Early life

Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in Anchiano, a village near the town of Vinci in the lower valley of the Arno, within the territories of Florence.

Leonardo was later to record only two incidents of his childhood. One, which he regarded as a premonition, was when a hawk dropped from the sky and hovered over his cradle, its tail feathers brushing his face.

The second incident occurred while exploring in the mountains. He discovered a cave and recorded his emotions at being, on one hand, terrified that some great monster might lurk there and on the other, driven by curiosity to find out what was inside.

At the age of five, he went to live in the household of his father, grandparents and uncle, Francesco, in the small town of Vinci, where his father had married a sixteen-year-old girl called Albiera, who loved Leonardo but unfortunately died young.

Vasari tells the story of how a local peasant requested that Ser Piero asked his talented son to paint a picture on a round plaque. Leonardo responded with a painting of snakes spitting fire which was so terrifying that Ser Piero sold it to a Florentine art dealer, who sold it to the Duke of Milan. Meanwhile, having made a profit, Ser Piero bought a plaque decorated with a heart pierced by an arrow which he gave to the peasant.


The Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio and Leonardo

In 1466 Leonardo was apprenticed to one of the most proficient artists of his day, Andrea di Cione, known as Verrocchio. The workshop of this famous master was at the centre of the intellectual currents of the day. Among those apprenticed or associated with the workshop were Perugino, Botticelli, and Lorenzo di Credi, assuring the young Leonardo of an advanced education in all branches of the humanities.

As a fourteen-year-old apprentice Leonardo would have been trained in all the countless skills that were employed in a traditional workshop in which the artists were regarded primarily as craftsmen and only a master such as Verrocchio had social standing.

The products of Verrochio’s workshop would have included decorated tournament shields, painted dowry chests, christening platters, votive plaques, small portraits, and devotional pictures. Major commissions included altarpieces for churches, and commemorative statues. Although many craftsmen specialised in tasks such a frame-making, gilding and bronze casting, Leonardo would have been exposed to a vast range of technical skills and had the opportunity to learn drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics and carpentry as well as the obvious artistic skills of drawing, painting, sculpting and modelling.

Although Verrocchio appears to have run an efficient and prolific workshop, few paintings can be ascertained as coming from his hand. And on one of those, Vasari tells us, Leonardo collaborated.

By tradition, Leonardo posed for Verrocchio's David.
The painting is the Baptism of Christ. According to Vasari, Leonardo painted the young angel holding Jesus’ robe and Verrocchio, overwhelmed by the sweetness of the angel’s expression, its moist eyes and lustrous curls, put down his brush and never painted again. This is probably an exaggeration. The truth is that on close examination the painting reveals much that has been painted or touched up over the tempera using the new technique of oil paint. The landscape, the rocks that can be seen through the brown mountain stream and much of the figure of Jesus bears witness to the hand of Leonardo.

The other creation of Verrocchio’s which is particularly pertinent to the young Leonardo is the bronze statue of David, now in the Bargello Museum.[7] Apart from the exquisite quality of this work of art, it is significant in holding the claim to be a portrait of the apprentice, Leonardo. If this is the case, then in the figure of David we see Leonardo as a thin muscular boy, quite different to the rounded androgynous figure made by Verrocchio’s teacher, Donatello. [8] It is also suggested that the Archangel Michael in Verroccio's Tobias and the Angels is a portrait of Leonardo.

When Leonardo was twenty he joined the Guild of St Luke, the guild of artists and doctors of medicine, but even after his father set him up in his own workshop, his attachment to Verrocchio was such that he continued to work with him.

Leonardo's Florence

Leonardo da Vinci statue outside the Uffizi, Florence

Leonardo commenced his apprenticeship with Verrocchio in 1466, the year that Verrocchio’s master, the great Donatello, died. Uccello, was a very old man. The painters Piero della Francesca and Fra Filippo Lippi, sculptor, Luca della Robbia, and architect and writer Alberti were in their sixties. The successful artists of the next generation were his teacher Verrocchio, Antonio Pollaiuolo and the portrait sculptor, Mino da Fiesole.

