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Lesson 32

Leonardo Da Vinci - the Man Who Wanted to Know Everything

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        Leonardo da Vinci was an immensely talented painter, engineer, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, scientist and inventor lived during the Italian Renaissance. What is unique about Leonardo and make him an universal genius, is that he excelled at both technical and creative endeavors in a wide variety of fields. He completely embodies the notion of the inquisitive "Renaissance Man".

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452. The actual location of Leonardo's birth is uncertain - some say Vinci (about 50km west of Florence), others believe Anchiano (near Vinci). Nevertheless, Vinci claims the prestigious title of his birthplace ("da Vinci" means "from the town of Vinci"). Leonardo was the illegitimate son of Ser Piero da Vinci, a wealthy 25-year-old notary of Florence, and local peasant girl, who is only known by her first name, Caterina. Leonardo was born out of wedlock but his father took custody of the little fellow shortly after his birth.

Leonardo never attended public school but growing up in his father's home he had access to scholarly texts owned by family and friends. Early sources describe his superlative male beauty, charm of manner, and precocious display of artistic talent. He was an excellent singer and musician, and even as a young boy, demonstrated a great talent for drawing. When Leonardo was 15, his father apprenticed him to Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading artist of Florence and the early Renaissance. He served at least ten years (1466-1476) as Garzone (apprentice) to Andrea del Verrocchio and painted details in Verrocchio's canvases. In 1475 da Vinci painted the kneeling angel on the left and the landscape of the Verrocchio's picture Baptism of Christ.

Leonardo's lack of formal education and his methods of self-education led him down paths which were not common. His apprenticeship as a painter trained him to be unusually observant to the world. He learned through his observations and experiments. It was during this apprenticeship that he became acquainted with most of the things that were to shape his future life, painting, sculpture, mathematics, astronomy and philosophy, although to the end of his life mechanics was his greatest love. With his paintings, he introduced new techniques, and researched concepts such as drawing in perspective.

In 1472, he was accepted into the painter's guild of Florence and officially graduated from apprentice to master. After leaving Verrocchio's studio in 1478, Leonardo remained in Florence where he worked independently. His early paintings include Ginevra de Benu (1474), Adoration of the Magi (1481), Benois Madonna (1481), Saint Jerome (1481), and an altarpiece for the chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio. The unfinished Adoration of the Magi is the most important of all the early paintings.

About 1482 Leonardo became the court artist for the duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza and spent 17 years working for him. Da Vinci wrote the duke an astonishing letter in which he claimed that he could build portable bridges, ships, armored vehicles, and other war machines, and that he could execute sculpture in marble, bronze, and clay. In Milan he served at the same time as a military engineer, architect and artist.

During his long stay in Milan, da Vinci painted The Virgin of the Rocks and The Last Supper. He also produced many other paintings and drawings (most of which have been lost), theater designs, architectural drawings, domed churches, fortresses and canals. His largest commission was for a colossal bronze monument of Sforza's father on horseback, that Leonardo never finished.

Leonardo Da Vinci returned to Florence once more in 1503, at which time he was commissioned to paint a mural in the council hall in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio. Leonardo's work, entitled The Battle of Anghiari, which was never completed, would have measured 23 x 56 feet, double the size of his masterpiece The Last Supper. While working on The Battle of Anghiari, the French governor of Milan hired Leonardo, and once again Da Vinci abandoned his project to begin employment elsewhere.

In his lifetime, Leonardo began dozens of paintings, but abandoned the majority of them before they were completed, never returning to finish them. Many artists attest that this is not an occurrence unique to da Vinci, and that such abandonment stems from creative exhaustion. But psychologists and historians speculate that da Vinci's personality was simply too restless to complete many projects, most of which were started simultaneously and abandoned on a whim.

One of Leonardo's great accomplishment, which still so fascinate the world, is the famous Mona Lisa (originally called La Gioconda). Even more captivating to the imagination of many is the controversial self-portrait da Vinci sketched in his later years. Its structural similarity to the face of the Mona Lisa has long held the interest of artists and scientists. To this day no one knows whether the woman in the painting was a real person, or whether it was Leonardo's vision of himself as a women. Leonardo seems to have had a special affection for the picture, for he took it with him on all of his subsequent travels.

Leonardo da Vinci's personal life is shrouded in secrecy and the question of his sexuality still remains a mystery. There is no record of any woman in his life or even a close friendship with one. In contrast, throughout his life, Leonardo surrounded himself with beautiful young men, and his drawings and writings evince a deep appreciation for male beauty.

