Leonardo was born in 1452 in the small town of Vinci. In the 1460 the family decided to settle in Florence, where Leonardo was given the best education that Florence could offer. In about 1466 he was an apprenticed to Andrea del Verrocchio, a Florentine painter and scultor. In Verrocchio’s workshop Leonardo was introduced to many activities such as sculptural projects and paintings. Finally in 1478 Leonardo became an independent master on his own. In 1482 Leonardo entered the service of the duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza after writing a letter to the duke describing his mastery in engineering. During his long stay in Milan, Leonardo also produced paintings and drawings theater designs, architectural drawings, and models for the dome of Milan Cathedral. While living in Milan he was also commission by Ludovico to build a colossal bronze monument to Francesco Sforza in the courtyard of Castello Sforzesco. However this commission was short lived, in December 1499, the Sforza family was driven from Milan by French forces. Leaving Leonardo with no choice but to leave the statue unfinished and returned to Florence in 1500.
In 1502 Leonardo was hired by Cesare Borgia, duke of Romagna. He was apppointed to be the duke’s chief architect and engineer, Leonardo supervised work on the fortresses of the papal land in central Italy. In 1503 he was a member of a commission of artists who were to decide on the proper location for a famous colossal marble statue of David by the Italian sculptor Michelangelo, he also worked as an engineer in the war against Pisa. Near the end of the year Leonardo began working on decoration for the great hall of the Palazzo Vecchio. The Halls that were design to the boast the Florentine victory against Pisa.
He created many drawings for the halls and even completed a full-size sketch, of it in 1505, however, plans for the paintings of the halls was never completed like many of his other works. The sketch itself was destroyed in the 17th century.
During this second Florentine period, Leonardo painted several portraits, but the only one that survives is the famous Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa, Leonardo’s most famous work, is as well known for its mastery of technical innovations.
The portrait is a combination of the two styles of paintings called Sfumato and Chiaroscuro. Sfumato is characterized by subtle, almost smooth transitions between two color areas, resulting in smoky almost like velvet effect.