Leonardo was the contemporary of Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino who were all slightly older than he was. He would have met them at the workshop of Verrocchio, with whom they had associations, and at the Academy of the Medici, Botticelli being a particular favourite of the family. These three were among those commissioned to paint the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Leonardo was not part of this prestigious commission. Leonardo was also the contemporary of the two architects, Bramante and Sangallo
In 1476, during the time of Leonardo’s association with Verrocchio’s workshop, Hugo van der Goes arrived in Florence, bringing the “Portinari Altarpiece” and the new painterly techniques from Northern Europe which were to profoundly effect Ghirlandaio, Perugino and others. In 1479, the Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina, who worked exclusively in oils, travelled north on his way to Venice, where an older painter, Giovanni Bellini adopted the media of oil painting, quickly making it the preferred method in Venice.

Leonardo’s political contemporary was Lorenzo Medici (il Magnifico) who was three years older, and with his popular brother Giuliano, slain in the Pazzi Conspiracy in 1478. Ludovico il Moro who ruled Milan between 1479-99 was also of Leonardo’s age.
Through the Medici, Leonardo came to know the older Humanist philosophers of whom Marsiglio Ficino, proponent of Neo Platonism and Cristoforo Landino, writier of commentaries on Classical writings, were foremost. Also associated with the Academy of the Medici was Leonardo's contemporary, the brilliant young poet and philosopher Pico della Mirandola.
Although usually named together as the three giants of the High Renaissance, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael were not of the same generation. Leonardo was 23 when Michelangelo was born and 31 when Raphael was born. The short-lived Raphael died in 1520, the year after Leonardo, but Michelangelo went on creating for another 45 years.

Professional life

The Adoration of the Magi. This important commission was interrupted when Leonardo went to Milan.

The earliest known dated work of Leonardo's is a drawing done in pen and ink of the Arno valley, drawn on 5 August, 1473.
It is assumed that he had his own workshop in Florence between 1476 and 1481. He was commissioned in 1478 to paint an altarpiece for the Chapel of St Bernard and in 1481 by the Monks at Scopeto for The Adoration of the Magi. In 1482 Leonardo, whom Vasari tells us was a most talented musician, created a silver lyre in the shape of a horse's head. Lorenzo de’ Medici was so impressed with this that he decided to send both the lyre and its maker to Milan, in order to secure peace with Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan [1],. At this time Leonardo wrote an often-quoted letter to Ludovico, describing the many marvellous and diverse things that he could achieve in the field of engineering and informing the Lord that he could also paint.

Between 1482 and 1499, when Louis XII of France occupied Milan, much of Leonardo’s work was in that city. It was here that he was commissioned to paint two of his most famous works, the Virgin of the Rocks for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, and The Last Supper for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. While living in Milan between 1493 and 1495 Leonardo listed a woman called Caterina as among his dependants in his taxation documents. When she died in 1495, the detailed list of expenditure on her funeral suggests that she was his mother rather than a servant girl.

For Ludovico, he worked on many different projects which included the preparation of floats and pageants for special occasions, designs for a dome for Milan Cathedral and a model for a huge equestrian monument to Francesco Sforza, Ludovico’s predecessor. Leonardo modelled a huge horse in clay. Known as the “Gran Cavallo”, seventy tons of metal were set aside for casting it in bronze. It surpassed in size the only two large equestrian statues of the Renaissance, Donatello’s statue of Gattemelata in Padova and Verrocchio’s Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice. The monument remain unfinished for several years, which was not in the least unusual for Leonardo. Michelangelo rudely implied that he was unable to cast it.[5] In 1495 the bronze was used for cannons to defend the city from invasion under Charles VIII.
The French returned to invade Milan in 1498 under Louis XII and the invading French used the “Gran Cavallo” for target practice.
With Ludovico Sforza overthrown, Leonardo, with his assistant Salaino and friend, the mathematician Luca Pacioli, fled Milan for Venice. In Venice he was employed as a military architect and engineer, devising methods to defend the city from naval attack.

Returning to Florence in 1500, he entered the services of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, acting as a military architect and engineer and travelling throughout Italy with his patron. In Forlì he met Caterina Sforza, of whom it is speculated by some that the Mona Lisa may be a portrait. At Cesenatico he designed the port. In 1506 he returned to Milan, which was in the hands of Maximilian Sforza after Swiss mercenaries had driven out the French. Many of Leonardo’s most prominent pupils or followers in painting either knew or worked with him in Milan, including Bernardino Luini, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio and Marco D'Oggione.

Clos Lucé, in France where Leonardo died in 1519.

From 1513 to 1516, Leonardo lived in Rome, where Raphael and Michelangelo were both active at the time. In Florence, he was part of a committee formed to relocate, against the artist’s will, Michelangelo’s statue of David.

