Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 in Vinci, the illegitemate son of Master Piero, a public notary, and his companion Caterina. At age 17, Leonardo moved with his father to Florence, where Leonardo apprenticed to Verrocchio, where his brilliance soon eclipsed that of his master.
In 1472 Leonardo became a member of the painter’s guild of Florence. In 1476 he was denounced by the Night Watch, but was acquited of the charge of immoral conduct.
One of his most popular early works, “The Adoration of the Magi,” was painted in 1481 for the Monastery of San Donato a Scopeto as an altar piece. It was never finished due to his departure for Milan, where he offered his services to Duke Ludovico il Moro. He worked on the Duomo in Milan and the Duomo and Castle in Pavia; and painted the Madonna of the Rocks and the Last Supper at this time. He also set up festivals for the Duke and claimed to be an expert in military engineering and arms.
In 1499 Ludovico il Moro fled Milan ahead of invading French troops. The Gascon bowmen of Louis XII used Leonardo’s model for the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza for target practice. Soon afterwards, Leonardo left Milan inspite of the evident good-will of the French authorities.
During the next few years, Leonardo wandered from Mantua, in the court of Isabella d’Este, Venice, where he was consultant for architectural matters from 1495 to 1499, to Florence; before becoming military engineer for Cesare Borgia between 1502 and 1503.
The death of Pope Alexander VI changed the fortunes of Duke Valentino, and Leonardo returned to Florence in 1503, remaining there until 1506. The Florentine Republic commissioned him to execute a large fresco of the battle of Anghiari for one of the walls of the Sala del Gran Consiglio in the Palazzo della Signoria facing a fresco by Michelangelo, one of his rivals. Leonardo experimented with a new technique of fresco, which deteriorated quickly and eventually was lost.