “Mona Lisa”—have influenced countless artists and made da Vinci a leading light of the Italian Renaissance.

Mona Lisa

Type: Oil on poplar
Dimensions:77 cm × 53 cm (30 in × 21 in)
Year: c.1503–1506, perhaps continuing until c. 1517
Location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Mona Lisa is a half-length portrait of a woman named “Lisa del Giocondo”. It is by far the most mysterious and marvellous work ever seen by human eyes. The sitter’s mysterious smile, secret symbols embedded in her eyes and her unproven identity have made the painting a source of ongoing investigation and fascination.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper
The Last Supper
Type: Tempera on gesso, pitch and mastic.
Dimensions: 460 cm × 880 cm (181 in × 346 in)
Year: 1494–1499
Location: Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy

The Last Supper is one of the world’s most famous, and one of the most studied, scrutinised, and satirised painting.

The painting covers an end wall of the dining hall at the monastery of “Santa Maria delle Grazie” in Milan, Italy. The painting is Leonardo’s visual interpretation of an event chronicled in the “Gospel of John (books in the Christian New Testament). It represents the scene of The Last Supper” of Jesus with his disciples, as it is told in the Gospel of John.

The Last Supper specifically portrays the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray him. All twelve apostles have different reactions to the news, with various degrees of anger and shock.

Did you know?

Leonardo da Vinci’s the Last Supper, the most reproduced religious painting of all time.

Vitruvian Man

Vitruvian Man
Type: Pen and ink with wash over metalpoint on paper
Dimensions: 34.4 cm × 25.5 cm (13.5 in × 10.0 in)
Year: c. 1490
Location: Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy
The Vitruvian Man is a drawing by “Leonardo da Vinci” around 1490. It is perhaps Leonardo’s most famous illustration.

The drawing depicts a man’s body first standing inscribed in a square and then with feet and arms outspread inscribed in a circle. It provides an excellent early example of the way in which his studies of proportion fuse artistic and scientific objectives.

The drawing is base on the working notes of the architect Vitruvius.

Here he provided one of his simplest illustrations of a shifting ‘centre of magnitude’ without a corresponding change of ‘centre of normal gravity’. This remains passing through the central line from the pit of the throat through the umbilicus and pubis between the legs. Leonardo repeatedly distinguishes these two different ‘centers’ of a body, i.e., the centres of ‘magnitude’ and ‘gravity.

It is probably the most famous drawing in the world.

Did you know?

His Vitruvian man is on the Italian Euro coin.

Aside from being a great painter, Leonardo was also a gifted draftsman. He made important discoveries in anatomy, optics, civil engineering, and hydrodynamics.

He kept a journal of sketches and drawings that he made throughout his life. He conceptualised a helicopter, a tank, Parachute, Armored vehicle, Diving suit, concentrated solar power, a calculator, the double hull and outlined a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics.

Did you know?

Leonardo da Vinci designed the first continuously variable transmission system. This gear system has still not been put into widespread use due its complexity.

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