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Leonardo da Vinci

Francesco Melzi - Portrait of Leonardo - WGA14795

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian genius whose areas of interest included invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, mathematics, engineering, science, music, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. He is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time, although fewer than two-dozen paintings attributed to him exist. The reason he did not paint more was that his interests were so vast and varied that he wasn’t a prolific painter. Centuries after his death, thousands of pages from his private journals with notes, drawings, observations and scientific theories have been studied and provided a greater appreciation for this remarkable “Renaissance Humanist”.

Leonardo was born out of wedlock to a wealthy notary and a peasant woman in Vinci in the region of Florence, and he was educated in the studio of Florentine painter Andrea del Verrocchio. Much of his earlier working life was spent in the service of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna, and Venice, and he spent his last years in France at the home awarded to him by Francis I of France.

The Mona Lisa is his most famous artwork, and The Last Supper is the most reproduced religious painting of all time. His drawing of the Vitruvian Man is also regarded as a cultural icon. About 15 of his paintings have survived plus 6,000 pages in notebooks with his musings, inspirations, plans and inventions during his lifetime. Leonardo was a technological genius; he conceptualised flying machines, armoured fighting vehicles, concentrated solar power and an adding machine. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or even possible during his lifetime, as the modern metallurgy and engineering were only in their infancy during the Renaissance. He made substantial discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, geology, optics, and hydrodynamics, unfortunately, he did not publish his findings, and so they had no direct influence on later science.

Francois I recoit les derniers soupirs de Leonard de Vinci by Ingres

Francis I of France receiving the last breath of Leonardo da Vinci, by Ingres, 1818

Leonardo da Vinci

Facts about Leonardo da Vinci

  • Da Vinci was born illegitimate. Born out-of-wedlock, the son of the wealthy Florentine legal notary, and a peasant mother. Da Vinci’s parents never married each other. The young da Vinci lived with his mother until he was about five years old and later moved into the home of his father, who had married another woman.
  • Florentine court records of 1476 show that Leonardo and three other young men were charged with sodomy but acquitted; homosexual acts were illegal in Renaissance Florence.
  • Da Vinci spent 12 years working on a 16-foot statue of the Duke of Milan’s father on horseback. Unfortunately, before he completed it, French forces invaded Milan in 1499 and shot the clay sculpture, shattering it into pieces.
  • Da Vinci under the patronage of the Duke of Milan designed numerous “war devices”, included in da Vinci’s sketchbooks there were plans for cannons, smoke machines, portable bridges, armoured vehicles and flying machines. However, there is no evidence that any of these war machines were ever constructed.
  • da Vinci was fascinated by human anatomy, in the 1480s, he performed numerous dissections of both humans and animals. His depictions of the heart, vascular system, genitals, and other human and animal anatomy are some of the first accurate and detailed illustrations on record.
  • Da Vinci was ambidextrous; he could draw forward and backwards with opposing hands simultaneously. Some historians claim that the many backwards-written texts in da Vinci’s papers as the artist’s effort to encode his ideas against theft. However, others speculate that when writing with his left hand, da Vinci reversed direction as a means of avoiding the smears of the wet ink, charcoal or chalk he was using.
  • Leonardo’s depiction of the Last Supper was nearly destroyed on several occasions. When France invaded Milan in 1499, King Louis discussed options for cutting it down from the wall so that he could bring it home to France with him. In 1796, French soldiers hurling rocks at it. And in 1943, when Allied forces bombed the area, the church was destroyed, but The Last Supper survived behind reinforced protection barriers.
  • Leonardo’s 72-page notebooks collection, titled The Codex Hammer, were compiled from 1506 to 1510 while Leonardo was in both Florence and Milan and contain thoughts and ideas on a range of subjects from art theory to why the sky appears blue. Microsoft founder Bill Gates purchased the Codex for $30.8 million in 1994.
  • Da Vinci produced more than 6,000 pages of musings, inspirations and invention plans during his lifetime. His inventions include an underwater breathing apparatus, a life preserver, a diving bell, submarine, a pile driver, the armoured car, a revolving crane, a parachute, a pulley, water-powered mills and engines.
  • Da Vinci and Michelangelo were artistic rivals. Michelangelo taunted Leonardo on his complete works. Leonardo needling Michelangelo for the exaggerated musculature in his sculptures.
  • Leonardo was prolific, but left many works abandoned or incomplete, including the Mona Lisa. When Leonardo died in 1519, the Mona Lisa was unfinished.
  • Leonardo’s remains were originally interred in the chapel of Saint-Florentin at the Chateau d’Amboise in the Loire Valley. However, after the chapel’s destruction in 1802, the whereabouts of Leonardo’s remains became subject to dispute.
  • Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and Pablo Picasso was initially arrested as a suspect.

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Quotes by Leonardo da Vinci

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“Learning never exhausts the mind.”

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“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.”

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“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.”

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“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

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“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

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“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

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“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

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“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.”

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“I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. It is the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.”

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“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions”

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“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”

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“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

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“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

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Explore Quotes

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“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

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Photo Credit 1)Francesco Melzi [Public domain] 2) Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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