Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 in Vinci, the illegitemate son of Master Piero, a public notary, and his companion Caterina. At age 17, Leonardo moved with his father to Florence. Leonardo apprenticed to Verrocchio, where his brilliance soon eclipsed that of his master.
In 1472 Leonardo became a member of the painter's guild of Florence. In 1476 he was denounced by the Night Watch, but was acquited of the charge of immoral conduct.
One of his most popular early works, "The Adoration of the Magi," was painted in 1481 for the Monastery of San Donato a Scopeto as an altar piece. It was never finished due to his departure for Milan, where he offered his services to Duke Ludovico il Moro. He worked on the Duomo in Milan and the Duomo and Castle in pavia; and painted the Madonna of the Rocks and the Last Supper at this time. He also set up festivals for the Duke and claimed to be an expert in military engineering and arms.
In 1499 Ludovico il Moro fled Milan ahead of invading French troops. The Gascon bowmen of Louis XII used Leonardo's model for the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza for target practice. Soon afterwards, Leonardo left Milan inspite of the evident good-will of the French authorities.
During the next few years, Leonardo wandered from Mantua, in the court of Isabella d'Este; Venice, where he was consultant for architectural matters from 1495 to 1499; to Florence; before becoming military engineer for Cesare Borgia between 1502 and 1503.
The death of Pope Alexander VI changed the fortunes of Duke Valentino, and Leonardo returned to Florence in 1503, remaining there until 1506. The Florentine Republic commissioned him to execute a large fresco of the battle of Anghiari for one of the walls of the Sala del Gran Consiglio in the Palazzo della Signioria facing a fresco by Michelangelo, one of his rivals. Leonardo experimented with a new technique of fresco, which deteriorated quickly and eventually was lost.
It was in Florence that Leonardo had his greatest following, and it was during his years there that he painted such classics as the Mona Lisa.
In 1506 Leonardo obtained temporary leave from the Florentine Republic in order to return to Milan, where he was to finish certain projects which he had left incomplete due to his earlier hasty departure. In Milan he once again came into contact with the French, who repeatedly asked the Florentine Republic to extend Leonardo's leave.
Between 1507 and 1508 Leonardo visited Florence to settle his father's estate. He then spent many years in Milan with the title of "peintre et ingenieur ordinarie". He devoted much of his time to scientific studies and to the engineering projects such as the channeling of the course of the Adda river.
The return of the Sforza family in 1512 forced Leonardo to leave Milan once again. From 1513 to 1516 he was in Rome at the Palazzo Belvedere under the protection of Giuliano dei Medici, the brother of Pope Leo X. Here Leonardo came into contact with Michelangelo and Raphael; both younger, and both rivals.
After the death of Giuliano dei Medici, Leonardo accepted an invitation from his French friends and moved to the castle of Cloux near Amboise, where he stayed with his faithful pupil Melzi.
Leonardo died on May 2, 1519, and was buried in the cloister of San Fiorentino in Amboise.