Besides being a skillful artist, Leonardo was also known as a remarkable inventor, and a brilliant scientist. Leonardo designed a myriad of inventions, although few of these designs were constructed in his lifetime. In his later years, he devoted a substantial amount of time to carefully constructed notebooks filled with scientific notations and compelling sketches, all meticulously inscribed backwards (starting at the right side of the page and moving to the left), so that they can only be read with the aid of a mirror. Leonardo was left-handed, so mirror writing came easily and naturally to him. Some say that although unusual, this mirror writing is a trait shared by many left-handed dyslexic people.

The breadth of his inventive prowess is astounding in light of his many other pursuits. Da Vinci designed or created devices that could immediately be employed in his own day, such as water pumps. He also drew up devices that are commonplace today, but would have been flights of fancy in his time, such as his design for a submarine. Based on the gear, he came up with loads of different ideas, including the bicycle and an "auto-mobile". He sketched designs of many different flying machines. Leonardo designed an flying machine that bears a striking resemblance to modern helicopters.

Although Leonardo despised war he worked as a military engineer to invent many military weapons, mainly through the need to work. He designed rudimentary tanks, catapults, machine guns, and even navel weapons.

As a scientist Leonardo da Vinci towered above all his contemporaries. He wrote and drew about subjects including anatomy, optics, aerodynamics, hydraulics, geology, zoology and botany, often flitting from subject to subject on a single page. His scientific studies - particularly in the fields of anatomy, optics, and hydraulics - anticipated many of the developments of modern science. One of Leonardo's obsessions involved the idea of flight. He systematically studied the flight of birds and applied his observations in the drawings.

Da Vinci studied anatomy, dissecting many cadavers and drawing them in painstaking detail. At that time this meant going against the church and one could be jailed for defiling a human corpse. Da Vinci described the body like a machine, and even replaced muscles with strings to see how they worked with the levers of the bones. He studied also the circulation of the blood, the action of the eye, the process of conception and growth of the fetus in the womb.

One of his most complete scientific achievements was in geology. Many scientists, as late as the nineteenth century, refused to believe that the world was not created as we see it, but that it had formed over many years. Most believed in the 'biblical' age of the earth, some 4 000 years. Yet 300 years earlier, Da Vinci had already formulated the idea of geological time, following his involvement in canal building and his insatiable curiosity that led him to investigate the exposed rocks. His observations led him to believe that valleys are carved by rivers, that the sea-level can fall to reveal mountains, and that this all happened over a huge period of time.

After the death of Giuliano dei Medici, Leonardo accepted an invitation from Francis I, king of France, to leave Italy and work for him. At the age of 67, in 1519, while living in France, Leonardo Da Vinci died and was buried in the church of Saint-Forentine in Amboise. The church was ruined during the French Revolution, and completely torn down during the 19th Century. And although today, there are no markings to identify Leonardo's grave, he continues to live on through his surviving paintings, his many notebooks and through the extensive selection of posters, stamps, and prints that have been produced over the years.

