Leonardo Da Vinci


Leonardo Da Vinci lived from 1452 to 1519. He was a polymath; a painter, sculptor, architect, scientist, engineer, writer, anatomist. As an autodidact he taught himself a diverse range of subjects and skills. He was the archetypal Renaissance man with a curiosity that couldn’t be sated and a powerful and inventive imagination- many of his inventions were beyond the technological prowess of his time but later came to fruition, early sketches of a proto-helicopter for instance.

Primarily known as a painter- his works include the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. His sketches of the Vitruvian Man is a cultural icon; appearing on currency, in textbooks and on clothing.

Leonardo’s youth was spent in Florence which was at theme the centre of Christian Humanist thought and culture. In the TV show Silicon Valley the head of a large company states that Silicon Valley is Florence during the Renaissance. A useful comparison for the innovation and knowledge. Renaissance Humanism saw no reason why the sciences and the arts should be separated. Leonardo’s scientific and engineering studies are as impressive and innovative as his artistic work. Both were groundbreaking coming from a time of much intellectual and cultural repression- the Middle Ages.

Da Vinci was a vegetarian. He was known to purchase caged birds in order to set them free. His sexuality has been subject to satire and debate for centuries. When he was 24, in 1476, Leonardo and three other young men were charged with sodomy in an incident along with a known male prostitute. Speculation exists that one of the accused was Lionardo de Tornabuoni a relation of Lorenzo de’ Medici- the Medici family being those addressed in Machiavelli’s The Prince- who was able to exert influence to have the case dismissed.

Observation was Leonardo’s approach to science. He wanted to understand something by describing and depicting it with as much detail as possible- he was not interested in experiments or theoretical explanations. As he lacked a formal education many of his contemporary scholars ignored him as a scientist.

Leonardo wrote most of his notes in mirror-image cursive- standard writing was only used if he intended to share the text with a wider audience. Several reasons have been suggested- writing left handed from left to right would smudge the ink or as an early form of cypher; we can only speculate.

Bill Gates owns the Codex Leicester, a collection of notes and journals, they are displayed once a year in a different city somewhere in the world. Leonardo is clearly an inspiration to many inspirational figures and one of the greatest humans to ever live.

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