On my recent trip to Milan, I had the pleasure of seeing Leonardo’s masterpiece, L’Ultima Cena (The Last Supper), which is housed in Santa Maria delle Grazie. But, I cringed each time I heard someone refer to the artist as “da Vinci.” “Da Vinci” means, “from Vinci.” It is the town from which the artist hailed; it’s not his last name!
Leonardo, an illegitimate child, was simply given the name “Leonardo” at birth. He had no last name, although his father, Ser Piero did allow him to be called Leonardo di Ser Piero. The Ser Piero family was fairly established in Vinci, a town in Tuscany. Thus, they were the Ser Piero’s da Vinci. When Leonardo became an apprentice to Verrocchio, with his father’s permission, he referred to himself as Leonardo da Vinci in order to distinguish himself from other Leonardos. Indeed, he later referred to himself as Leonardo il Fiorentino, or the Florentine. (Leonardo eventually had his own workshop in Florence.)
So call him Leonardo da Vinci if you must. Or just call him Leonardo. He needs no other name. But please don’t call him “da Vinci.”
Pictured is Leonardo’s The Last Supper