Leonardo Da Vinci, an Italian painter, born at the Vinci palace, near Florence, in 1452, died at the chateau of Clou, near Amboise, France, May 2, 1519. He was an illegitimate son of Pietro da Vinci, and from his youth was remarkable for his handsome and noble presence, and for his wonderful aptitude in almost all branches of art and science. He speedily excelled his teacher, Andrea Verocchio. At first he delighted most in fantastic and monstrous pictures. Ludovico Sforza (il Moro) of Milan paid 300 ducats for his Medusa head, and about 1483 attached him to his court as musician and improvisatore. He displayed great activity in. sculpture, architecture, and other arts, but chiefly in painting. He founded an academy of art, and opened a new era remarkable for superior dramatic composition and for improved local coloring and chiaroscuro. He executed an admirable colossal model for an equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, and many portraits, perfected his knowledge of anatomy under Marc' Antonio della Torre, and about 1496 began his fresco of the "Last Supper" for the Milanese convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which has been called the highest effort of Christian art.
The original has been much damaged; the best copy, by Leonardo's pupil Oggione, is in the royal academy, London; there are several other copies and engravings of it, the most celebrated of the latter by Morghen. In 1499, when his patron was ousted by the French, he removed from Milan to Florence, and subsequently was for some time employed in exploring Tuscany as an engineer and architect. The most celebrated works which he executed during his stay in Florence are the cartoon of Santa Anna, the "Adoration of the Kings," and several portraits, now in the Louvre, the best known through copies and engravings being the Madonna Lisa del Giocondo, or La Joconde, for which Francis I. is said to have paid 4,000 gold crowns, and Ginevra di Amerigo Benzi, called La belle Ferronniere. His father dying in 1504, he left Florence, and after spending some time in various cities, chiefly in Milan, where he designed the canal of Martesana, a marvel of skill, he accompanied Giuliano de' Medici to Rome to witness the coronation of the latter's brother as Pope Leo X. (March 19, 1513). He soon joined Francis I. at Milan, and as court painter accompanied him to France, where he ended his life in the company of his friend Melzi. In 1874 his remains were deposited in the chapel of the palace of Amboise, with an inscription, by the count de Paris, the present owner of it. - Many pictures attributed to Da Vinci were painted by his pupils, especially by Luini and Oggione. His almost universal genius was the marvel of the age.
Hallam concedes to him the foremost rank among the illustrious men of the 15th century, and regards his anticipations of the great discoveries in astronomy, geology, and other sciences as almost preternatural. He was almost entitled to the claim of inventing the art of chiaroscuro. He wrote Trattato della pittura (Paris, 1651; best later ed. by Manzi, 2 vols., Rome, 1817; best English translation by John Francis Rigaud, London, 1802; new ed., 1835), which Mrs. Jameson says is the basis of all subsequent works on the theory and practice of art. He bequeathed most of his manuscripts on the arts and sciences to Melzi; many of them and of his printed works are in the Ambrosian library in Milan, and a large portion is now in Paris. His manuscripts were made known by Ventura in his Essai sur les ouvrages physico-mathematiques de Leonard de Vinci (Paris, 1797), and by Libri in his Histoire des sciences mathematiques en Italie (1838'41; 2d ed., 1865). Among his biographers are Amoretti (Milan, 1784), Dom Pino (1796), G. Bossi (Padua, 1814), and John William Brown, with an engraving of the " Last Supper," and chiefly compiled from manuscripts and printed works in the Ambrosian library (London, 1828; new ed., 1835, appended to the translation of the " Treatise on Painting "). See also Leonard de Vinci et son école, by F. Rio (Paris, 1855), and " Leonardo da Vinci and his Works" (London, 1873), containing a critical catalogue of his most important paintings, by Mrs. Charles W. Heaton, and an essay by C. C. Black on " Leonardo da Vinci in Science and Literature," largely based on Gilberto Govi's Ilgenio di Leonardo.