Biography of Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo, the illegitimate child of a notary from Vinci, was born in 1452 and spent his first years in his grandfather’s home, where he remained at least until 1469.
Starting in the late 1460s he became one of the disciples of Verrocchio, in whose shop some of the greatest artists of the time had trained. It is in these first works, where the hand of Leonardo appears alongside that of his master, that the signs of the "pictorial genius" that was soon to emerge can be seen.
It was the munificence of Ludovico il Moro that enabled Leonardo’s multifaceted talent to find expression in many fields. Commissions for architecture, such as the one for building the lantern on the Cathedral, for engineering, for theatrical set designs and for paintings, rained on him without a pause from 1482 to 1494. The unexpected French invasion of Milan put an end to one of his most ambitious projects, the gigantic equestrian monument planned to commemorate the glory of Francesco Sforza.
These were the years in which Leonardo, in the guise of both artist and engineer, wandered through the courts and cities of central-northern Italy, searching for a patron who could provide him with the economic stability and social prestige he had enjoyed at the court of Milan.
Upon returning to Florence he served as military engineer in the war against Pisa. In the Great Council Hall of Palazzo Vecchio, the decision-making centre of Florentine political life at the time, he began work on a great wall painting representing the Battle of Anghiari, designed to celebrate the glory of Florence.
Leaving the fresco of the Battle of Anghiari half finished, Leonardo returned to Milan at the urgent request of the King of France, the new lord of the city. Here he lived years of intense creative activity, perturbed only by quarrels and lawsuits instigated by his half-brothers for the legacy bequeathed him by his uncle.
The return of the Sforza, although only temporary, determined the definitive departure of Leonardo from Milan. Returning under the patronage of the Medici, he followed Giuliano to Rome, where he studied antiquity without forgetting his engineering interests, as shown by his projects for draining the swamps of the Paludi Pontine.
The sudden death of his patron Giuliano obliged Leonardo to seek a new protector, whom he found in Francis I, King of France. As guest in the castle of Cloux he began the task of arranging his immense archive of notes and drawings, an undertaking that was still unfinished at his death in 1519.
Texts by Valentina Cupiraggi
English translation by Catherine Frost
Last update 05/mar/2008