Leonardo Da Vinci

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Leonardo da Vinci's self-portrait


Who was Leonardo Da Vinci:

Leonardo da Vinci was a great painter, sculptor, architect, musician, engineer, inventor, and scientist. He is most likely the epitome of the RENAISSANCE man. He was the output of that extraordinary period of human history which was the Italian Renaissance, a period of great cultural advances and of great projects. He may be called as a man of "both" worlds as he found a plane of thought that encompassed both the world of art along with the world of the sciences.

Leonardo was and is best known as an artist, the creator of such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Yet he was far more than a great artist: he had one of the best scientific minds of his time. He made painstaking observations and carried out research in fields ranging from architecture and engineering to astronomy to anatomy and zoology to geography, geology and paleontology. In the words of his biographer Giorgio Vasari:

"The most heavenly gifts seem to be showered on certain human beings. Sometimes supernaturally, marvelously, they all congregate in one individual . . . This was seen and acknowledged by all men in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, who had an indescribable grace in every effortless act and deed. His talent was so rare that he mastered any subject to which he turned his attention . . . He might have been a scientist if he had not been so versatile."

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Vitruvian Man 1492

He had a keen eye and quick mind that led him to make important scientific discoveries, yet he never published his ideas. He was a gentle vegetarian who loved animals and despised war, yet he worked as a military engineer to invent advanced and deadly weapons.  He was one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance, yet he left only a handful of completed paintings.

There were many instances where Leonardo was commissioned by the government to design elaborate state buildings or churches or to conceive of new weaponry that if ever utilized would have taken the enemy by great surprise. Not only was he a great inventor, he was one of the greatest scientific minds ever to have lived.

Da Vinci's sketchbook, overall, showed extreme genius. His sketches covered a spectrum of topics including life studies, science, and architecture. All of his notes are written backwards in his notebook so that only someone intelligent enough to realize it could read it. His sketches are still studied and marveled today.

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Life History:

It was the period of the Renaissance when Leonardo da Vinci was born on 15th April 1452. Leonardo was born probably in this farmhouse in Anchiano, which is 3 km away from Vinci. He was an illegitimate son of his a peasant woman, Catherina and Ser Piero da Vinci, who was a 25 years old public notary when Leonardo was born. Leonardo was christened from the parson Piero da Bartolomeo to the name "Lionardo" and not "Leonardo". Leonardo lived probably in Anchiano for five years until 1457 when he moved to his grandfather to Vinci and settled there. From this time he was member of his fathers family, but he was never legitimated.

He was educated in his father's house receiving the usual elementary education of reading, writing and arithmetic in school. His teachers were despaired about all his questions and doubts. Besides elementary education, he was also taught in geometry and Latin. Later Leonardo tried to improve his knowledge in Latin, because he thought that he didn't learn enough at school in Latin. Perhaps this is the reason why Leonardo did his notes in Italian. Leonardo lived in Vinci until 1466. With the age of 14 Leonardo moved to Florence where he began an apprenticeship in the workshop of Verrocchio in 1466.

Verrocchio was at this time the most gifted artist in Florence. He was a sculptor, painter, goldsmith, bronze caster and more. Verrocchio had much influence on Leonardo. He was fascinated by the drawings of the young Leonardo and so gave him a place in his workshop. Leonardo worked at his workshop with some other famous artists like Botticelli, Perugino and Lorenzo di Credi.

Leonardo started his apprenticeship with the mixing of colors and then he painted simple parts of paintings. There are no works of Leonardo known between 1466 and 1472, but Leonardo taught himself to paint in oils at this time. This art practice was developed by dutch artists.

The first known and dated work of Leonardo da Vinci is a pen-and-ink drawing of the Arnovalley. Leonardo drew it on 5th August 1473.  It shows the ingenious mind of Leonardo, because he drew the landscape in a way that it could be real. Nobody else before did it in this way.

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Between 1482 and 1499 Leonardo was in the service of the Duke of Milan. He was described in a list of the Duke's staff as "a painter and engineer of the duke." As well as completing six paintings during his time in the Duke's service he also advised on architecture, fortifications and military matters. He was also considered as a hydraulic and mechanical engineer.

In 1499 the French armies entered Milan and the Duke was defeated. Some months later Leonardo left Milan together with Pacioli. He travelled to Mantua, Venice and finally reached Florence. Although he was under constant pressure to paint, mathematical studies kept him away from his painting activity much of the time. He was for a time employed by Cesare Borgia as a "senior military architect and general engineer."

