A retrospective: Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, was born in a Tuscan town called Vinci, Italy, in the republic of Florence. He was born into a wealthy legal family, and at the time they didn’t use surnames and da Vinci literally means ‘of Vinci’, and his full name means ‘Leonardo, (son) of ser Piero from Vinci’. Little did his family know that his knowledge would become endless, and he was noted as being educated in science, mathematics, engineering, astronomy, botany, cartography, palaeontology, and he became a skilled inventor who became prominent in the Italian Humanist Renaissance.

Not too much is recorded about Leonardo’s early life, but at 14 his family moved to Florence and he started work in the studio of famed artist and sculpture, Andrea del Verrocchio, as a studio boy, and at aged 17 he became his apprentice. He remained an apprentice for 7 years, and trained along side many other future painters who all learned various skills like mechanics, casting, and artistic procedures ie: painting.

In 1482, Leonardo moved to the city of Milan (Milano), in the region of Lombardia, northern Italy. Milan is the most cultural, commercial and prosperous city for fashion, manufacturing and style/design, so it’s no surprise that Leonardo headed there. Many Italians of the time considered Milan as the most important city in Italy, and disregarded Rome, despite its historical and prestigious presence. Leonardo found himself working for the city’s duke, Ludovico Sforza, who was renowned for being one of the most ruthless princes in Italy’s history. He remained in Milan for 17 years as the palace’s ‘pictor et ingeniarius ducalis‘ (painter and engineer of the duke), where he was involved in many projects from art to consultancy in the service of the Duke. When the Duke’s inevitable fall of power came about, Leonardo decided to visit Venice with mathematician Lucas Pacioli, before finally returning to Florence to a warm welcome.

“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.” – Leonardo da Vinci

As well as being an incredibly skilled artist, and sculpture, Leonardo was obsessed with flight, and this was evident in his visions, from his design of the early helicopter (Helical aerial screw), which took over 500 years to come to fruition, to his most famous invention of all, the (‘flying machineOrnithopter) and the safety aspect of that, the parachute. He’d obviously figured out that what goes up, must inevitably come down, and not always the way in which flight is planned.

Leonardo was hundreds of years ahead of his peers, and it makes you wonder what he’d have been capable of if he lived in more modern times, as the 15th century was clearly way too underdeveloped for him. Most of his designs never saw production, but his imagination and innovation inspired the future like no other inventor in history. He designed the very first robot, the first diving equipment, the first machine gun, the giant crossbow, the armoured tank, and hydropowered engines. He was highly skilled in mechanics and heoutlined the principles of friction over 150 years before the French scientist, Guillaume Amontons, created ‘Amonton‘s Law. He designed a machine to accurately measure wind speed (anemometer), and he designed the first hydraulic system, that would be utilised at Mills. He also created the first ‘flat-pack’ revolving bridge, for Duke Sforza, where it could be constructed, troops could cross rivers, then it could be quickly dismantled, and transported to another located to be reused, which was a huge innovation for warfare.

In modern times, Leonardo‘s legacy has been heavily examined and through the advancement of technology, and lighter, robust materials being created, scientists have attempted to create some of his designs that were found in his manuscripts.

In 1942 he drew perhaps one of the most famous and iconic pictures ever created, the ‘Vitruvian Man‘. It’s based on Roman’s architect Vitruvius, and represents the ‘perfect man‘.

• four fingers equal one palm

• four palms equal one foot

• six palms make one cubit

• four cubits equal a man’s height

• four cubits equal one pace

• 24 palms equal one man Source

As well as his inventions, medical and anatomy expertise, cartography skills, and his awareness of the scale of the planet, and that it was heliocentric and not geocentric like society believed (despite never making his knowledge public during his life, due to the power of the Catholic Church, and the inevitable claim of heresy if he announced his claims), he was also an extremely skilled artist and sculpture. Perhaps one of the most famous paintings ever created is the Mona Lisa. I wasn’t going to bring this up as it’s so obvious and it’s always overshadowed everything else he did, but how can you write a retrospective of Da Vinci without mentioning the Mona Lisa?

The Mona Lisa is on permanent display at the Louvre in Paris, and in 1962 it was insured for $100,000,000. The way that inflation of currency works, it had an estimated value of $2,500,000,000 in 2014, making it easily the most valuable piece of artwork in history.

Due to his rigorous study of human anatomy he came to the conclusion that humans and monkeys were ‘almost of the same species’. He teaches this conclusion over 350 years before the Victorian, Charles Darwin, wrote ‘Origin of the Species‘. Some could argue that he came to this conclusion because of the similarity, but with being an expert on anatomy it seems more than just assumption.

The description of man, which includes that of such creatures as are almost of the same species, as Apes, Monkeys and the like, which are many” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo died at Château du Clos Lucé in 1519, at just aged 67. Historians are confident that his death was due to a stroke, and he was known to have kept up his scientific studies until his last moments. His estate, and belongings were passed over to his assistant, Melzi; Mona Lisa was given to one of Leonardo’s disciples, Gian Giacomo Caprotti (nicknamed Salai Little Devil‘).