Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, "at the third hour of the night" 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. 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.