By 1503 he was back in Florence advising on the project to divert the River Arno behind Pisa to help with the siege of the city that the Florentines were engaged in. He then produced plans for a canal to allow Florence access to the sea. The canal was never built nor was the River Arno diverted.

In 1506 Leonardo returned for a second period in Milan. Again his scientific work took precedence over his painting and he was involved in hydrodynamics, anatomy, mechanics, mathematics and optics.

In 1513 the French were removed from Milan and Leonardo moved again, this time to Rome. However he seems to have led a lonely life in Rome again more devoted to mathematical studies and technical experiments in his studio than to painting. After three years of unhappiness Leonardo accepted an invitation from King Francis I to enter his service in France, who maintained extraordinary admiration for him. The French King gave Leonardo the title of  "first painter, architect, and mechanic of the King."

Leonardo da Vinci passed away in 1519 while under the care of, Francis I. Da Vinci, to this day, remains one of the greatest people to ever have shadowed this earth and a great man of the arts and the sciences.



Leonardo's scientific and technical observations are found in his handwritten manuscripts, of which over 4000 pages survive. It seems that Leonardo planned to publish them as a great encyclopedia of knowledge, but like many of his projects, this one was never finished. The manuscripts are difficult to read: not only did Leonardo write in mirror-image script from right to left, but he used peculiar spellings and abbreviations, and his notes are not arranged in any logical order. After his death his notes were scattered to libraries and collections all over Europe. While portions of Leonardo's technical treatises on painting were published as early as 1651, the scope and caliber of much of his scientific work remained unknown until the 19th century. Yet his observations and theories foreshadow many later breakthroughs.

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Leonardo wrote in Italian using a special kind of shorthand that he invented himself. People who study his notebooks have long been puzzled by something else, however. He usually used "mirror writing", starting at the right side of the page and moving to the left. Only when he was writing something intended for other people did he write in the normal direction.

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People who were contemporaries of Leonardo left records that they saw him write and paint left handed. He also made sketches showing his own left hand at work. Being a lefty was highly unusual in Leonardo's time. Because people were superstitious, children who naturally started using their left hands to write and draw were forced to use their right hands. On the left is a picture of his name as he usually wrote it.



Leonardo da Vinci trained as a painter during the Renaissance and became a true master of the craft. His amazing powers of observation and skill as an illustrator enabled him to notice and recreate the effects he saw in nature, and added a special liveliness to his portraits. His Last Supper (1495-97) and Mona Lisa (1503-06) are among the most widely popular and influential paintings of the Renaissance. Curious as well as observant, he constantly tried to explain what he saw, and described many experiments to test his ideas. Because he wrote down and sketched so many of his observations in his notebooks, we know that he was among the very first to take a scientific approach towards understanding how our world works and how we see it. His notebooks reveal a spirit of scientific inquiry and a mechanical inventiveness that were centuries ahead of his time.

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The Last Supper (1498); Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie (Refectory), Milan

Leonardo recognized that one way to paint scenes realistically was to observe with great care how animals, people, and landscapes really looked. He was also careful to notice the differences in how an object looked when it was close by and when it was farther away, and when it was seen in bright light and in dim light. He turned his attention to nature during long walks. He wrote detailed notes on his observations and made sketches of the things he saw in his notebooks throughout his life.


Mona Lisa:

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Portrait of Mona Lisa (1479-1528), also known as La Gioconda, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo; 1503-06, Musee du Louvre, Paris

This figure of a woman, whose name was Mona Lisa and who is dressed in the Florentine fashion and seated in a visionary, mountainous landscape, is a remarkable instance of Leonardo's technique of soft, shaded modeling. The Mona Lisa's enigmatic and mysterious expression, which seems both alluring and aloof, has given the portrait universal fame. From the beginning it was greatly admired and much copied, and it came to be considered the prototype of the Renaissance portrait. It became even more famous in 1911, when it was stolen from the Salon Carré in the Louvre, being rediscovered in a hotel in Florence two years later. Mona Lisa has that slight smile which enters into the gentle, delicate atmosphere pervading the whole painting.

