Da Vinci was an Italian painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, and engineer. He was a great engineer and inventor who designed buildings, bridges, canals, forts and war machines. He kept huge notebooks sketching his ideas. Among these, he was fascinated by birds and flying and his sketches include such fantastic designs as flying machines. These drawings demonstrate a genius for mechanical invention and insight into scientific inquiry, truly centuries ahead of their time. His greater fame lies in being one of the greatest painters of all times, best known for such paintings as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.
Leonardo was born in Anchiano, near Vinci, Italy. He was an illegitimate child. His father, Ser Piero da Vinci was a young lawyer and his mother, Caterina, was probably a peasant girl.
Leonardo grew up with his father in Florence. Here, he started drawing and painting. His early sketches were of such quality that his father soon showed them to the painter, Andrea del Verrocchio, who subsequently took the fourteen-year old Leonardo on as an apprentice. Later, he became an independent painter in Florence. The story goes that in 1476 Leonardo worked with Verrocchio to paint for the friars of Vallombrosa, The Baptism of Christ. He painted the angel at the front and the landscape, and the difference between the two artists work can be seen, with Leonardo`s finer blending and brushwork. Giorgio Vasari told the story that when Verrochio saw Leonardos work he was so amazed that he resolved never to touch a brush again.
Leonardo was a vegetarian at least a part of his life and often bought birds just to release them. He was also the respected judge on the matters of beauty and elegance, particularly in pageantry.
Leonardo`s first painting completed wholly by himself was the Madonna and Child, 1478.
He began work on the Mona Lisa (also known as La Gioconda, now at the Louvre in Paris) in 1503, which he did not finish until 1506. He most likely kept it with him at all times, and did not travel without it. Thousands of people see it each year in the Louvre, perhaps drawing their own interpretation on what is known as the Mona Lisas most infamous and enigmatic feature - her smile. It is well known that Leonardo made extensive use of many tricks in this painting, including the so-called Golden Ratio. The name Mona Lisa is not the one given to the piece of art at the time, nor was it known by this title until much later. The Mona Lisa was probably his favourite piece.
Da Vinci was also a great man of science and his approach to science was an observational one: he tried to understand a phenomenon by describing and depicting it in utmost detail, and did not emphasize experiments or theoretical explanations. Throughout his life, he planned a grand encyclopedia based on detailed drawings of everything. Since he lacked formal education in Latin and mathematics, contemporary scholars mostly ignored Leonardo the scientist.
He participated in autopsies and produced many extremely detailed anatomical drawings, planning a comprehensive work of human and comparative anatomy. Around the year 1490, he produced a study in his sketchbook of the Canon of Proportions as described in recently rediscovered writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius. The study, called the Vitruvian Man, is one of his most well-known works.