Sources: www.mos.org/leonardo/bio.html


  1. immensely [i'mensli] adv. - много, необикновено, извънредно
  2. inventor [in'vent] n - изобретател; създател
  3. to excel [ik'sel] v (-ll-) - отличен съм, превъзхождам другите (in, at в), надминавам;
  4. to endeavo(u)r [in'dev] n - усилие, старание
  5. to embody [im'bdi] v - 1. въплътявам, въплъщавам; 2. изобразявам, олицетворявам
  6. notion ['nn] n - понятие, идея (и фил.), представа (of за)
  7. inquisitive [in'kwiztiv] а - любознателен
  8. Renaissance [ri'neisns] Man - Ренесансов човек (човек с разностанни интереси и познания в различни области на науката и изкуството)
  9. nevertheless [,nev'les] adv - въпреки това, въпреки всичко
  10. to claim [kleim] v - 1. изисквам; изявявам претенции/права и пр. (за); претендирам (to да с inf); 2. твърдя, претендирам
  11. illegitimate [,ili'itimt] a - 1. незаконен; 2. незаконороден, извънбрачен
  12. wealthy ['weli] a - 1. богат, охолен, заможен; the ~ богатите;
  13. notary ['ntri] n - нотариус (и ~ public); ~'s office нотариат
  14. wedlock ['wedlk] n - съпружество, брак; born in/out of ~ законороден/незаконороден, извънбрачен
  15. custody ['kstdi] n - попечителство, опекунство; грижа; in the ~ of под грижите/опеката на
  16. to grow [grou] v (grew [gru:]; grown [groun]) up - пораствам, израствам
  17. superlative [sju:'p:ltiv] a - превъзходен; превъзхождащ/ надминаващ всички
  18. precocious [pri'ks] a - ранно/преждевременно развит (за човек, дарба и пр.), не за възрастта (за знания и пр.)
  19. to apprentice ['prentis] v - давам за чирак/да учи занаят (to при)
  20. canvas [knvs] - 1. платно за рисуване на картина; 2. картина с маслени бои
  21. kneeling ['ni:li] - коленичил, на колене
  22. lack [lk] n - липса, отсъствие, недостиг
  23. apprenticeship ['prentisip] n - чиракуване
  24. observant [b'z:vnt] а - наблюдателен
  25. to acquaint ['kweint] v - запознавам: to ~ o.s. with запознавам се с; опознавам: to become/get ~ed with запознавам се с; опознавам; вниквам в
  26. to execute ['eksikju:t] v - 1. изпълнявам, извършвам; 2. пресъздавам
  27. altarpiece ['ltpi:s] n - картина/резба над/зад олтара
  28. adoration [,d'rein] n - обожаване: обожание; преклонение (for); поклонение
  29. magus ['meigs] n (pl magi ['meiai]) - маг; the Magi биол. влъхвите; Adoration of the Magi /Поклонението на влъхвите/
  30. marble [ma:bl] n - мрамор
  31. clay [klei] n - глина
  32. domed [dmd] а - 1. куполообразен, куполовиден; 2. украсен с купола/кубе
  33. fortresses ['ftris] n - крепост; укрепен град
  34. commission [k'min] n (a request to do a special piece of work) - възложена работа/задача
  35. mural ['mjurl] - I. a 1. стенен; ~ painting стенопис, фреска; 2. закрепен на стена; II. n стенопис, фреска
  36. masterpiece ['ma:stpi:s] n - шедьовър
  37. to abandon ['bndn] v - 1. напускам, изоставям; отказвам се от; 2. зарязвам, занемарявам
  38. to attest ['test] v - 1. удостоверявам валидността/достоверността на; заверявам; 2. свидетелствувам (to за); 3. засвидетелствувам, показвам (чувство, отношение)
  39. occurrence ['krns] n - 1. явление; 2. случка, събитие
  40. to stem [stem] v - проследявам произхода/развитието на; водя началото си, произхождам, произлизам, произтичам (from от)
  41. restless ['restlis] а - неспокоен; нервен
  42. whim [wim] n - прищявка, приумица, каприз
  43. accomplishment ['kmplimnt] n - 1. изпълнение; осъществяване, реализиране; 2. постижение, завоевание
  44. captivating ['kptiveiti] а - пленителен, обаятелен, чаровен
  45. controversial [,kntr'v:l] а - спорен, дискусионен
  46. affection ['fekn] n - привързаност, обич
  47. subsequent ['sbsikwnt] a - следващ, последващ; по-късен
  48. to shroud [raud] v - закривам, обвивам, забулвам (и прен.)
  49. myriad ['mirid] n - огромен брой, безброй; attr неизброим, безчетен
  50. invention [in'venn] n - изобретение
  51. to devote [di'vout] v - посвещавам, отдавам, предавам (to)
  52. substantial [sb'stnl] а - съществен, важен, значителен
  53. compelling [km'peli] а - непреодолим, на когото не може да се устои; неудържим; завладяващ, покоряващ
  54. meticulous [mi'tikjuls] а - (педантично) точен, добросъвестен до дребнавост
  55. to inscribe [in'skraib] v - надписвам; вписвам
  56. trait [trei] n - характерна/отличителна черта/белег
  57. breadth [bred] n - широта; размах; обхват
  58. prowess ['prauis] n - мъжество, храброст; сила, необикновено умение
  59. to astound ['staund] v - поразявам, слисвам, смайвам
  60. commonplace ['kmnpleis] а - обикновен, всекидневен
  61. submarine [sbm'ri:n] n - подводница
  62. gear [gi] n - 1. механизъм; 2. тех. зъбно колело; зъбна предавка
  63. striking ['straiki] а - поразителен, забележителен, удивителен
  64. to despise [dis'paiz] v - презирам
  65. rudimentary [ru:di'mentri]=rudimental - елементарен, основен
  66. contemporary [kn'temprri] - I. a съвременен; който живее/се случва по същото време (with); II. n съвременник
  67. to anticipate [n'tisipeit] v - 1. очаквам, предвиждам; 2. изпреварвам
  68. obsession [b'sen] n - натрапчива идея, идея-фикс; мания
  69. cadaver [k'deiv] n - труп
  70. painstaking ['peinz,teiki] - I. а старателен, усърден, прилежен; ревностен; II. n старание, усърдие, прилежание
  71. corpse [kps] n - труп
  72. conception [kn'sepn] n - зачеване; зачатие
  73. fetus = foetus ['fi:ts] n - физиол. ембрион, зародиш (в майчина утроба)
  74. womb [wu:m] n - 1. анат. матка; 2. утроба (и прен.)
  75. insatiable [in'seibl] а - ненаситен, неутолим (of)
  76. valley ['vli] n - долина
  77. to bury ['beri] v - 1. заравям, заривам; погребвам; 2. покривам, скривам, мушвам
  78. to tear [t] v (tore [t]; torn [tn]) down - събарям, разрушавам (сграда и пр.)
  79. grave [greiv] n - гроб
  80. stamp [stmp] - марка; печат, щемпел

