Leonardo Da Vinci was the illegitimate son of a peasant girl and a notary and was born on 15 April 1452 in Vinci, Italy. Da Vinci literally means 'From Vinci'. He was taught by his father, as was the usual practice, and as a young man had several distinguishing traits - he was left-handed, which later in life aided his ability to create mirror writing, was a vegetarian, was apparently strikingly handsome and was a very gifted artist.
In 1467, at the age of 15, he was apprenticed to Andrea del Verrochio in Florence, where he amazed Andrea with his art, including an angel in Verrochio's 'Baptism of Christ', here he also met other artists including Ghilandaio and Botticelli. In 1472 he joined the painters' guild in Florence and here generated sketches revealing that he had talent for engineering as well as art, sketching weapons and machines.
The Duke of Milan was a great patron of the arts and Leonardo joined the Duke in 1482, becoming his 'painter and engineer' and remaining with him until 1499. As well as completing six paintings for the Duke he advised the duke on a wide range of areas, such as hydraulics, mechanical engineering, nature, flying machines, architecture, etc. The notes we have from this period also show designs for weapons that have only recently been invented, such as tanks and submarines.
Leonardo Da Vinci was very clearly a genius in so many different areas, however unfortunately this led him to often abandon one project in the middle and commence with another, therefore there are numerous sketches, unfinished paintings and drafts which never materialised into a finished product.
From 1490 onwards he started keeping notes in codices, including the Codex Atlanticus where he describes how one might build a telescope and the Codex Leicester, which Bill Gates recently bought for thirty million dollars.
In 1499 the French invaded and the Duke was overthrown and Leonardo left Milan to spend time in both Mantua and Venice, returning to Florence a year later, where he researched anatomy and mathematics at the Santa Maria Nuova hospital. In 1503 he met Machiavelli and won a commission to paint the 'Battle of Anghiari'. One year later, he began painting the 'Mona Lisa', which was recently re-housed in The Louvre to a room where visitors could view it more easily.
In 1506 Leonardo once again returned to Milan, this time working for Charles d'Amboise as an engineer and architect, giving advice in the fields of mechanics, mathematics, hydraulics and anatomy.
Between 1513 and 1516 Leonardo worked for the Pope at the Vatican in Rome, where he painted St. John the Baptist and continued to study anatomy and physiology. In 1516 King Francis I of France offered Leonardo the title of First Painter, Engineer and Architect of the King and apparently left him to his own devices.
Leonardo started to suffer from paralysis of his right hand and spent the last 3 years of his life teaching, drawing and putting his research papers into order. He died in Cloux, France on 2 May 1519, at the age of 67, with King Francis holding him in his arms.