The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci
"IS IT STRANGE THAT A LEADING SCIENTIST AND ENGINEER IS ALSO ONE OF THE BEST ARTISTS OF HIS TIME?"
There are few people in the history of the world whose intellect and creative powers are as revered as Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). His voracious appetite for learning and his tremendous powers of observation made him both a great inventor and artist.
Though his name is legendary, many people still do not know about the man himself. Who was Leonardo da Vinci? He was an inventor, engineer, architect, draftsman, artist, and more. He lived around Florence much of his life, making a living working on commissions for both art and engineering.
So what artwork did he leave behind? And what did Leonardo da Vinci invent? Let’s explore these questions and uncover what made this man so important.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Inventions and Scientific Discoveries
In 1994, Bill Gates purchased the Codex Leicester for over $30 million. Why would someone pay so much for a 72-page handwritten book? It is filled with notes by none other than Leonardo himself. This work shows that his probing mind already understood the action of plate tectonics centuries before that would be an established theory. He also speculated on the nature of moonlight, how fossils are formed, and what we can do to avoid water erosion.
The Codex Leicester is the perfect example of how Leonardo was ahead of his time in science. His keen observations gave him insight that wouldn’t be matched for hundreds of years. His studies in anatomy in particular were well ahead of their time, and he made a deep study of this subject mostly to help him paint humans more accurately.
Leonardo was a great scientist, but also an inventor. If we were to list everything Leonardo invented, we would run out of space quickly. His copious notebooks contain plans for many technologies that did not become reality for some time after his death, including:
- Machine guns
- Flying machines
- Robot Knights
- Scuba suit
The list above only scratches the surface of the imaginative inventions of Leonardo. But his creativity most famously flourished through his painting.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Art
Is it strange that a leading scientist and engineer is also one of the best artists of his time? Leonardo managed to do both. His artistic works relied heavily on his scientific study of optics and the human body, greatly informing how he painted.
For instance, Leonardo helped innovate the sfumato technique. This is a way of blending colors together to simulate the fuzziness of images that aren’t in focus. It helps make paintings look much more realistic, because it replicates how the human eye will focus on some objects but not others. You can see this in paintings like the Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506) and Virgin of the Rocks (c. 1483-1486).
Some of Leonardo’s art transcends the division between art and science entirely. His drawing of the Vitruvian Man (1490) shows an idealized male form, his body capable of producing both a perfect square and circle. This shows the genius of the High Renaissance in a single sketch. Here, the beauty of the human body is described not only in exacting proportions measured with an engineer’s eye but also rendered in the artist’s hand.