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Leonardo da Vinci

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Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance man
Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance man

Leonardo da Vinci (April 15, 1452May 2, 1519) was a celebrated Italian Renaissance architect, musician, inventor, engineer, sculptor and painter.

He has been described as the archetype of the "Renaissance man" and as a universal genius. Leonardo is well known for his masterly paintings, such as The Last Supper and Mona Lisa. He is also known for his many inventions that were conceived well before their time but of which few were constructed in his lifetime. In addition, he helped advance the study of anatomy, astronomy, and civil engineering.



His life was described in Giorgio Vasari's biography Vite.

Leonardo was born in Anchiano, near Vinci, Italy. His father Ser Piero da Vinci was a young lawyer and his mother, Caterina, a peasant girl [1]. It has been suggested that Caterina was a slave of middle eastern origin owned by Piero, but the evidence is scant.

This was before modern naming conventions developed in Europe. Therefore, his full name was "Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci", which means "Leonardo, son of Piero, from Vinci". Leonardo himself simply signed his works "Leonardo" or "Io, Leonardo" ("I, Leonardo"). Most authorities therefore refer to his works as "Leonardos", not "da Vincis". Presumably he did not use his father'Illegitimate_child" title ="Illegitimate child">illegitimate child.

Leonardo grew up with his father in Florence. He was a vegetarian throughout his life. He became an apprentice to painter Andrea del Verrocchio about 1466. Later, he became an independent painter in Florence.

In 1476 he was anonymously accused of homosexual contact with a 17-year-old model, Jacopo Saltarelli, a notorious prostitute. He was, together with three other young men, charged with homosexual conduct and acquitted because of lack of evidence. For a time Leonardo and the others were under the watchful eye of Florence'Vice_squad" title ="Vice squad">vice squad.

That Leonardo was homosexual is generally accepted. His longest-running relationship was with a beautiful delinquent Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, whom he nicknamed Salai (Little Devil), who entered his household at the age of 10. Leonardo supported Salai for twenty five years, and he left Salai half his vineyard in his will.

Self-portrait, c. 1513
Self-portrait, c. 1513

From 1478 to 1499 Leonardo worked for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan [2] and maintained his own workshop with apprentices there. Seventy tons of bronze that had been set aside for Leonardo'France" title ="France">French under Charles VIII in 1495 — see also Italian Wars.

When the French returned under Louis XII in 1498, Milan fell without a fight, overthrowing Sforza [3]. Leonardo stayed in Milan for a time, until one morning he found French archers using his life-size clay model for the "Gran Cavallo" for target practice. He left with his servant and assistant Salai (a.k.a. Gian Giacomo Caprotti) and his friend (and inventor of double-entry bookkeeping) Luca Pacioli for Mantua, moving on after 2 months for Venice, then moving again to Florence at the end of April 1500.

In Florence he entered the services of Cesare Borgia (also called "Duca Valentino" and son of Pope Alexander VI) as military architect and engineer. In 1506 he returned to Milan, now in the hands of Maximilian Sforza after Swiss mercenaries drove out the French.

In 1507 Leonardo met a 15 year old aristocrat of great personal beauty, Count Francesco Melzi. Melzi became his pupil, life companion, and heir.

From 1513 to 1516 he lived in Rome, where painters like Raphael and Michelangelo were active at the time; he did not have much contact with these artists, however.

In 1515 Francis I of France retook Milan, and Leonardo was commissioned to make a centrepiece (of a mechanical lion) for the peace talks in Bologna between the French king and Pope Leo X, where he must have first met the king. In 1516, he entered Francis'Clos_Luc%E9" title ="Clos Lucé">Clos Lucé next to the king'Chateau_Amboise" title ="Chateau Amboise">Royal Chateau at Amboise [4], and receiving a generous pension. The king became a close friend.

He died in Cloux, France in 1519 [5]. According to his wish, 60 beggars followed his casket. He was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the castle of Amboise.

Leonardo had a great number of friends, some of whom were:


Leonardo is well known for the masterful paintings attributed to him, such as Last Supper (Ultima Cena or Cenacolo, in Milan), painted in 1498, and the Mona Lisa (also known as La Gioconda, now at the Louvre in Paris), painted in 1503–1506. There is significant debate however, whether da Vinci himself painted the Mona Lisa, or whether it was primarily the work of his students. Only seventeen of his paintings, and none of his statues survive. Of these paintings, only Ginevra de' Benci is in the Western Hemisphere.

Leonardo often planned grandiose paintings with many drawings and sketches, only to leave the projects unfinished.

In 1481 he was commissioned to paint the altarpiece "The Adoration of the Magi". After extensive, ambitious plans and many drawings, the painting was left unfinished and Leonardo left for Milan.

He there spent many years making plans and models for a monumental seven-metre (24-foot) high horse statue in bronze ("Gran Cavallo"), to be erected in Milan. Because of war with France, the project was never finished. Based on private initiative, a similar statue was completed according to some of his plans in 1999 in New York, given to Milan and erected there. The Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland has a small bronze horse, thought to be the work of an apprentice from Leonardo's original design.

Back in Florence, he was commissioned for a large public mural, the "Battle of Anghiari"; his rival Michelangelo was to paint the opposite wall. After producing a fantastic variety of studies in preparation for the work, he left the city, with the mural unfinished due to technical difficulties.