In 1515, François I of France retook Milan. Leonardo was commissioned to make a centrepiece (a mechanical lion) for the peace talks between the French king and Pope Leo X in Bologna. In 1516, he entered François' service, being given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé [13] next to the king's residence at the royal Chateau Amboise. It was here that he spent the last three years of his life. The King granted Leonardo and his entourage generous pensions: the surviving document lists 1,000 écus for the artist, 400 for Count Francesco Melzi, (his pupil, named as "apprentice"), and 100 for Salaino ("servant"). In 1518 Salaino left Leonardo and returned to Milan, where he eventually perished in a duel.

Leonardo died at Clos Lucé, France, on 2nd May, 1519. François I had become a close friend. Vasari records that the King held Leonardo’s head in his arms as he died. According to his wish, sixty beggars followed his casket. He was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the castle of Amboise. Although Melzi was his principal heir and executor, Salaino was not forgotten, receiving half of Leonardo's vineyards and the Mona Lisa.
Some twenty years after Leonardo's death, François was reported by the goldsmith and sculptor Benevenuto Cellini as saying:

No man ever lived who had learned as much about sculpture, painting, and architecture, but still more that he was a very great philosopher.

Assistants and pupils

A drawing of Salai in fancy-dress costume

Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno,[14] nicknamed Salai or il Salaino ("The little devil), was described by Giorgio Vasari as "a graceful and beautiful youth with fine curly hair, in which Leonardo greatly delighted."

Il Salaino entered Leonardo's household in 1490 at the age of ten. The relationship was not an easy one. A year later Leonardo made a list of the boy’s misdemeanours, calling him "a thief, a liar, stubborn, and a glutton." The "Little Devil" had made off with money and valuables on at least five occasions, and spent a fortune on apparel, among which were twenty-four pairs of shoes. Nevertheless, Leonardo’s notebooks during their early years contain many pictures of the handsome, curly-haired adolescent. Il Salaino remained his companion, servant, and assistant for the next thirty years.

As a painter, Salaino’s work is generally considered to be of less artistic merit than others among Leonardo's pupils such as Marco d'Oggione and Boltraffio. In 1515 he painted, under the name of Andrea Salai, a nude portrait of "Lisa del Giocondo", based upon the Mona Lisa and known as Monna Vanna.[2] The Mona Lisa was bequeathed to Salaino by Leonardo, and in Salaino's own will at was assessed at the high value of £200,000.

In 1506, Leonardo took as a pupil Count Francesco Melzi, the fifteen-year-old son of a Lombard aristocrat. Salaino, at first jealous of Melzi, eventually accepted his continued presence and the three undertook journeys throughout Italy. Melzi became Leonardo's life companion, and is considered to have been his favourite student. He travelled to France with Leonardo and was with him until his death.

Study for a painting of Isabella d'Este

Personal life

Leonardo had many friends who are figures now renowned in their fields, or for their influence on history. These included the mathematician Luca Pacioli with whom he collaborated on a book in the 1490s and Cesare Borgia, in whose service he spent the years 1502 and 1503. During that time he also met Niccolò Machiavelli, with whom later he was to develop a close friendship. Also among his friends are counted Franchinus Gaffurius and Isabella d'Este. Isabella, was probably his closest female friend. He drew a portrait of her while on a journey which took him through Mantua which appears to have been used to create a painted portrait, now lost.

Beyond friendship, Leonardo kept his private life secret. He commented "the act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions". [16]
Leonardo appears to have had no intimate relationships with women beyond his friendship with Isabella d'Este. However his contemporaries represented him as a passionate man, and all his life he surrounded himself with beautiful young men, at times even getting into scrapes with the law over his alleged erotic flings with males. His relationships with his pupils Salaino and Melzi, first taken on in their mid-teens or earlier, are widely considered to have been passionate, not least by Melzi himself. His love affairs with young males reflect the cultural milieu in which he lived, where pederasty was widely practiced by men in all walks of life.

Leonardo’s painting
Despite the recent awareness and admiration of Leonardo as a scientist and inventor, for the better part of four hundred years his enormous fame rested on his achievements as a painter and on a handful of works, either authenticated or attributed to him that have been regarded as among the supreme masterpieces ever created.
These painting are famous for a variety of qualities which were to be interminably discussed and speculated about by connoisseurs and critics, imitated by students, and gazed at day after day by the public in thousands. Among the qualities that make Leonardo’s work unique are the innovative techniques that he used in laying on the paint, his detailed knowledge of anatomy, light, botany and geology, his interest in physiognomy and the way in which humans register emotion in expression and gesture, his innovative use of the human form in figurative composition and his use of the subtle gradation of tone. All these qualities come together in his most famous works, the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper and the Virgin of the Rocks.

