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Florence and Milan, to 1499

Leonardo was born in 1452 near the town of Vinci in central Italy. He was the illegitimate son of a lawyer and a peasant girl, and was raised in his paternal grandfather’s house. We know little else about his early years.

Leonardo spent his twenties working as a painter in nearby Florence, though relatively few drawings survive from this period. Around 1482 he left Florence for Milan, and within a few years he had entered the service of that city’s ruler, Ludovico Sforza – initially to work on a huge equestrian monument, and later executing his greatest finished work, the Last Supper.

Leonardo’s interests broadened rapidly at this time, into architecture, engineering and the scientific subjects of use to an artist, such as light and anatomy. This was to be his longest period in a single city, ending when Ludovico Sforza was overthrown by an invading French army in 1499.

Attributed to Andrea del Verrocchio (c.1435-88)

A lily

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

A nude youth as St John the Baptist

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

A portrait of a woman in profile

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

Sketches of a woman, bust length

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

Two grotesque profiles

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

The drapery of a kneeling figure

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

A scene in an arsenal

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

The major organs and vessels

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

Recto: The skull sectioned. Verso: The cranium