In 1452 a remarkable child was born near the Italian town of Vinci who was destined to become one of the greatest thinkers and masters of all time. Leonardo da Vinci is commonly known as the archetype of the Renaissance man, a man whose innate inquisitive and creative nature drove him to master nearly everything he put his attention to. He was a painter, sculptor, scientist, architect, engineer, musician, inventor, and writer besides being a scholar in the natural sciences, medicine and philosophy. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.
The illegitimate son of a peasant girl and a Florentine notary, Leonardo had 17 half brothers and sisters, and no surname in the modern sense; “da Vinci” simply meaning “of Vinci”. Since he was born out of wedlock, he was not allowed to receive any formal education, nor could he look forward to holding any offices or inheriting the family land. Instead, he would have to find another path for himself in the world.
As a young boy he spent much of his time roaming the countryside near his home, fascinated by the wonders of the natural world. He marveled at things like the movement of animals and clouds, the patterns of light and shade on objects, and the motion of water and drew them with astonishing beauty and detail. He felt that he might better understand how things were formed and how they really worked by carefully recording their images, but his desire to understand the world around him was never satisfied. He soon was asking questions no one could answer.
All throughout his life he refused to simply accept other people explanations for things – he wanted to figure things out for himself. How birds fly. How we see. What makes blood move in the body. What gives the sky its depth and color. Though mostly self-taught, he was hungry for knowledge and conversed about these topics with scholars, artists, and kings.