Early works


Leonardo’s early works begin with the Baptism of Christ in conjunction with Verrocchio. Two other paintings appear to date from his time at the workshop, both of which are Annunciations. One is small, 59 cms long and only 14 cms high. It is a “predella” to go at the base of a larger composition, in this case a painting by Lorenzo Di Credi from which it has become separated. The other is a much larger work, 217 cm long. In both these Annunciations Leonardo has used the very formal arrangement of Fra Angelico’s two well known pictures of the same subject, the Virgin Mary sitting or kneeeling to the right of the picture, approached from the left by an angel in profile, with rich flowing garment, raised wings and bearing a lily.

In the smaller picture Mary averts her eyes and folds her hands in a gesture that symbolised submission to God’s will. In the larger picture, however, Mary is not in the least submissive. The beautiful girl, interrupted in her reading by this unexpected messenger, puts a finger in her bible to mark the place and raises her hand in greeting. This calm young woman accepts her role as the Mother of God not with resignation but with confidence. In this painting the young Leonardo presents the Humanist face of the Virgin Mary, a woman who recognises humanity’s role in God’s incarnation.

Paintings of the 1480s

In the 1480s Leonardo received two very important commissions, and commenced another work which was also of ground-breaking importance in terms of compositon.

Unfortunately two of the three were never finished and the third took so long that it was subject to lengthy negotiations over completion and payment. One of these paintings is the of St Jerome in the wilderness. Although the painting is barely begun the entire composition can be seen and it is very unusual. Jerome, as a penitent, occupies the middle of the picture, set on a slight diagonal and viewed somewhat from above. His kneeling form takes on a trapezoid shape, with one arm stretched to the outer edge of the painting and his gaze looking in the opposite direction. Across the foreground sprawls his symbol, a great lion whose body and tail make a double spiral across the base of the picture space. The other remarkable feature is the sketchy landscape of craggy rocks against which the figure is silhouetted.

The daring display of figure composition, the landscape elements and personal drama were to reappear in the great unfinished masterpiece, the Adoration of the Magi, a commission from the Monks of St Donato a Scopeto. It is a very complex composition about 250cm square. For it Leonardo did numerous drawings and preparatory studies, including a detailed one in linear perspective of the ruined Classical architecture which makes part of the backdrop to the scene. But in 1482 Leonardo went off to Milan at the behest of Lorenzo de’ Medici in order to win favour with Ludovico il Moro and the painting was abandoned.

Virgin of the Rocks, London.

The third important work of this period is the Madonna of the Rocks which was commissioned in Milan for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception. The painting, to be done with the assistance of the de Predis brothers was to fill a large complex altarpiece, already constructed.

Leonardo chose to paint an apocryphal moment of the infancy of Christ when the Infant John the Baptist, in protection of an angel, met the Holy Family on the road to Egypt. In this scene, as painted by Leonardo, John recognizes and worships Jesus as the Christ. The painting demonstrates an eerie beauty as the graceful figures kneel in adoration around the infant Christ in a wild and rocky landscape of tumbling rock and whirling water.

While the painting is quite large, about 200 x 120 cms, it is nowhere as complex as the painting ordered by the monks of St Donato, having only four figures rather than about 50 and a rocky landscape rather than architectural details. The painting was eventually finished; in fact, two versions of the painting were finished, one which remained at the chapel of the Confraternity and the other which Leonardo carried away to France. But the Brothers did not get their painting, or the de Predis their payment until both were long over due.

Paintings of the 1490s

The most famous painting the 1490s is Last Supper, also painted in Milan. The painting represents the last meal shared by Jesus with his desciples before his capture and death. It shows, specifically the moment when Jesus has said “one of you will betray me.” See painting reproduced further down this page.

Leonardo tells the story of the consternation that this statement caused to the twelve followers of Jesus. Vasari[6] describes in detail how he worked on it, how some days he would paint like fury, how other days he would spend hours just looking at it, and how he walked the streets of the city looking for the face of Judas, the traitor.

