Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 in Vinci, Tuscany. He was the epitome of the term "Renaissance man" during the High Italian Renaissance. Any subject—and there were many—toward which he directed his insatiable curiosity, artistic talent, and keen scientific mind found itself dissected, improved upon and cataloged for posterity. Leonardo, truly, was a man before his time.
"Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind."
—Leonardo da Vinci
Though illegitimate, Leonardo was taken in and raised by his father. A child of unearthly beauty, Leonardo showed precocious genius in math, music, and art. His greatest desire was to be apprenticed to a painter, a profession which was looked down upon at the time. Eventually, his father was worn down by the boy's undeniable talent and took him to Florence to study painting, sculpting, and engineering under the great Andrea del Verrocchio. Leonardo quickly outstripped his master (though he continued to study with Verrocchio until around 1476) and was admitted to the Florence painters' guild in 1472.
Leonardo spent about twenty years in the service of Lodovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan (who frequently neglected to pay Leonardo). His output during this period included two of his best-known paintings: The Madonna of the Rocks (1483-85) and the mural The Last Supper (1495-98).
When Milan was seized by French troops in 1499, Leonardo returned to Florence. It was here that he painted one of the most famous portraits of all time, The Mona Lisa, more correctly known as La Gioconda (1503-06).
Leonardo spent his later years moving between Florence, Rome, and France, working on a variety of projects. He lived long enough to be appreciated and well-paid, a rarity among artists. Throughout it all, he kept prodigious notebooks, in "mirror" writing, to keep track of his ideas, designs, and numerous sketches. Leonardo eventually settled in France, at the invitation of Francis I, an ardent admirer.
He died on May 2, 1519, in the castle of Cloux, near Amboise, France.