 Piece or Peace

Some of Leonardo's Famous Works

Mona Lisa, or La Gioconda (La Joconde), is a 16th century oil painting on poplar wood by Leonardo da Vinci and is one of the most famous paintings in Western art history. It is owned by the French government and hangs in the Musee du Louvre in Paris. The painting shows a woman looking out at the viewer with what is described as an "enigmatic smile". The Mona Lisa took Leonardo six years to complete.
The Last Supper (in Italian, Il Cenacolo or L'Ultima Cena) is a mural painting by Leonardo da Vinci for his patron Duke Lodovico Sforza. The Last Supper is a picture of Jesus's last meal with his disciples before he died. The painting is based on John 13:21, which Jesus announced that one of his 12 disciples would betray him. Leonardo worked on this painting from 1495 to 1498.
Virgin of the Rocks was the first painting executed by Leonardo after he arrived in Milan. It is known in two versions. The first, dating from 1485, hangs in the Louvre, Paris. The second, now in the National Gallery, London, was completed in 1506, probably with the help of an assistant.
The Battle of Anghiari was a battle fought on June 29, 1440, between Milan and the Italian League led by Republic of Florence in the course of the Italian Wars. In October 1503, Leonardo was commissioned to paint the mural of The Battle of Anghiari in the Council Hall in Florence. Leonardo’s painting depicted a dramatic and forceful battle between mounted cavalrymen.
Leonardo began to write his illustrated notebooks in Milan in the years between 1490 and 1495. His work covered four major themes: the science of painting, the particulars of architecture, the elements of the mechanics, and the workings of the human body. He included also writings on such other disciplines as botany, geology, hydrology, flight, etc. These studies and sketches were collected into various codices and manuscripts, which are now hungrily collected by museums and individuals (in 1994 Bill Gates bought the Codex Leicester ("Les-ter") for $30 million).
The Vitruvian Man is a famous drawing with accompanying notes by Leonardo da Vinci made around the year 1492 in one of his notebooks. It depicts a naked male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing and text are sometimes called the Canon of Proportions or, less often, Proportions of Man. It is on display in the Gallerie dell' Accademia in Venice, Italy.
Leonardo da Vinci's Horse. Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned 500 years ago to construct an enormous bronze horse for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, Italy. Leonardo worked on this project for 16 years. He spent much time studying horses, sketching them, and even dissecting dead ones in order to understand how the statue should be made. By November of 1493, Leonardo had completed a clay model of the horse alone which measured 7.2 meters in height. But Ludovico lost confidence in the plan. He finally decided all that bronze would serve his political fortunes better in other ways. He had it melted down to make cannons for his war with France. A few years later, French soldiers wrecked Leonardo's clay model. They used it for target practice.

Leonardo da Vinci as an Inventor and Scientist

A small catalog of Leonardo's innovative designs include:

  • the first parachute
  • scissors /ножиците/
  • the first contact lens
  • ladders
  • the chains and gears used on bicycles
  • helicopter and other flying machines
  • the marble cutting machine
  • the monkey wrench /френският ключ/
  • soldering tools /инструменти за запояване/
  • an early alarm clock that woke you by gently rubbing your feet!
  • compasses
  • water pump
  • diving snorkel
  • submarine
  • street-lighting systems
  • dredging systems
  • canals
  • swing bridges
  • military weapons

Some famous scientific accomplishments of da Vinci include:

  • proposing that the earth rotates around the sun
  • proposing that the moon's light is reflected sunlight
  • correctly explaining why sea shells are sometimes found miles inland on mountaintops
  • creating the first textbook of human anatomy

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