Leonardo da Vinci: A Biography

Everyone knows of the man who painted the Mona Lisa: Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo lived during the Renaissance period, which took place in Europe from the 14th to 17th century. Starting off as a cultural movement in Italy, the Renaissance is the period between the Middle Ages and Modern History.

He was born in 1452. He was the illegitimate child of Ser Piero da Vinci , a lawyer who lived in Florence, and a woman of poor stature whose name was Caterina.

From 1466 to 1472, Leonardo trained to become an artist under the tutelage of Andrea del Verrocchio, one of the foremost artists in Florence.

Giorgio Vasari, an Italian writer, was a contemporary of Leonardo. Vasari, who wrote an early biography of him, held Leonardo in high regard as an artist. This is because Leonardo had great knowledge of art and practised all branches of it, including painting, drawing, and sculpture. It’s no wonder Leonardo is seen as one of the most famous artists of all time.

But it may surprise you to know that Leonardo rarely finished any of his artworks

According to Vasari, ‘it seemed to [Leonardo] that he was not able to attain to the perfection of art in carrying out the things which he imagined’. In other words: he was never happy with what he produced. Plus he was always starting new pieces without finishing the others he’d previously been working on. And as if this wasn’t enough, he was a very slow worker (it took him five years to finish the Mona Lisa!). Leonardo didn’t sell the majority of his work either; his most well-known paintings were never given to those who commissioned them.

So how did he get by without delivering? Well, he delivered in other areas.

Leonardo displayed immense knowledge for and talent in history, writing, invention, architecture, engineering, science, maths – you get the idea. The man was a polymath. His notes (6,000-odd sheets of them) prove this. Leonardo even boasted of his intellect in a letter to Ludovico Sforza, the then-duke of Milan, asking for employment as an architect and engineer. In the letter, Leonardo listed ideas for various devices, instruments, and plans. It’s interesting that only one of these ideas is a peace-time idea; all the others were devices that could only be used in war. Sforza employed Leonardo until the French invaded Milan in 1499.

He then found a job as a military architect and engineer in Venice. He eventually found himself working under the son of Pope Alexander VI in a similar job. He also held other positions that aligned with his intellect and talents, such as inventor, writer, and mathematician.

Leonardo is an archetypal Renaissance man (a person with many talents or areas of knowledge) because of his vast amount of interests and talents, as well as his large intellect.

He passed away from poor health in 1519. He was 67-years-old.

Despite living centuries ago, Leonardo’s legacy remains intact today. Many people are able to identify his paintings, and he’s still well-known for his talents and knowledge. Because of his notoriety, his artwork and other items are worth a fortune. For example, Bill Gates paid over thirty million U.S. dollars in 1994 for a notebook that Leonardo had kept. Gates has since scanned the notebook and made it available to the world.

It seems that Leonardo will never be forgotten.


Words by Callum J Jones