Born April 15, 1452, Anchiano, Republic of Florence-died May 2, 1519, Cloux, France. Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, draftsman, architect, engineer, and scientist. The son of a landowner and a peasant, he received training in painting, sculpture, and mechanical arts as an apprentice to Andrea del Verrocchio. In 1482, having made a name for himself in Florence, he entered the service of the duke of Milan as “painter and engineer.” In Milan his artistic and creative genius unfolded.
About 1490 he began his project of writing treatises on the “science of painting,” architecture, mechanics, and anatomy. His theories were based on the belief that the painter, with his powers of perception and ability to pictorialize his observations, was uniquely qualified to probe nature's secrets. His numerous surviving manuscripts are noted for being written in a backward script that requires a mirror to be read. In 1502-03, as military architect and engineer for Cesare Borgia, he helped lay the groundwork for modern cartography. After five years of painting and scientific study back in Florence (1503-08), he returned to Milan, where his scientific work flourished. In 1516, after an interlude under Medici patronage in Rome, he entered the service of Francis I of France; he never returned to Italy.
Though only some 17 completed paintings survive, they are universally seen as masterpieces. The power of The Last Supper (1495-98) comes in part from its masterly composition. In the Mona Lisa (c. 1503-06) the features and symbolic overtones of the subject achieve a complete synthesis. The unique fame that Leonardo enjoyed in his lifetime and that, filtered by historical criticism, has remained undimmed to the present day rests largely on his unlimited desire for knowledge, a trait that guided all his thinking and behaviour.