Like a living being, she seems to change before one's eyes and to look a little different every time one comes back to her. Any facial expression rests mainly in two features: the corners of the mouth, and the corners of the eyes. Now it is precisely these parts that Leonardo has left deliberately indistinct, by letting them merge into a soft shadow. That is why the mood Mona Lisa is really looking    at the observer is never quite certain. There is also something else that can be observed if one looks carefully at the picture, the two sides of it do not quite match. This is most obvious in the fantastic dream landscape in the background. The horizon on the left side seems to lie much lower than the one on the right. Consequently, when we focus on the left side of the picture, the woman looks somehow taller or more erect than if we focus on the right side. And her face, too, seems to change with this change of position, because, even here, the two sides do not quite match. This is a very daring thing, which perhaps only a painter of Leonardo's consummate mastery could risk. Leonardo could be as painstaking as any of his forerunners in the patient observation of nature. Long ago, in the distant past, people had looked at portraits with awe, because they had thought that in preserving the likeness the artist could somehow preserve the soul of the person he portrayed. Now the great scientist, Leonardo, had made some of the dreams and fears of these first image-makers come true. He knew the spell that would infuse life into the colors spread by his magic brush.

Leonardo started to work at this painting in 1503. At this time Mona Lisa was twenty-four year old. He worked at the portrait for the next four years. When Leonardo left Florence in 1507 he did not sell the painting to the orderer but he kept it for himself. Several believe, that Leonardo did not hand over the painting, because he did not finish the work, other believe that Leonardo loved the painting to much.



Leonardo Da Vinci, although holding a true gift in the area of art, also held a strong mind in the area of science and invention. Da Vinci was way before his time; he laid down the basis of many future scientific experiments, and creations. Some of his most popular designs are those of the first airplane and various military warfare.

Leonardo's fascination with machines probably began during his boyhood. Some of his earliest sketches clearly show how various machine parts worked. As an apprentice in the studio of the artist Verrocchio, Leonardo observed and used a variety of machines. By studying them he gained practical knowledge about their design and structure.

Many ancient machines were in common use in Leonardo's time. For example, water wheels turned millstones to grind grain and Archimedes' screws lifted water from streams providing a ready supply for drinking and washing. Artists and craftsmen in Leonardo's time knew how to build and repair the familiar kinds of machines. The idea of inventing new kinds of machines, however, would not have occurred to them.

Leonardo developed a unique new attitude about machines. He reasoned that by understanding how each separate machine part worked, he could modify them and combine them in different ways to improve existing machines or create inventions no one had ever seen before. Leonardo set out to write the first systematic explanations of how machines work and how the elements of machines can be combined. His tremendous talents as a illustrator allowed him to draw his mechanical ideas with exceptional clarity. Five hundred years after they were put on paper, many of his sketches can easily be used as blueprints to create perfect working models. Leonardo described and sketched ideas for many inventions hundreds of years ahead of their time and his machine designs could be broadly classified into areas of War Machines, Flying Machines, Work Machines and Water and Land Machines. But very few of these were ever built and tested during his life.

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Between 1482 and 1499, when Leonardo was in the service of the Duke of Milan, he became interested in geometry. He read Leon Battista Alberti's books on architecture and Piero della Francesca's "On Perspective in Painting". He illustrated Pacioli's "Divina proportione" and continued to work with Pacioli and is reported to have neglected his painting because he became so engrossed in geometry. Leonardo studied Euclid and Pacioli's "Suma" and began his own geometry research, sometimes giving mechanical solutions. He gave several methods of squaring the circle, again using mechanical methods. He wrote a book, around this time, on the elementary theory of mechanics, which appeared in Milan around 1498.

Leonardo certainly realised the possibility of constructing a telescope and thought of "making glasses to see the Moon enlarged." In some of his books, he said that "in order to observe the nature of the planets, open the roof and bring the image of a single planet onto the base of a concave mirror. The image of the planet reflected by the base will show the surface of the planet much magnified." Leonardo's ideas about the Universe were very novel for his time. He understood the fact that the Moon shone with reflected light from the Sun and he correctly explained the 'old Moon in the new Moon's arms' as the Moon's surface illuminated by light reflected from the Earth. He thought of the Moon as being similar to the Earth with seas and areas of solid ground.



It may seem unusual to include Leonardo da Vinci in a list of paleontologists and evolutionary biologists but there are a massive number of observations and experiments that were executed and recorded in his sketches. Leonardo, before his death, had completed many anatomical studies. There are elaborate, detailed drawings of bone and muscle structure, organ-system observations, and reproductive studies. The cadavers he used in these observations were often stolen from a nearby morgue. Many of Da Vinci's drawings of the human body helped doctors to understand completely the layout of the muscle and bone structures.

Leonardo Da Vinci's sketches helped our world in many ways. One, his scientific studies were recorded in his sketchbook, and provided much information on flight, as well as other scientific areas. Second, Da Vinci created excellent in-depth drawings of the human body, which helped doctor's and surgeons perform better during surgery. Finally, Da Vinci's study on building shapes and designs showed ideas on how to build for maximum space with limited supplies.

