In 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was born in the hills of Italy. He would later become a painter, scientist, inventor, musician and leading figure in Europe.
He is known as the prime example of a “Renaissance man,” and excelled at everything related to science and the arts.
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Like most boys of that time he was apprenticed as a teenager, but unlike most, his affinity for drawing meant that he went to work for a master sculptor and painter named Andrea del Verrocchio. While learning under Verrocchio, Leonardo was introduced to science and metal-working, techniques for drawing and painting, which included perspective and color theory, as well as some of the basics of anatomy and the human figure.
Da Vinci’s genius was so great that this education didn’t end his appetite for knowledge. Throughout his lifetime the sketchbooks he made of his drawings and notes accumulated over 10,000 pages from his personal studies of the physical world.
A large number of those sketches had to do with anatomy of the human body. Leonardo was so obsessed with discovering what was going on underneath the surface of people’s skin that he even began dissecting corpses in order to more fully understand how our muscular, skeletal, and intestinal systems work.
Whether da Vinci was more of a scientist, artist, or inventor isn’t clear to me, but he probably never made a distinction between the three for himself. It seems as though he used both science and art to further his knowledge, and that everything he drew or painted was a product of that insatiable desire.
His drawings of mechanical devices are legendary – he’s credited with inventing a helicopter, a machine gun, a calculator, and even a tank. But since most of his inventions were so far ahead of their time, Leonardo’s true genius wasn’t known until centuries later.
In the world of art, da Vinci is best known for two paintings: The Last Supper and Mona Lisa. What many people don’t know is that Leonardo failed to finish many more works that he was commissioned to do. For all his talent, da Vinci was never a prolific painter like his contemporaries, of whom the most notable were Michelangelo and Raphael.
The last three years of his life were lived in wealth and privilege right next door to the royal chateau of the king of France. Leonardo ended up with something that most artists before him, and many after him, never had: a celebrity status of almost royal standing. He died at the age of 67 years old.
Despite the acclaim, throughout his life Leonardo da Vinci was aware of the responsibility of his genius, and even though his painting ability was revered and his mechanical brilliance legendary, he wasn’t satisfied.
He made a simple statement that showed his regret, when he said, “I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”