The year 1452 witnessed the birth of one who was among the great geniuses of mankind, namely Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci. Books, poetry and organized studies have been based upon him and all have been swarming with his overwhelming personality.
In a lifespan of 67 years, this man earned fame on such a large scale that he is remembered even today, about 50 decades after his death. Due to the efficient usage of his vast imagination, and his grasp over multiple subjects and intellect, he is known as the ‘Renaissance Man’. It seems almost humanly impossible to have command over art, science, engineering, architecture, and anatomy simultaneously as da Vinci had.
Even if we’re not interested in art or science, it’s worth our while to learn something about this influential figure. After all, we all know about famous paintings such as the ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘The Last Supper’. Many works such as these are used as inspiration in modern works of art as well, including movies and TV shows as well as cartoons.
Let’s start by taking a look at the beginnings of Leonardo da Vinci and work our way up to his contributions for various fields:
Life and Character
Leonardo da Vinci’s childhood home
Leonardo da Vinci was born to a notary named Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, and a peasant Catherine while they were unmarried. He was hence an illegitimate child, but one born in what is sometimes known as ‘the golden age for bastards’.
As a result, he was actually fortunate not to be forced to follow his father and become a notary as well, as a legitimate son would have had to do. Instead, he received a bit of education and was then free to follow his own interests, especially with regards to his creative leanings.
In his early life, he lived at his father’s house where he received simple and basic knowledge of language and mathematics. This little education was fortunate for him, as it allowed him free power to follow his natural potential and work on his talents; arts, poetry, and others. It is noted in his scriptures that his writings were mirror scripted and he was possibly ambidextrous.
Apart from the undeniable intelligence, perhaps these unique traits in his study journals and even his scribblings are what provoke curiosity in people. His work has been priced expensively for the modern works. For one single example, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, bought his manuscripts for $30.8 million.
Da Vinci’s desire to gather as much knowledge as possible had an adverse effect on his masterpieces of art, and most of them were left incomplete. His scribbles were based upon the storm of observation clouding his mind; about why the sky was blue and the fundamentals of friction.
The polymath undoubtedly had a hand in the field of military arts as well. He was a military engineer during the rule of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, serving aid by designing military equipment. His designs contained objects as destructive as a machine gun, along with tanks and a giant crossbow. It is true though, that he is quoted to have said:
“As long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.”
It may be unjustifiable, but his military work was probably a financial need for him. Furthermore, his inventions reportedly had ‘deliberate’ mistakes in them, making their use impossible. Historians say he was a kind-hearted man, while others call him a mere animal rights activist for doing so, but he used to buy caged birds just to set them free.
However, not much can be deduced about his character for sure, for he was very much against sharing information about his private life. His private life was so secured that not even those who worked with him could say anything about his everyday routines and hobbies.
Virgin of the Rocks
Today, Leonardo da Vinci is most commonly known for his art. Growing up, he showed particular interest in painting and drawing, which allowed his father to conclude that he must be sent to the well-known painter and sculptor, Andrea del Verrocchio.
He ended up learning more than just how to stroke a paintbrush across the canvas. Verrocchio introduced him to mechanical arts like drafting, metal, leather working, along with woodwork as well. Da Vinci spent six to ten years under his apprenticeship before becoming an independent master himself at the age of 26.
A brilliant early training made da Vinci capable of creating honorable pieces of art like Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. To date, Mona Lisa, meaning ‘the laughing one’ is known to be the best piece of art owing to the intricate aesthetics of it brought by soft blending and sfumato.
The painting took him 3 to 4 years to complete and is now displayed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. His other significant painting was the Last Supper that depicted Jesus at the moment when he declared to his 12 apostles that, “one of you shall betray me.”
Here, da Vinci was able to paint twelve distinct expressions all caused by the same emotions, anger, and confusion. A study shows that his paintings include complicated formulas that derive the angles by which an aspect of an image is formed, meaning he used his arithmetical knowledge in his art, too.
At the age of 30, Leonardo marked the creation of commissioned paintings by starting his work on The Adoration of Magi and Saint Jerome in the Wilderness. Both of these were left incomplete because he moved to Milan where he was to build his first monument.
From 1482- 1493, Leonardo used the skill of mechanical arts to build a clay model of a horseman in honor of Francesco Sforza. This masterpiece was later destroyed during the war or it would certainly have had immense historical importance. One year after moving to Milan, he succeeded in completing a new painting, Virgin of the Rocks.
However, da Vinci’s natural talents of being an artist are not the whole of his story. His in-depth knowledge of science and anatomy are just as incredible
Science and Anatomy
Anatomical sketches of the human arm:
Leonardo’s genius cannot be matched when we consider his 240+ drawings on anatomy. As a student of art under Verrocchio, he was also required to develop a comprehensive understanding of science. He was hence able to draw and conclude the functioning of muscles between bones and tendons, and nerves and vessels.
In an effort to explain his drawings and dissections, he wrote accounts and observations. It is believed that he is the first one to have devised the structure of the human digestive and reproductive system. He was also able to execute dissections of human corpses which made his recordings reliable.
It is a pity that his drawings of the heart, brain, and other vital organs were not published, or the study of medicine would have evolved to a much larger scale from then to now. However, da Vinci’s intellect did not terminate here. He made discoveries on the brink of inventions concerning engineering and architecture.
Engineering and Architecture
Da Vinci’s design for a flying machine
Unlike his study of anatomy, Leonardo da Vinci’s engineering studies and skills were not restricted to his personal journals and accounts. He was praised as an engineer during his lifetime and remained at highly- ranked posts under several dynasties, including the Sforza clan in Milan and Ottoman Sultan Beyazid of Constantinople.
His journals were composed of ideas for a flying machine, while he even managed to draw a body very similar to the modern-day helicopter! It is noted that he had a special interest in the idea of flying, as the credit of invention of parachutes and crossbows goes to him. We should also mention that the study he produced, Codex on the Flight of Birds, simply shows that the man educated himself based on his interests and passion.
Da Vinci’s work and wisdom made the seemingly impossible, possible. He not only taught himself but also taught the generations to come that the greatest goals are what teach you the most when they are met with. It is quoted by the man himself:
When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
Today, a man is defined by the profession he has. If one is an artist, it becomes incomprehensible for them to, say, be a doctor. Leonardo considered art to be interrelated with science. He believed that ‘saper vedere, man’s ability to see was his most pricey power and when used efficiently, many milestones could be met, no matter how diverse in nature.
History has always been recorded as a lesson for the future, if it is ignored, mankind will keep repeating the same mistakes and become unable to progress further. On that account, it is vital to keep updated on extraordinary personalities like Leonardo da Vinci in order to gain inspiration and find it easier to achieve their goals.