DaVinci Is Often Ranked With Likes of Einstein And Galilleo

March 19, 2023 at 7:56 p.m.


I just purchased a used book about the life of one of most talented individuals who have ever lived.  The book contains all of his remarkable drawings, sketches and paintings of the great Leonardo DaVinci.  

DaVinci is often ranked with  Galilleo Galilli,  Albert Einstein and  William Harvey, or with my choices Leonhard Euler, Isaac Newton and Thomas Young as one of the smartest persons in history.  Based on his artistic ability,  however,  Leonardo may be the greatest genius of them all.    

As described in Walter Isaacson’s book, “Leonardo DaVinci,” “DaVinci possessed  engineering skills, including his ability to design bridges, waterways, cannons, armored vehicles and public buildings and of course his remarkable skills as an artist.  He can do everything possible,” Isaacson wrote.  

Da Vinci would go on to create the two most famous paintings in history, “The Last Supper” and the “Mona Lisa.” The artist modestly thought himself as a man of science and engineering. With a passion that was both playful and obsessive, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, optics, botany, geology, water flows and weaponry. Sketches of each are amazingly prescient and brilliantly drawn.

Early Life

Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, a little village lying in the shelter of a medieval castle on the slopes of the Montalbano river. Vinci is halfway between Florence and Pisa.

At the age of 16 or 17, he moved to Florence, where his father, a notary by profession, apprenticed him to work at Andrea del Verrocchio’s workshop. Verrocchio was one of the most famous and popular Florentine artists of the times. Florence was rightly considered the cradle of the Italian renaissance and it gave Leonardo an almost complete education in art, with experience ranging from sculpture to painting and architecture, and from the diligent study of figures to the theory of optics and perspective and thus of geometry, natural sciences, botany in particular, and even music. Why Leonardo turned to the artist’s career rather than the notary’s profession, in keeping with his family tradition, is unknown.

The road he covered, on foot or horseback about 40 miles, is the one that still runs along the Arno river.  Very little is known about his early education or any work he completed prior to 1473. We do know that Leonardo spent 12 years in Florence in systematic study and intense experimentation. He soon entered studying under the protection of Lorenzo de’ Medici, a refined humanist, crafty merchant, wise statesman, and skilled politician, but above all, an incomparably able diplomat.  For young Leonardo, Lorenzo was an intriguing example of the technique of communication, where the persuasive power of words was based on eloquence and psychology.  Following the example of Lorenzo,  Leonardo became a master of communication.

Artwork

 All of Leonardo’s work as painter and theoretician of painting is imbued with the concept that art should be considered a form of creative knowledge, on the same level as science and philosophy.  His ability to combine art and science, made iconic by his drawing of a perfectly proportioned man spread-eagle inside a circle and square, known as Vitruvian Man, made him history’s most creative genius.

His scientific explorations informed his art. He peeled flesh off the faces of cadavers, delineated the muscles that move the lips, and then painted the world’s most memorable smile. He studied human skulls, made layered drawings of the bones and teeth, and conveyed the skeletal agony of “Saint Jerome in the Wilderness.”

He explored the mathematics of optics, showed how light rays strike the cornea, and produced magical illusions of changing visual perspectives in The Last Supper. By connecting his studies of light and optics to his art, he mastered the use of shading and perspective to model objects on a two-dimensional surface so they look three-dimensional. This ability to “make a flat surface display a body as if modeled and separated from this plane,” Leonardo said, was “the first intention of the painter.” Largely due to his work, dimensionality became the supreme innovation of Renaissance art.

His Notebooks

Leonardo left an extensive body of sketches, notes and writing, which resonates with a modern audience no less than they did with his admiring contemporaries. Comprising some 4,000 pieces of paper, what are loosely called Leonardo’s notebooks are actually several different collections and compilations of his manuscripts. Ranging from subjects as diverse as anatomical studies to the details of grinding and mixing pigments, they offer nearly unfettered access to the great master’s fertile imagination.

While Leonardo’s breathtaking draftsmanship has earned him well-deserved renown, his extensive writings are less well known. They present a challenge to the modern reader, not least because of his famous “mirror” writing, which did not result from dyslexia or a paranoid need for secrecy, as often thought. It was simply his characteristically resourceful solution to the challenges faced by all left-handed writers, who tend to smear ink with their hands as they move from left to right.

Final Thoughts

I  visited the Louvre museum in Paris many years ago to see the Mona Lisa, and was surprised by its small size and security needed to protect it.