Mona Lisa (1503–6)
Mona Lisa (1503–6)

List of paintings

Science and engineering

Perhaps even more impressive than his artistic work are his studies in science and engineering, recorded in notebooks comprising some 13,000 pages of notes and drawings, which fuse art and science. He was left-handed and used mirror writing throughout his life. Explainable by fact that it is easier to pull a quill pen than to push it; by using mirror-writing, the left-handed writer is able to pull the pen from right to left.

His approach to science was an observatory one: he tried to understand a phenomenon by describing and depicting it in utmost detail, and did not emphasize experiments or theoretical explanations. Throughout his life, he planned a grand encyclopedia based on detailed drawings of everything. Since he lacked formal education in Latin and mathematics, Leonardo the scientist was mostly ignored by contemporary scholars.

He participated in autopsies and produced many extremely detailed anatomical drawings, planning a comprehensive work of human and comparative anatomy. Around the year 1490, he produced a study in his sketchbook of the Canon of Proportions as described in recently rediscovered writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius. The study, called the Vitruvian Man, is one of his most well-known works.

Vitruvian manLeonardo da Vinci draws the human body
Vitruvian man
Leonardo da Vinci draws the human body

His study of human anatomy led eventually to the design of the first known robot in recorded history. The design, which has come to be called Leonardo's robot, was probably made around the year 1495 but was rediscovered only in the 1950s. It is not known if an attempt was made to build the device.

Being fascinated by the phenomenon of flight, he produced detailed studies of the flight of birds, and plans for several flying machines, including a helicopter powered by four men (which would not have worked since it would have rotated) and a light hang-glider which could have flown. On January 3, 1496 he unsuccessfully tested a flying machine he had constructed.

In 1502 Leonardo da Vinci produced a drawing of a single span 720-foot (240 m) bridge as part of a civil engineering project for Sultan Beyazid II of Constantinople. The bridge was intended to span an inlet at the mouth of the Bosphorus known as the Golden Horn. It was never built, but Leonardo'2001" title ="2001">2001 when a smaller bridge based on his design was constructed in Norway.

His notebooks also contain several inventions in the military field: machine guns, an armored tank powered by humans or horses (details [7]), cluster bombs, etc. even though he later held war to be the worst of human activities. Other inventions include a submarine, a cog-wheeled device that has been interpreted as the first mechanical calculator, and a car powered by a spring mechanism. In his years in the Vatican, he planned an industrial use of solar power, by employing concave mirrors to heat water.

In astronomy, Leonardo believed that the Sun and Moon revolved around the Earth, and that the Moon reflects the sun's light due to its being covered by water.

Leonardo did not publish or otherwise distribute the contents of his notebooks. Most scholars believe that Leonardo wanted to publish his notebooks and make his observations public knowledge. They remained obscure until the 19th century, and were not directly of value to the development of science and technology.

While most of Leonardo's inventions were not realized, many were technologically feasible as it was demonstrated recently, e.g. his tank [8].

In fiction

With the genius and legacy of Leonardo da Vinci having captivated authors and scholars generations after his death, the following examples of "Da Vinci fiction" can be found in culture and literature.

  • In the Star Trek: Original Series episode "Requiem for Methuselah", Leonardo da Vinci is revealed to be one of many aliases to "Flint", an immortal man born in the year 3834 BC. Leonardo'Star_Trek_Voyager" title ="Star Trek Voyager">Star Trek Voyager, where his workshop is created as a holographic simulation. Actor James Daly played Flint / Leonardo in Star Trek: The Original Series, while John Rhys-Davies portrayed Leonardo in Star Trek Voyager.
  • Theodore Mathieson's short story "Leonardo Da Vinci: Detective", portrays him as using his genius to solve a murder, during his time in France.
  • The novel Pasquale's Angel by Paul McAuley, set in an alternate universe Florence, portrays Leonardo as "the Great Engineer", creating a premature industrial revolution (see clockpunk).
  • The novel The Memory Cathedral by Jack Dann is a fictional account of a "lost year" in the life of Leonardo. Dann has his genius protagonist actually create his flying machine.
  • The DC Comics Elseworlds story Black Masterpiece, in Batman Annual #18 shows Leonardo's apprentice becoming a Renaissance Batman, using the Master's devices in his war on Florentine crime.
  • Terry Pratchett'Leonard_of_Quirm" title ="Leonard of Quirm">Leonard of Quirm is a pastiche of Leonardo.
  • The Dargaud cartoon character Leonardo by Turk and de Groot.
  • Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code revolves around a conspiracy which is hinted at in Leonardo's Last Supper.
  • Leonardo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was named after Leonardo da Vinci.
  • The movie Ever After from 1998 starring Drew Barrymore and Patrick Godfrey as Leonardo da Vinci.
  • In the J.J. Abrams ALIAS TV series there is a character named Milo Rambaldi based on the work and life of Leonardo.
  • The movie Hudson Hawk starring Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello revolves around Leonardo Da Vinci's inventions.
  • Peter Barnes's Leonardo's Last Supper centers on Leonardo being "resurrected" in a filthy charnel-house after being prematurely declared dead.

Further reading

  • The 100, Michael H. Hart, Carol Publishing Group, July 1992, paperback, 576 pages, ISBN 0806513500

See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Leonardo da Vinci.

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