Leonardo da Vinci was an italian artist, one of the greatest masters of the Renaissance, who was also celebrated as a painter, architect and scientist.His innovations in the field of painting influenced the course of Italian art for more than a century after his death, and his scientific studies—particularly in the fields of anatomy, optics, and hydraulics—anticipated many of the developments of modern science.
Photo of a building of rough stone with small windows, surrounded by olive trees.
Leonardo's childhood home in Anchiano.
Pen drawing of a landscape with mountains, a river in a deep valley, and a small castle.
Leonardo's earliest known drawing, the Arno Valley, (1473) - Uffizi
Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, "at the third hour of the night"[nb 5] in the Tuscan hill town of Vinci, in the lower valley of the Arno River in the territory of Florence. He was the illegitimate son of Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, a Florentine notary, and Caterina, a peasant.[nb 6] Leonardo had no surname in the modern sense, "da Vinci" simply meaning "of Vinci": his full birth name was "Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci", meaning "Leonardo, (son) of (Mes)ser Piero from Vinci".
Little is known about Leonardo's early life. He spent his first five years in the hamlet of Anchiano, then lived in the household of his father, grandparents and uncle, Francesco, in the small town of Vinci. His father had married a sixteen-year-old girl named Albiera, who loved Leonardo but died young. When Leonardo was sixteen his father married again, twenty-year-old Francesca Lanfredini. It was not until his third and fourth marriages that Ser Piero produced legitimate heirs. In later life, Leonardo only recorded two childhood incidents. One, which he regarded as an omen, was when a kite dropped from the sky and hovered over his cradle, its tail feathers brushing his face. The second occurred while exploring in the mountains. He discovered a cave and was both terrified that some great monster might lurk there, and driven by curiosity to find out what was inside.
Leonardo's early life has been the subject of historical conjecture. Vasari, the 16th-century biographer of Renaissance painters tells of how a local peasant made himself a round shield and requested that Ser Piero have it painted for him. Leonardo responded with a painting of monster spitting fire which was so terrifying that Ser Piero sold it to a Florentine art dealer, who sold it to the Duke of Milan. Meanwhile, having made a profit, Ser Piero bought a shield decorated with a heart pierced by an arrow, which he gave to the peasant.
Painting showing Jesus, naked except for a loin-cloth, standing in a shallow stream in a rocky landscape, while to the right, John the Baptist, identifiable by the cross that he carries, tips water over Jesus' head. Two angels kneel at the left. Above Jesus are the hands of God, and a dove descending.
The Baptism of Christ (1472–1475)—Uffizi, by Verrocchio and Leonardo
Verrocchio's workshop, 1466–1476
In 1466, at the age of fourteen, Leonardo was apprenticed to the artist Andrea di Cione, known as Verrocchio whose workshop was "one of the finest in Florence". Other famous painters apprenticed or associated with the workshop include Domenico Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Botticelli, and Lorenzo di Credi. Leonardo would have been exposed to both theoretical training and a vast range of technical skills including drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics and carpentry as well as the artistic skills of drawing, painting, sculpting and modelling.
Much of the painted production of Verrocchio's workshop was done by his employees. According to Vasari, Leonardo collaborated with Verrocchio on his Baptism of Christ, painting the young angel holding Jesus's robe in a manner that was so far superior to his master's that Verrocchio put down his brush and never painted again. This is probably an exaggeration. On close examination, the painting reveals much that has been painted or touched up over the tempera using the new technique of oil paint, the landscape, the rocks that can be seen through the brown mountain stream and much of the figure of Jesus bearing witness to the hand of Leonardo.
Leonardo himself may have been the model for two works by Verrocchio, including the bronze statue of David in the Bargello, and the Archangel Michael in Tobias and the Angel.
By 1472, at the age of twenty, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of St Luke, the guild of artists and doctors of medicine,[nb 8] but even after his father set him up in his own workshop, his attachment to Verrocchio was such that he continued to collaborate with him. Leonardo's earliest known dated work is a drawing in pen and ink of the Arno valley, drawn on August 5, 1473.