Sunday, August 25, 2013

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

"The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding." - Leonardo

The pen and ink drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, depicting a man fitting his body to a circle and a square by adjusting the position of his arms and legs, is probably the most famous drawing in the world
It is called Vitruvian Man.  
Vitruvius was an ancient Roman architect who wrote a series of ten books on architecture - one of the few collections of books of its type that survived into the Renaissance. In the third volume, which is on the proportions of temples, he states that these buildings should be based on the proportions of man, because the human body is the model of perfection. He justifies this by stating that the human body with arms and legs extended fits into the perfect geometric forms, the circle, and the square. 
The Vitruvian Man 

A painter, a sculptor, an architect and an engineer, Leonardo Da Vinci's numerous skills have earned him the title of renaissance master. Da Vinci's fascination with science and his in-depth study of human anatomy aided him in mastering the realist art form. While Leonardo's counterparts were known to create static figures in their works, Leonardo always tried to incorporate movement and expression into his own paintings. All the personages in his works are painted with great accuracy and detail that it is sometimes said that Da Vinci painted from the bones outward.
Having lived until the age of 67, Leonardo experienced a very long career that was filled with times during which the painter was celebrated, but at times he was also humiliated and cast away. His life experiences all influenced his works and often, his paintings never left the sketchpad, or were only partially completed, as Leonardo often abandoned his commissions in order to flee from social situations.
Today, there are records of only few Da Vinci paintings, and 20 notebooks. Thankfully, these works have been preserved over the hundreds of years since Leonardo's time, and while his works are scattered in different areas of the globe, everyone can enjoy Da Vinci through the numerous books detailing his life, or through any of the many Da Vinci posters that have been printed. 

Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452, in the heart of the Renaissance in the heart of Europe. He was born outside Vinci, which lies high up on Mount Albano, in the valley of the Arno River, near the city of Florence. Florence was an independent republic and commercial center at the time of his birth. He was the son of Ser Pierro da Vinci, who was a legal specialist, and a peasant girl named Caterina. He was considered an “illegitimate” son because they were not married. Right away. His father married into a wealthy family and he went to live with his grandparents. Later he lived with his father’s family and they didn’t conceal his birth and welcomed his addition to the family.
As a child he was very smart and was very quick at arithmetic and music. He learned the lyre and had a wonderful singing voice, and quickly went to further develop his talents with a tutor. At age 17, he went to become an apprentice of painting under the instruction of Andrea del Verrochio, in Florence, who was an artist, skilled craftsmen, goldsmith, sculptor and painter. He started to use his science to enhance his paintings. He studied and sketched rock formations, caves and fossils. He had very few close friends during his life, even though he was very kind and sympathetic. Later, during his apprenticeship, he started to find his niche at inventing machines like the helicopter, diving suit, and submarine. After he finished his education, he stayed for a short time assisting Andrea del Verrochio.
From 1478 to 1482, he obtained his own studio. After that, he was offered the job of court artist for Lodvico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. He took it and lived in beautiful Milan for 17 years. There, he had a great variety of jobs including designing artillery, and planning river system diversions for the city. In Milan, he really started to dive into the field of science and learn a lot. Go to the science section to learn more!
Toward the end of his life, in about 1508, King Louis XII of France asked him to accompany him to Milan, and he went willingly. There, he stayed working on anatomy and other fields until 1512, when the French lost Milan. He then had to go to Rome. There, he stayed until his life was finished. He was very good friends with Guiliano de’ Medici, brother of the duke, and he was well housed and treated very kindly. Sadly, while in the bliss of the Renaissance, his health started to fail. In March, 1516, Guiliano died, and Leonardo was left alone in the world, practically deserted. Not far thereafter, on May 2, 1519, the mind of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci died.

At age 17, Leonardo Da Vinci went to become an apprentice of painting under the instruction of Andrea del Verrochio in Florence. This is where his appreciation of science really started. He used science to enhance his paintings and was right away intrigued. While he learned about art, his interests started to broaden. He would stroll along the banks of the Arno, and would study the nature around him. He sketched much of the world around him, studying rock formations, caves and fossils. These led to his scientific career.
From 1478 to 1482, he obtained his own studio, and later went to Milan. There, he had a great variety of jobs including designing artillery and planning river system diversions for the city. This is really where he started to dive into the field of science and learn more and more.

For someone to understand his inventions and scientific work, you must understand his time. The only way a scientist obtained his information was either through the Bible, or from the writings from previous scientists. There was a crazy belief that any research that was obtained through experimentation was full of errors. He was the first to see clearly that knowledge of science would have to come from repeated experiments done, not unproven ideas. He was also the first scientist that correlated mathematics and science. One of the reasons that he did fail in scientific investigations was because many of the mathematic laws that he needed had not yet been discovered. Another problem was that there were no accurate instruments for his measurements. Despite these holdbacks, he was thought of as a real pioneer.