When finished, the painting was acclaimed as a masterpiece of design and characterisation. But its artist was also denounced for the fact that it was no sooner finished than it began to fall off the wall. Leonardo, instead of using the reliable technique of fresco had experimented with different paint-binding agents, which were subject to mold and to flaking. Despite this, the painting has remained one of the most reproduced works of art, countless copies being made in every medium from carpets to cameos.

Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Paintings of the 1500s

Among the works created by Leonardo in the 1500s is the small portrait known as the Mona Lisa or “la Gioconda”, the laughing one. The painting is famous, in particular, for the elusive smile on the woman’s face, its mysterious quality brought about perhaps by the fact that the artist has subtly shadowed the corners of the mouth and eyes so that the exact nature of the smile cannot be determined. The shadowy quality for which the work is renowned came to be called “sfumato” or Leonardo’s smoke. Other characteristics found in this work are the unadorned dress, in which the eyes and beautiful hands have no competition from other details, the dramatic landscape background in which the world seems to be in a state of flux, the subdued colouring and the extremely smooth nature of the painterly technique, employing oils, but laid on much like tempera and blended on the surface so that the brushstrokes are indistinguishable.
In the Virgin and Child with St. Anne the composition again picks up the theme of figures in a landscape. It harks back to the St Jerome picture with the figure set at an oblique angle. The thing that makes this painting unusual is that there are two obliquely-set figures, superimposed, because Mary, is seated on the knee of her mother, St Anne, and leaning forward to support the Christ Child as he plays (rather roughly) with a lamb, the sign of his own impending sacrifice. In the composition of this painting, Leonardo is showing trends which would be adopted in particular by the Venetian painters, Titian and Tintoretto as well as by Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo and Correggio.

Leonardo's drawings

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist.

Leonardo was not a prolific painter, but he was a most prolific draftsman, keeping journals full of small sketches and detailed drawings recording all manner of things that took his attention. As well as the journals there exist many studies for paintings, some of which can be identified as preparatory to particular works such as The Adoration of the Magi, The Virgin of the Rocks' and The Last Supper. His earliest dated drawing is a Landscape of the Arno Valley, 1473, which shows the river, the mountains, Montelupo Castle and the farmlands beyond it in great detail.

Among his famous drawings are the Vitruvian Man, a study of the proportions of the human body, the Head of an Angel, for The Virgin of the Rocks in the Louvre, a botanical study of Star of Bethlehem and a large drawing (160x100 cms) in black chalk on coloured paper of the The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist in the National Gallery, London. This drawing employs the subtle sfumato technique of shading, in the manner of the Mona Lisa. It is thought that Leonardo never made a painting from it, the closest similarity being to The Virgin and Child with St. Anne in the Louvre.

A study for Leda and the Swan.

Other drawings of interest include numerous studies of facial deformaties which are frequently referred to as "caricatures", while close examination of the skeletal proportions indicates that the majority are based directly on live models. There are numerous studies of the beautiful young man, Salaino, with his rare and much admired facial feature, the so-called "Grecian profile".[20] He is often depicted in fancy-dress costume.

Leonardo is known to have designed sets for pageants with which these may be associated. Other, often meticulous, drawings show studies of drapery. A marked development in Leornardo's ability to draw drapery occurred in his early works. Another often-reproduced drawing is a macabre sketch that was done by Leonardo in Florence in 1479 showing the body of Bernado Baroncelli, hanged in connection with the murder of Giuliano, brother of Lorenzo de'Medici, in the Pazzi Conspiracy. With dispassionate integrity Leonardo has registered in neat mirror writing the colours of the robes that Baroncelli was wearing when he died.

Leonardo as observer, scientist and inventor

Studies of the action of running water.


Renaissance humanism saw 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, recorded in notebooks comprising some 13,000 pages of notes and drawings, which fuse art and natural philosophy (the forerunner of modern science). These notes were made and maintained daily throughout Leonardo's life and travels, as he made continual observations of the world around him.

The journals are written mostly in mirror-image cursive, the reason probably his left-handedness which makes it difficult to push a quill pen from left to right across a page.

Some of the notes and drawings simply record what he has seen, some are detailed studies and others are plans for artworks and inventions. They display an enormous range of interests and preoccupations, some as mundane as lists of groceries and people who owed him money and some as intriguing as designs for wings and shoes for walking on water. There are compositions for paintings, studies of details and drapery, studies of faces and emotions, of animals, babies, dissections, plant studies, rock formations, whirl pools, war machines, helicopters and architecture.

A page from Leonardo's journal showing his study of a foetus in the womb.

