Leonardo da Vinci, the epitome of the Renaissance man, was born in 1452 in Vinci, a village near Florence and was brought up by his grandfather. In 1467 Leonardo entered Verrocchio’s studio, and in the same year became a member of the Painter’s Guild. He worked with Verrocchio for several years, collaborating with him on paintings and working on individual commissions of his own. In 1478 he became an independent artist under the protection of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
In 1482 Leonardo left Florence for Milan, where he was to stay for nearly twenty years. He was attached to the court of Lodovico Sforza and applied his talent to music, decorating, pageantry, portrait painting, and engineering projects, particularly of weapons for war and bridge construction. From 1500 Florence was his home, but he traveled widely particularly in 1502-03, when he inspected and constructed rural fortifications for Cesare Borgia. During this period he painted the Mona Lisa and worked on dissection of corpses at the hospital and on theoretical mathematical problems.
Da Vinci returned to Milan in 1506 and was welcomed by the French governor, Charles d’Amboise. He was sixty-one in 1513 when he entered the service of Giuliano de’Medici, brother of Pope Leo X.
Leonardo applied his talents to architectural and engineering projects and continued his notes for his famous Treatise on Painting. François I of France invited him to Amboise in 1517, and Leonardo lived in the small chäteau of Cloux, enjoying great honor and the esteem of the kind and the court.
He died there in 1519 and was buried in the Church of St. Florentin, which was destroyed during the French Revolution. Leonardo’s knowledge extended to such widely separated fields as philosophy, natural history, anatomy, biology, medicine, optics, acoustics, astronomy, botany, geology, flight science, mathematics, hydraulics, warfare, and the arts. His heavily illustrated notebooks are among the most fascinating documents in the world, not only for his experimental ideas and inventions, but also for his accurate anticipation of a world that would exist long after his death.
For Leonardo, painting was but one of many media for communicating ideas, but it was the supreme one for expressing spiritual values. His color was warm and the landscapes behind his portrait heads or religious scenes are enveloped in a fine mist. This sfumato, a delicate gradation of light imparting an atmospheric effect, gives a three-dimensional quality to the foreground figures. The most difficult and highest aim of painting, Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his notebooks, is to depict “the intention of man’s soul.”