The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, Salvador Mundi - we’ve heard of the brilliant man behind these priceless works of art - Leonardo da Vinci.
Da Vinci is considered as one of the greatest painters in the history of mankind, but what really makes the man interesting is that that he was so much more than a master painter - a mathematician, scientist, engineer, and even an architect - and today, we’re going to scratch the surface and tell you a little about one of the most brilliant minds to have lived on earth.
Lets start with his early life:
Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452, in a town called Vinci in Tuscany, Italy. He was given the name Lionardo de ser Pierdo da Vinci, which translates to Leonardo, (son) of ser Piero from Vinci.
As a child, Vinci took keen interest in learning Latin, geometry, mathematics.
In the mid-1460’s, the family decided to move to Florence- an Italian city with a rich and thriving art and culture. Here Vinci joined Verrocchio, an Italian painter and sculptor as a studio boy. He trained under Verrocchio for 7 years and learnt chemistry, metal working, mechanics, wood-work, and several artistic skills - all which he would make extensive use of in the years to come.
In 1478, young Leonardo was independently commissioned to paint an altarpiece for a chapel - the Chapel of St. Bernard, and this symbolised his individual identity, separate from Verrocchio’s workshop.
Four years later, Leonardo moved to Milan- a city where is spent most of his adult life. This is where he painted two of his many iconic paintings - Virgin of the Rocks, and The Last Supper.
In 1502, he began to work for the son of Pope Alexander VI, and here, he worked as a military architect and engineer.
A year later, he began working on his most famous painting, the stunning Mona Lisa, on which he worked on for four years but he never considered it finished. Although he may have had plans to work on it later, but his right hand became paralytic in 1517, ending any hope of doing so. Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519 of possibly a stroke.
Francis I, then King of France said, "There had never been another man born in the world who knew as much as Leonardo, not so much about painting, sculpture and architecture, as that he was a great philosopher.” He said this for good reason - and let’s explore why:
He Was a Great Engineer
Leonardo was a groundbreaking engineer, and several of his inventions are vital to our world today. Let’s start with something we all use, on almost a daily basis - scissors! Imagine a world without them. While rudimentary scissors may have existed in ancient Egypt and ancient Rome, da Vinci contributed to a new and improved design.
He also envisioned the first parachute in the 15th century. Although he wasn’t able to actually create one because of the constraints of the time, his designs for this amazing innovation led to its materialization in 1783, because of which we can (sometimes) jump from the sky without dying. Just imagine – a man living in an age where man flying didn’t exist, creating the first designs of a parachute – if that’s not ahead of its time, we don’t know what is.
His designs also included the first concepts for helicopters, diving suits, cranes, and several weapons of war - these designs were extremely ahead of their times and may not have existed if it were not for him.
Although several of his designs may not have been practical or realistic, many of them were groundbreaking in the future. In fact, his ideas on flight are still researched today.
His Use of Mathematics in Art Was Groundbreaking
Although we know him best as an artistic genius, Leonardo believed he was more of a scientist than an artist. His use of linear perspective (parallel lines, vanishing points), symmetry, and proportions were far ahead of their times, and were used by him to add the illusion of depth in his paintings. In The Last Supper, for example, the lines of the architecture of the building, as well as those on the floor, create a vanishing point. In fact, he was one of the first people to do so, and this had a profound impact on his future artwork.
He Was a Critical Figure in the Renaissance
Leonardo was a vital figure in the Renaissance, during which there was a re-birth of learning, promotion of scientific thought and rationality, and a move to a secular view of the world – in other words, people finally started realising that the Church shouldn’t have control over every aspect of their lives and minds. His explorations of science, engineering, painting, biology, and humanism impacted several fields of study during the Renaissance. His intrigue of human bodies led to him dissecting approximately thirty bodies. Through these studies, he was able to create the first accurate drawing of the human spine, as well as of a foetus, amongst several others. However, his studies were limited by the Church, which strongly opposed them. If they had been published though, they, being so ahead of their times, would have made a major contribution to medical science.
Influence on Art
The last but not the least - everyone’s favourite, his artwork. The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, Salvator Mundi, Annunciation - the list goes on. Besides simply creating these awesome pieces, he also did several unprecedented things in his art. Leonardo da Vinci invented a technique which softened colours in his paintings by using a dark glaze, lending a slightly hazy feel to objects. He was also one of the few artists who was able to capture the use of light and shadow in his paintings to impart 2D objects with a 3D illusion - in his time, this was a major innovation.
Leonardo was also known as a master procrastinator. Vinci spent 25 years finishing the “Virgin on the Rocks.” The “Mona Lisa,” was never finished. Despite living till the age of 67, he completed only 15 paintings and a handful of architectural designs.
Today, Leonardo da Vinci is considered by many as one of the smartest people in recorded history - his ideas, although some impractical, were completely brilliant and ahead of their times. In fact, according to Bill Gates, Leonardo da Vinci’s innovative, imaginative way of thinking is a “lost art” these days. Gates spent a whopping $30.8 million dollars in 1994 to buy Leonardo da Vinci’s diary “Codex Leicester” — making it one of the most expensive books ever sold. Check out this CNBC article.
But what was his way of thinking? In my opinion, what separated him from those before as well as after him was his curiosity, and his drive to understand the world around him. He was a genius and pioneer in every field he explored, and his profound impact on the world over half a millennia later can still be felt.