Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519) was an Italianpolymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist,geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance man, a man whose unquenchable curiosity was equaled only by his powers ofinvention. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent and "his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote".Marco Rosci points out, however, that while there is muchspeculation about Leonardo, his vision of the world is essentially logical rather than mysterious, and that the empirical methods he employed were unusual for his time.
Born the illegitimate son of a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant woman, Caterina, at Vinci in the region ofFlorence, Leonardo was educated in the studio of the renowned Florentine painter, Verrocchio. Much of his earlier workinglife was spent in the service of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna andVenice and spent his last years in France, at the home awarded him by Francis I.
Leonardo was and is renowned primarily as a painter. Two of his works, the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, are the most famous, most reproduced and most parodied portrait and religious paintings of all time, respectively,their fame approached only by Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. Leonardo's drawing of theVitruvian Man is also regarded as a cultural icon, being reproduced on everything from the euro to text books to t-shirts. Perhaps fifteen of his paintings survive, the small number due to his constant, and frequently disastrous, experimentation with new techniques, and his chronic procrastination. Nevertheless,these few works, together with his notebooks, which contain drawings, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting, compose a contribution to later generations of artists only rivalled by that of his contemporary,Michelangelo.
Leonardo is revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualised a helicopter, a tank, concentratedsolar power, a calculator, the double hull andoutlined a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or were even feasible during his lifetime, but some of his smaller inventions, such as an automated bobbin winder and a machine for testing the tensile strength of wire, entered the world of manufacturing unheralded. As a scientist, he greatly advanced the state of knowledge in the fieldsof anatomy, civil engineering, optics, and hydrodynamics.
Engineering and inventions
A design for a flying machine, (c. 1488) Institut de France, Paris
During his lifetime Leonardo was valued as an engineer. In a letter to Ludovico il Moro he claimed to be able to create all sorts of machines both for the protection of a city and for siege. When he fled to Venice in 1499 he found employment as an engineer anddevised a system of moveable barricades to protect the city from attack. He also had a scheme for diverting the flow of the Arno River, a project on which Niccolò Machiavelli also worked. Leonardo's journals include a vast number of inventions, both practical and impractical. They include musical instruments, hydraulic pumps, reversible crank mechanisms, finned mortar shells, and a steam cannon.In 1502, Leonardo produced a drawing of a single span 720-foot (220 m) bridge as part of a civil engineeringproject for Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II of Istanbul. The bridge was intended to span an inlet at the mouth of theBosporus known as the Golden Horn. Beyazid did not pursue the project, because he believed that such a construction was impossible. Leonardo's vision was resurrected in 2001...