Leonardo da Vinci
1452 - 1519 (Italy)
Leonardo da Vinci (April 15, 1452 - May 2, 1519) was a celebrated Italian Renaissance architect, inventor, engineer, sculptor and painter. He has been described as the archetype of the Renaissance Man and as a universal genius. Leonardo is well known for his masterful paintings, such as "The Last Supper" and Mona Lisa. He is also known for his many inventions that were made well before their time but were never published in his lifetime. In addition, he helped advance the study of anatomy, astronomy, and civil engineering.
His life was described in Giorgio Vasari's biography Vite.
Leonardo was born in Vinci, Italy. His father Ser Piero da Vinci was a well-off landowner or craftsman and his mother, Caterina, a peasant girl. It has been suggested that Caterina was a slave of middle eastern origin owned by Piero, but the evidence is scant.
This was before modern naming conventions developed in Europe. Therefore, his full name was "Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci", which means "Leonardo, son of Piero, from Vinci". Leonardo himself simply signed his works "Leonardo" or "Io, Leonardo" ("I, Leonardo"). Most authorities therefore refer to his works as "Leonardos," not "da Vincis." Presumably he did not use his father's name because he was an illegitimate child.
Leonardo grew up with his father in Florence. He was a vegetarian throughout his life. He became an apprentice to painter Andrea del Verrocchio about 1466. Later, he became an independent painter in Florence.
From 1482 to 1499 he worked for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan and maintained his own workshop with apprentices there. Seventy tons of bronze that had been set aside for Leonardo's "Gran Cavallo" horse statue was cast into weapons for the Duke to save Milan from the French under Charles VIII in 1495 - see also Italian Wars.
When the French returned under Louis XIII in 1498, Milan fell without a fight, overthrowing Sforza. Leonardo stayed in Milan for a time, until one morning he found French archers using his life-size clay model for the "Gran Cavallo" for target practice. He left with Salai and his friend (and inventor of double-entry bookkeeping) Luca Pacioli for Mantua, moving on after 2 months for Venice, then moving again to Florence at the end of April 1500.
In Florence he entered the services of Cesare Borgia (also called "Duca Valentino" and son of Pope Alexander VI) as military architect and engineer. In 1506 he returned to Milan, now in the hands of Maximilian Sforza after Swiss mercenaries drove out the French. There he met Francesco Melzi, who would become a close friend and companion until Leonardo's death, and later his heir.
From 1513 to 1516 he lived in Rome, where painters like Raphael and Michelangelo were active at the time; he did not have much contact with these artists, however.
In 1515 Francis I of France retook Milan, and Leonardo was commissioned to make a centrepiece (of a mechanical lion) for the peace talks in Bologna between the French king and Pope Leo X, where he must have first met the king. In 1516, he entered Francis' service, being given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé next to the king's residence at the Royal Chateau at Amboise, and receiving a generous pension. The king became a close friend.
He died in Cloux, France in 1519. According to his wish, 60 beggars followed his casket. He was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the castle of Amboise.
Leonardo appears to never have had intimate relations with women. In 1476 he was anonymously accused of homosexual contact with a 17-year-old model, Jacopo Saltarelli, a notorious prostitute. He was, together with three other young men, charged with homosexual conduct and acquitted because of lack of evidence. For a time Leonardo and the others were under the watchful eye of Florence's "Officers of the Night" - a kind of Renaissance vice squad.
According to Robert Payne, a biographer of Leonardo, believes that he loved women and men equally. Most modern scholars believe that one of Leonardo's lovers was Salai, A.K.A., Gian Giacomo Caprotti. Salai was Leonardo's servant and assistant.
Leonardo is well known for his masterful paintings, such as Last Supper (Ultima Cena or Cenacolo, in Milan), painted in 1498, and Mona Lisa (also known as La Gioconda, now at the Louvre in Paris), painted in 1503-1506. Only seventeen of his paintings, and none of his statues, survive (However, a small sculpture of a house, kept in the Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland, is attributed to him.) Of the remaining paintings, only one is in North America.
