Today on April 15, 1452, Leonardo da Vinci, the Father of the Italian Renaissance, was born in Tuscany.
Few figures in history can even come close to comparing to Leonardo da Vinci's creative talent. As one of the most influential men of the Renaissance period, he has left a lasting impact on the world of art and science. Since he was born out of wedlock, Leonardo was never given a proper surname in the modern sense. Therefore da Vinci, which translates to 'of Vinci,' refers simply to the hilltop town of birth. Today, people continue to (mistakenly) refer to him as da Vinci instead of his first name. In contrast, we reference other Italian greats like Michelangelo and Galileo by their first names only.
Few details survive about his childhood — a topic that has garnered considerable debate. From what we do know, his mother homeschooled Leonardo, meaning he never received a formal education in Greek or Latin (which was common practice for the times). Regardless, that clearly didn't stop him from developing one of the greatest minds in history. The real genius of da Vinci was his ability to fuse art with science. For example, he was known to meticulously dissect deceased human bodies to help better inform his sculptures and paintings.
"Leonardo da Vinci is like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep." — Sigmund Freud
From early on, Leonardo's father, a local attorney, appreciated and took note of his strong creative skills. At the age of 15, he apprenticed his son to a respected Florentine painter, Andrea del Verrocchio. The young da Vinci spent the better part of a decade learning to paint and sculpt. In 1478, he became an independent master and began working on his first commissioned painting (The Adoration of the Magi) four years later — a piece he would never finish.
Scholars have dubbed da Vinci as a universal genius with achievements spanning countless disciplines. But what exactly made him such a gifted man? Well, pretty much everything. The Italian polymath had a passion across architecture, sculpture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, astronomy, history, and even cartography. Through a lifetime of unquenchable curiosity and imagination, da Vinci gave birth to several modern inventions such as the bicycle, helicopter, parachute, and warfare tanks — just to name a few.
But today, we primarily remember da Vinci for his contributions as one of the greatest painters of all time. His 1503 masterpiece, known as the Mona Lisa, is perhaps the most recognizable and most visited painting in the world. Likewise, his 15th century mural of The Last Supper — a depiction of Jesus at a table with his disciples — remains the most widely reproduced religious artwork ever. In 2017, one of his paintings of Jesus Christ (named Salvator Mundi) sold for a staggering $450 million at auction in New York. His drawing of the Vitruvian Man, which depicts the exact proportions of the human body, has become a present-day cultural icon.
In 1519, at the age of 67, da Vinci died and left behind thousands of journal pages filled with personal musings, doodles, grocery lists, and even sexual jokes. Interestingly, billionaire Bill Gates purchased one of his 72-page journals for a mere $30.8 million. Within these books, he carefully chronicled his various sources of inspiration. Above all, da Vinci seems to have been motivated by a longing desire for fame. He never married nor had any children, and ultimately lived a life filled with heartache (another topic which he chronicled in detail).