Another area of science he studied was anatomy. In 1489, he started an all new notebook on human anatomy. He made crude sketches of all parts of body and some truly amazing and wonderful ones. I made observations on such parts as the eye socket, the optic nerve entering the brain, and complete human tendons, muscles, and the skeletal system. After that, for 20 years, he basically gave up anatomy and moved on. Later, toward the end of his life, King Louis XII of France asked him to accompany him to Milan, and he went willingly. In about 1508, he continued investigating parts of the human body and how they worked once again. By then, he had made a large breakthrough in his scientific career by building a theory of how the four powers in the world worked, (which he had found to be movement, weight, force and percussion.) He was about to apply them to the greatest of all sciences, and by far the most fascinating, the phenomenon called the human body.
To accomplish what was yearning to know about the human body, he had to dissect about thirty corpses. He put this beside him right away and was overcome with the beauty and wonder of what he found. His notebooks that he used were teeming with notes that showed his admiration. Beside one of his drawings of the heart, he wrote, “Marvelous instrument invented by the Supreme Master”. He was very clever in finding ways to explore the body. For instance, He used his knowledge and experience as a sculptor to help him by injecting the organs with wax to make plaster casts. The arms and the legs also helped him explain what he had discovered about the lever. He dissected every muscle and tugged and pulled at it to observe how it worked. One of his favorite muscles were the biceps, which he found not only it bent the arm, but it turned the palm upward! He also proceeded made a model of the legs made of copper wires connected to the bones to make a skeleton.

Leonardo also worked with physics and perspective. He used a lot of his perspective ideas in paintings and sketches. He used physics with many of his inventions. To learn more about his inventions, go to the invention page.

His impact on society after he died is hard to determine. One of his great contributions was that he started the Scientific Revolution. He revolutionized the way that scientists have researched ever since. The method has been used to study the world around us by scientists of the posterity for years to come. Much of his work in many fields and his scientific method fueled scientists for years to come.
And with all of his discoveries came the things he did not achieve. If he had had the mathematics and accurate measuring instruments, his inventions might have been boundless with possibility. And because of this, many think that he is not as influential as other people in history are. One quote by Michael H. Hart in The 100 Most Influential People says this:
“His talent and reputation seem greatly in excess of his actual influence upon history. In his notebooks, Leonardo left behind sketches of many modern inventions such as airplanes and submarines. While these notebooks attest to his brilliance and originality, they had virtually no influence upon the development of science. In the first place, Leonardo did not actually build models of those inventions. In the second place, although the ideas were very clever, it does not appear that the inventions would have actually worked. It is one thing to think of the idea of a submarine or airplane, it is another and very much harder thing to work out a precise, detailed, practical design and to construct a model that actually works.”
Because his books weren’t published for centuries to come and he wrote in “mirror-writing” his impact was too late, many say. I believe that despite these holdbacks he was one of the smartest, a literal genious, and revolutionary people in history. He know so much in so many fields it was truly remarkable

As the court engineer for a number of years, he did a fair amount of work with artillery, gunpowder, and fighting machines. He saw them as a way to study the physics of objects moving at high speeds, not as a weaponry. He was able to study physics while still getting paid. He invented multi-barreled guns and even steam-powered ones. At the time he had even thought of more efficient ways of bridge building by developing light, strong, and effective bridges, and ways to destroy such bridges.


Flight had been the dream of men for centuries. To kiss the sky, to tickle those clouds would have been heaven for Leonardo. His most famous endeavor started with his desire to imitate a bird. He first worked on flapping wings but then later used the propeller, helicopter and hot air balloon. He started to embark upon this idea by the technique he had used so much: he went to where the idea had come from, its original source, nature. He worked tirelessly to imagine what could make us fly. Methodically, he thoroughly calculated the amount of muscle and the distribution of it around the body that would be needed to make a human fly, and studied the ratio of the wing spans to the weight of a bird. After failure with that approach, however, he then moved to the study of the physics of flying. He studied the currents that affected the wings. He did this to understand how a bird flies without flapping its wings. He had previously thought a flapping machine was the answer, but later came to develop this premature theorem of lift:
“The wind that passes under the wing lifts it up just as a wedge lifts a weight. The flight of cranes…which proceeds to raise themselves by many turns after the manner of a screw…and a screw is of the nature of a wedge”.
He used this later on a helicopter design that looked much like corkscrew. He never did made a working model or flying machine that worked.

Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.
Leonardo da Vinci

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
― Leonardo da Vinci 

“I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis 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”
― Leonardo da Vinci 

“There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.”
― Leonardo da Vinci