Leonardo often planned grand paintings with many drawings and sketches, only to leave the projects unfinished in the end.
In 1481 he was commissioned to paint the altarpiece "The Adoration of the Magi". After grand plans and many drawings, the painting was left unfinished and Leonardo left for Milan.
There he spent many years making plans and models for a monumental 7 metre (24 feet) high horse statue in bronze ("Gran Cavallo"), to be erected in Milan. Because of war with France, the project was never finished. Based on private initiative, a similar statue was completed according to some of his plans in 1999 in New York, given to Milan and erected there.
Back in Florence, he was commissioned for a large public mural Battle of Anghiari; his rival Michelangelo was to paint the opposite wall. After producing a fantastic variety of studies preparing for the work, he left town, the mural unfinished because of technical difficulties.
Science and engineering
Maybe even more impressive than his artistic work are his studies in science and engineering, recorded in notebooks comprising some 13,000 pages of notes and drawings which combine art and science. He was left-handed and used mirror writing throughout his life. The reason he used mirror writing was because he was left handed and it is easier to pull a pen than to push a pen so he just decided to pull his pen.
His approach to science was an observatory one: he tried to understand a phenomenon by describing and depicting it in utmost detail and did not emphasize experiments or theoretical explanations. Throughout his life, he planned a grand encyclopedia based on detailed drawings of everything. Since he lacked formal education in Latin and mathematics, Leonardo the scientist was mostly ignored by contemporary scholars.
He participated in autopsies and produced many extremely detailed anatomical drawings, planning a comprehensive work of human and comparative anatomy. Around the year 1490, he produced a study in his sketchbook of the Canon of Proportions as described in recently rediscovered writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius. The study, called the Vitruvian Man, is one of his most well-known works.
His study of human anatomy led eventually to the design of the first known robot in recorded history. The design, which has come to be called Leonardo's robot, was probably made around the year 1495 but was rediscovered only in the 1950s. It is not known if an attempt was made to build the device.
He was always fascinated by the topic of flight, producing detailed studies of the flight of birds and plans for several flying machines, including a helicopter powered by four men (which would not have worked since it would have rotated) and a light hang-glider which could have flown. On January 3, 1496 he unsuccessfully tested a flying machine he had constructed.
In 1502 Leonardo da Vinci produced a drawing of a single span 720-foot (240 m) bridge as part of a civil engineering project for Sultan Beyazid II of Constantinople. The bridge was intended to span an inlet at the mouth of the Bosphorus known as the Golden Horn. It was never built, but Da Vinci's vision was resurrected in 2001 when a smaller bridge based on his design was constructed in Norway.
His notebook also contain several inventions in the military field: machine guns, an armored tank powered by humans or horses, cluster bombs, etc. even though he later held war to be the worst of human activities. Other inventions include a submarine, a cog-wheeled device that has been interpreted as the first mechanical calculator, and a car powered by a spring mechanism. In his years in the Vatican, he planned an industrial use of solar power, by employing concave mirrors to heat water.
In astronomy, Leonardo believed that the Sun and Moon revolve around the Earth and that the Moon reflects the sun's light because it was covered by water.
Leonardo did not publish or otherwise distribute the contents of his notebooks. Most scholars believe that Leonardo wanted to publish his notebooks and make his observations public knowledge. They remained obscure until the 19th century, and were not directly of value to the development of science and technology until that time. On this basis, L. Sprague de Camp, in his book, The Ancient Engineers, considered Leonardo not the first modern engineer, but "the last of the ancient ones", pointing out that after Leonardo's time the practice of disseminating and publishing scientific discoveries began in earnest.
The Codex Leicester, one of da Vinci's notebooks, was purchased by American entrepreneur Bill Gates for US$30.8 million in 1994. Many of his drawings are held in the British Royal Collection.
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