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Leonardo knew well the rocks and fossils (mostly Cenozoic mollusks) found in his native north Italy. Vasari wrote that "Leonardo was frequently occupied in the preparation of plans to remove mountains or to pierce them with tunnels from plain to plain." He made many observations on mountains and rivers, and he grasped the principle that rocks can be formed by deposition of sediments by water, while at the same time the rivers erode rocks and carry their sediments to the sea, in a continuous grand cycle. He wrote: "The stratified stones of the mountains are all layers of clay, deposited one above the other by the various floods of the rivers. . . In every concavity at the summit of the mountains we shall always find the divisions of strata in the rocks." Leonardo appears to have grasped the law of superposition: in any sequence of sedimentary rocks, the oldest rocks are those at the base. He also appears to have noticed that distinct layers of rocks and fossils could be traced over long distances, and that these layers were formed at different times: ". . . the shells in Lombardy are at four levels, and thus it is everywhere, having been made at various times."

In Leonardo's day there were several hypotheses of how it was that shells and other living creatures were found in rocks on the tops of mountans. Some believed the shells to have been carried there by the Biblical Flood; others thought that these shells had grown in the rocks. Leonardo had no patience with either hypothesis, and refuted both using his careful observations. Concerning the second hypothesis, he wrote that "such an opinion cannot exist in a brain of much reason; because here are the years of their growth, numbered on their shells, and there are large and small ones to be seen which could not have grown without food, and could not have fed without motion -- and here they could not move." There was every sign that these shells had once been living organisms.

What about the Great Flood mentioned in the Bible? Leonardo doubted the existence of a single worldwide flood, noting that there would have been no place for the water to go when it receded. He also noted that "if the shells had been carried by the muddy deluge they would have been mixed up, and separated from each other amidst the mud, and not in regular steps and layers -- as we see them now in our time." He noted that rain falling on mountains rushed downhill, not uphill, and suggested that any Great Flood would have carried fossils away from the land, not towards it. He described sessile fossils such as oysters and corals, and considered it impossible that one flood could have carried them 300 miles inland, or that they could have crawled 300 miles in the forty days and nights of the Biblical flood.

How did those shells come to lie at the tops of mountains? Leonardo's answer was remarkably close to the modern one: fossils were once-living organisms that had been buried at a time before the mountains were raised: "it must be presumed that in those places there were sea coasts, where all the shells were thrown up, broken, and divided. . ." Where there is now land, there was once ocean." It was possible, Leonardo thought, that some fossils were buried by floods -- this idea probably came from his observations of the floods of the Arno River and other rivers of north Italy -- but these floods had been repeated, local catastrophes, not a single Great Flood. To Leonardo da Vinci, as to modern paleontologists, fossils indicated the history of the Earth, which extends far beyond human records. As Leonardo himself wrote:

Since things are much more ancient than letters, it is no marvel if, in our day, no records exist of these seas having covered so many countries. . . But sufficient for us is the testimony of things created in the salt waters, and found again in high mountains far from the seas.



As Leonardo was attracted by classical forms, he designed structures to make several centrally-planned churches, with architectural symmetries obtained by means of intricate structures of apses, niches, chapels or porticoes. His notes contain many references to architecture, especially plans for cathedrals. His studies in this area commenced with the examination of various tools and instruments for building. This then progressed into an area never before studied that of the varying strengths of pillars, beams, and arches. Some of his sketches are particularly interesting as they are quite ambitious with enormous domes, chapels, four-way staircases, double spiral staircases, or multi-level thoroughfares for pedestrians and commercial traffic. All those monuments were never built. All plans destined never to be constructed.

He also undertook studies of cities, notably Milan and of the problem of reclaiming its buildings. In his architectural work Leonardo went so far as to present a plan for the "ideal city", a city planned according to a concept of unity and he went on to draw various details to this end. The ideal city could have risen, on condition that such details were collected together on the site indicated by Leonardo, near a large river whose waters could have been the solution to many of the city's problems.. This would have required the total rebuilding of Milan and, not surprisingly, nothing more ever came of it. Little ever came of Leonardo's drawings and plans in the area of architecture. He also submitted a model for the central tower of the Milan Cathedral.


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A creator in all branches of art, a discoverer in most branches of science, and an inventor in branches of technology,

Leonardo deserves, perhaps more than anyone,the title of -

"Homo Universalis", THE UNIVERSAL MAN !!!.