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry.  His new book “Science Snippets” is available from Amazon and other book sellers. It contains a number of previously published columns.  He can be reached by email at  [email protected]

I just purchased a used book about the life of one of most talented individuals who have ever lived.  The book contains all of his remarkable drawings, sketches and paintings of the great Leonardo DaVinci.  

DaVinci is often ranked with  Galilleo Galilli,  Albert Einstein and  William Harvey, or with my choices Leonhard Euler, Isaac Newton and Thomas Young as one of the smartest persons in history.  Based on his artistic ability,  however,  Leonardo may be the greatest genius of them all.    

As described in Walter Isaacson’s book, “Leonardo DaVinci,” “DaVinci possessed  engineering skills, including his ability to design bridges, waterways, cannons, armored vehicles and public buildings and of course his remarkable skills as an artist.  He can do everything possible,” Isaacson wrote.  

Da Vinci would go on to create the two most famous paintings in history, “The Last Supper” and the “Mona Lisa.” The artist modestly thought himself as a man of science and engineering. With a passion that was both playful and obsessive, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, optics, botany, geology, water flows and weaponry. Sketches of each are amazingly prescient and brilliantly drawn.

Early Life

Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, a little village lying in the shelter of a medieval castle on the slopes of the Montalbano river. Vinci is halfway between Florence and Pisa.

At the age of 16 or 17, he moved to Florence, where his father, a notary by profession, apprenticed him to work at Andrea del Verrocchio’s workshop. Verrocchio was one of the most famous and popular Florentine artists of the times. Florence was rightly considered the cradle of the Italian renaissance and it gave Leonardo an almost complete education in art, with experience ranging from sculpture to painting and architecture, and from the diligent study of figures to the theory of optics and perspective and thus of geometry, natural sciences, botany in particular, and even music. Why Leonardo turned to the artist’s career rather than the notary’s profession, in keeping with his family tradition, is unknown.

The road he covered, on foot or horseback about 40 miles, is the one that still runs along the Arno river.  Very little is known about his early education or any work he completed prior to 1473. We do know that Leonardo spent 12 years in Florence in systematic study and intense experimentation. He soon entered studying under the protection of Lorenzo de’ Medici, a refined humanist, crafty merchant, wise statesman, and skilled politician, but above all, an incomparably able diplomat.  For young Leonardo, Lorenzo was an intriguing example of the technique of communication, where the persuasive power of words was based on eloquence and psychology.  Following the example of Lorenzo,  Leonardo became a master of communication.

Artwork

 All of Leonardo’s work as painter and theoretician of painting is imbued with the concept that art should be considered a form of creative knowledge, on the same level as science and philosophy.  His ability to combine art and science, made iconic by his drawing of a perfectly proportioned man spread-eagle inside a circle and square, known as Vitruvian Man, made him history’s most creative genius.

His scientific explorations informed his art. He peeled flesh off the faces of cadavers, delineated the muscles that move the lips, and then painted the world’s most memorable smile. He studied human skulls, made layered drawings of the bones and teeth, and conveyed the skeletal agony of “Saint Jerome in the Wilderness.”

He explored the mathematics of optics, showed how light rays strike the cornea, and produced magical illusions of changing visual perspectives in The Last Supper. By connecting his studies of light and optics to his art, he mastered the use of shading and perspective to model objects on a two-dimensional surface so they look three-dimensional. This ability to “make a flat surface display a body as if modeled and separated from this plane,” Leonardo said, was “the first intention of the painter.” Largely due to his work, dimensionality became the supreme innovation of Renaissance art.

His Notebooks

Leonardo left an extensive body of sketches, notes and writing, which resonates with a modern audience no less than they did with his admiring contemporaries. Comprising some 4,000 pieces of paper, what are loosely called Leonardo’s notebooks are actually several different collections and compilations of his manuscripts. Ranging from subjects as diverse as anatomical studies to the details of grinding and mixing pigments, they offer nearly unfettered access to the great master’s fertile imagination.

While Leonardo’s breathtaking draftsmanship has earned him well-deserved renown, his extensive writings are less well known. They present a challenge to the modern reader, not least because of his famous “mirror” writing, which did not result from dyslexia or a paranoid need for secrecy, as often thought. It was simply his characteristically resourceful solution to the challenges faced by all left-handed writers, who tend to smear ink with their hands as they move from left to right.

Final Thoughts

I  visited the Louvre museum in Paris many years ago to see the Mona Lisa, and was surprised by its small size and security needed to protect it.

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry.  His new book “Science Snippets” is available from Amazon and other book sellers. It contains a number of previously published columns.  He can be reached by email at  [email protected]

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