These notebooks—originally loose papers of different types and sizes, distributed by friends after his death—have found their way into major collections such as the Louvre, the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, and the Victoria and Albert Museum and British Library in London. The British Library has put a selection from its notebook (BL Arundel MS 263) on the web in the Turning the Pages section. [3] The Codex Leicester is the only major scientific work of Leonardo's in private hands. It is owned by Bill Gates, and is displayed once a year in different cities around the world.

Why Leonardo did not publish or otherwise distribute the contents of his notebooks remains a mystery to those who believe that Leonardo wanted to make his observations public knowledge. Technological historian Lewis Mumford suggests that Leonardo kept notebooks as a private journal, intentionally censoring his work from those who might irresponsibly use it (the tank, for instance). They remained obscure until the 19th century, and were not directly of value to the development of science and technology.

In January 2005, researchers discovered what some believe to be a hidden laboratory used by Leonardo da Vinci for studies of flight and other pioneering scientific work in previously sealed rooms at a monastery next to the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata, in the heart of Florence.

Scientific studies

Leonardo's 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 explanation. Since he lacked formal education in Latin and mathematics, contemporary scholars mostly ignored Leonardo the scientist, although he did teach himself Latin. In the 1490's he studied mathematics under Luca Pacioli and prepared a series of drawings of regular solids in a skeletal form to be engraved as plates for Pacioli's book Divina Proportione, published in 1509.

It has also been said that he was planning a series of treatises to be published on a variety of subjects though none survives; it appears he did complete a coherent treatise on anatomy, which was observed during a visit by Cardinal Louis D'Aragon's secretary in 1517.


Leonardo's formal training in the anatomy of the human body began with his apprenticeship to Andrea del Verrocchio, his teacher insisting that all his pupils learn anatomy. As an artist, he quickly became master of topographic anatomy, drawing many studies of muscles, tendons and other visible anatomical features.

Anatomical study of the arm.

As a successful artist, he was given permission to dissect human corpses at the hospital Santa Maria Nuova in Florence and later at hospitals in Milan and Rome. From 1510 to 1511 he collaborated in his studies with the doctor Marcantonio della Torre and together they prepared a theoretical work on anatomy for which Leonardo made more than 200 drawings. It was published only in 1680 (161 years after his death) under the heading Treatise on painting.

Leonardo drew are many studies of the human skeleton and its parts, as well as muscles and sinews, the heart and vascular system, reproductive system, and other internal organs. He made one of the first scientific drawings of a fetus in utero.
He also studied and drew the anatomy of many other animals as well. He dissected cows, birds, monkeys, bears, and frogs, comparing in his drawings their anatomical structure with that of humans. He also made a number of studies of horses.
As an artist, Leonardo closely observed and recorded the effects of age and of human emotion on the physiology, studying in particular the effects of rage. He also drew many models among those who had significant facial deformities or signs of illness.

Engineering and inventions

Fascinated by the phenomenon of flight, Leonardo produced detailed studies of the flight of birds, and plans for several flying machines, including a helicopter powered by four men (which would not have worked since the body of the craft would have rotated) and a light hang glider which could have flown.[23] On January 3, 1496 he unsuccessfully tested a flying machine he had constructed.

During his lifetime Leonardo was valued as an engineer. In a letter to Ludovico il Moro he claimed to be able to create all sorts of machines both for the protection of a city and for siege. When he fled to Venice in 1499 he found employment as an engineer and devised a system of moveable barricades to protect the city from attack. He also had a scheme for diverting the flow of the Arno River in order to flood Pisa.

In 1502, Leonardo produced a drawing of a single span 720-foot (240 m) bridge as part of a civil engineering project for Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II of Istanbul. The bridge was intended to span an inlet at the mouth of the Bosphorus known as the Golden Horn. Beyazid did not pursue the project, because he believed that such a construction was impossible. Leonardo's vision was resurrected in 2001 when a smaller bridge based on his design was constructed in Norway.

Leonardo, the "Legend"

Within Leonardo's own lifetime his fame was such that the King of France carried him away like a trophy, supported him in his old age and held him in his arms as he died. Vasari, in his "Lives of the Artists" written about thirty years after Leonardo's death, described him as having talents that "transcended nature".

The interest in Leonardo has never slackened. The crowds still queue to see his most famous artworks, T-shirts bear his most famous drawing and writers, like Vasari, continue to marvel at his genius and speculate about his private life and, particularly, about what one so intelligent actually believed in.