Leonardo da Vinci

Dates1452 - 1519

Inventor, artist, mathematician, naturalist, and philosopher, Leonardo da Vinci embodied the Renaissance idea of the artist as creative thinker rather than skilled craftsman. Born near Vinci in 1452, the charismatic Florentine spent his adult life employed by Europe's most powerful families, who allowed him to explore whatever struck his fancy.

More than twenty years older than the great masters Michelangelo and Raphael, Leonardo pioneered the High Renaissance style of balance, serenity, and technical accomplishment for nearly a generation before the two other Renaissance masters arrived.

"Great minds often produce more by working less, for with their intellect they search for conceptions and form those perfect ideas which afterwards they merely express with their hands," Leonardo wrote. Intense perfectionism and wide-ranging interests contributed to his small output of paintings. None of his architectural or sculptural works survive today, but more of Leonardo's drawings have survived than any of his contemporaries'. Notebooks filled with prescient investigations of everything from flight to water remained unknown until the nineteenth century.

After the death of his patron Giuliano de' Medici in 1517, François I, king of France, invited Leonardo to work in France, where he died two years later.