Leonardo's childhood home in Anchiano
Leonardo's earliest known drawing, the Arno Valley (1473), Uffizi Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452 (Old Style), "at the third hour of the night"[nb 5] in the Tuscan hill town of Vinci, in the lower valley of the Arno River in the territory of the Medici-ruled Republic of Florence. He was the out-of-wedlock son of the wealthy Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, a Florentine legal notary, and Caterina, a peasant.[nb 6] Leonardo had no surname in the modern sense, “da Vinci” simply meaning “of Vinci”: his full birth name was "Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci", meaning "Leonardo, (son) of (Mes)ser Piero from Vinci". The inclusion of the title "ser" indicated that Leonardo's father was a gentleman.
Little is known about Leonardo's early life. He spent his first five years in the hamlet of Anchiano in the home of his mother, then from 1457 he lived in the household of his father, grandparents and uncle, Francesco, in the small town of Vinci. His father had married a sixteen-year-old girl named Albiera, who loved Leonardo but died young. When Leonardo was sixteen his father married again, to twenty-year-old Francesca Lanfredini. It was not until his third and fourth marriages that Ser Piero produced legitimate heirs.
Leonardo received an informal education in Latin, geometry and mathematics. In later life, Leonardo recorded only two childhood incidents. One, which he regarded as an omen, was when a kite dropped from the sky and hovered over his cradle, its tail feathers brushing his face. The second occurred while exploring in the mountains. He discovered a cave and was both terrified that some great monster might lurk there and driven by curiosity to find out what was inside.[11 Leonardo died at Clos Lucé, on May 2, 1519. Francis I had become a close friend. Vasari records that the king held Leonardo's head in his arms as he died, although this story, beloved by the French and portrayed in romantic paintings by Ingres, Ménageot and other French artists, as well as by Angelica Kauffmann, may be legend rather than fact.[nb 17] Vasari states that in his last days, Leonardo sent for a priest to make his confession and to receive the Holy Sacrament. In accordance with his will, sixty beggars followed his casket.[nb 18] He was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in Château d'Amboise. Melzi was the principal heir and executor, receiving as well as money, Leonardo's paintings, tools, library and personal effects. Leonardo also remembered his other long-time pupil and companion, Salai and his servant Battista di Vilussis, who each received half of Leonardo's vineyards, his brothers who received land, and his serving woman who received a black cloak "of good stuff" with a fur edge.[nb 19]
Some 20 years after Leonardo's death, Francis was reported by the goldsmith and sculptor Benevenuto Cellini as saying: "There had never been another man born in the world who knew as much as Leonardo, not so much about painting, sculpture and architecture, as that he was a very great philosopher." Journals and notes
Renaissance humanism recognized no mutually exclusive polarities between the sciences and the arts, and Leonardo's studies in science and engineering are as impressive and innovative as his artistic work. These studies were recorded in 13,000 pages of notes and drawings, which fuse art and natural philosophy (the forerunner of modern science), made and maintained daily throughout Leonardo's life and travels, as he made continual observations of the world around him.
Leonardo's writings are mostly in mirror-image cursive. The reason may have been more a practical expediency than for reasons of secrecy as is often suggested. Since Leonardo wrote with his left hand, it is probable that it was easier for him to write from right to left.[nb 25] A page showing Leonardo's study of a foetus in the womb (c. 1510) Royal...
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