Leonardo De Vinci
In the city of Vinci near Florence, a boy by the name of
Leonardo was born in 1452. Leonardo's father had a large
law practice in the city. Leonardo, who was raised by his
grandmother seldom played with other children and did not
care for school, however he was happiest by himself
sketching and studying what he saw around him. When he was
sixteen Leonardo went to Florence to live with his father
who was impressed by the sketches that his son showed him.
He sent Leonardo to study with Verrochio a well-known
artist of the time.
Leonardo was not only an excellent artist but he was also
a scientist, an engineer, and an architect. He made many
great discoveries that were not recognized as his because
he rarely spread the knowledge that he gained. Some of his
greatest discoveries were in the fields off; the arts,
architecture, construction, flight, industry and home,
measure, optics, transportation and war.
Leonardo was not a great person according to the great
person theory of history. This theory states that history
is motivated primarily by the opinions, actions and
thoughts of people not by political or economic factors.
The characteristics of the great person theory are:
charisma or personal magnetism, the ability to inspire,
decisiveness under pressure, bravery, self confidence and
assurance in a given plan of action. Leonardo's greatness
was not a product of the times in which he lived. Many of
his inventions were lost only to be rediscovered fifty to a
hundred years later. He did many incredible paintings and
frescos for churches and cathedrals that never would have
been done today and if they were they would not have been
He was the illegitimate son of Piero his father. Leonardo
was born before Piero's marriage to Albiera di Biovanni a
bride that his family found for him. Their relationship
produced no children. Leonardos home was happy, and he was
well cared for. He even had loving and caring relatives.
He loved knowledge. This love possessed him to try to
learn everything. Leonardo was facinated with what his
school master taught at first, but after learning the
basics he became bored quickly. "In later life he came to
regret this headlong approach." Although if he was alive
today he most probably would have been an underachiever in
school, but would have done well in later life.
Leonardo spent a great deal of time in his youth exploring
the country side around his home. The town of Vinci is on a
mountain that is rocky on one side and has fertile lands on
An example of his love for knowledge is after walking
among the rocks one day Leonardo once wrote "I came to the
mouth of a huge cavern before which for a time I remained
stupefied... my back bent to an arch, my left hand
clutching my knee, while with the right I shaded my eyes;
and I bent one way then another in order to see whether I
could make out anything inside, though this was almost
impossible because of the intense darkness within. And
after remaining there for a time, suddenly there were
awakened in me two emotions, fear and desire: feat of the
dark, threatening cavern, and desire to see whether there
might be any marvelous thing in it." For the rest of
Leonardos life he was driven to see what marvelous thing
might be around him.
One day, Leonardos father decided to take a portfolio of
his son's drawings and sketches to Verrocchio. Once
Verrocchio saw Leonardos sketches he decided immediately
that Leonardo had more than just promise but he had talent.
Verrocchio was an extremely talented artist and he managed
to receive many commissions, in many fields of art. He also
enjoyed mathematics and he was a skilled engineer. He
shared all of his knowledge with his apprentices in all
three fields, art mathematics and engineering. This allowed
Leonardo to change projects every week, Leonardo enjoyed
working in this way.
He was the first person to experiment with building
materials or the loads that they could bear. An example of
one of his experiments is attaching a iron wire
approximately four feet long securely at either end. Then
place a basket in the middle. Set up a container to pour
sand into the basket with a spring so that when the wire
breaks the sand will stop pouring. Leonardo was also
interested in building safety. In his day building safety
was generally done by a process of trial and error, at
times buildings would even collapse with people in them
because architects and carpenters in Leonardos day did not
have our modern formulas for calculating safe building
structures. Leonardo would have been quite impressed by the
modern safety standards to save lives.
Leonardo was not only interested in human safety but he was
also interested in human comfort and easing the hardship of
life. He discovered many inventions to do this such as an
air conditioner for cooling the bedroom of the Lady
Beatrice Duchess of Milan. Leonardos inventions were not
only for the rich but to aid the lives of the poor working
class also. To this end he made a meat roasting spit that
turned its self. Saving the time and labor it took to turn
meat by hand. Another invention was an oil lamp with water
on the inside of a convex surface to create the action of a
lens. Alarm clocks had been around for hundreds of years
but Leonardo decided to build a new one using water and two
containers. When one container tipped over it would fill
the second container suddenly, a rope attached to the
sleeper's foot would be jerked upward waking the sleeper.
To speed up work and to do it more precisely Leonardo
invented a machine to cut screws. He also developed
machines of mass production. He developed new tools many of
which are used today, such as the monkey wrench.. Imagine
what he would have invented it this day and age where any
invention will sell if its on television.
Leonardo was one of the first individuals to think of a
horseless carriage. His carriage used springs, and had a
steering rod and the driver had to crank the springs
manually after they uncoiled. Leonardo also proposed the
first tank or armored car, an idea that was not used until
world war one.
He was against war and killing, but he created some deadly
killing machines. From new ammunition, weapons and
defenses. Leonardo also developed ways to counter his way
to attack. Such as placing dice on a drum at the location
where you thought your enemy was trying to tunnel under
your walls. He would have liked our policies of human
"See how the wings striking against air hold up the heavy
eagle in the thin upper air, near to the element of fire.
And likewise see how the air moving over the sea strikes
against the bellying sails, making the loaded heavy ship
run; so that by these demonstrative and definite reasons
you may know that man his great contrived wings battling
the resistant air and conquering it, can it and rise above
it." These were some of Leonardos observations about
flight. If Leonardo had not spent his time trying to build
a flying machine that worked like the wings of a bird but
instead tried to build a glider perhaps he would have been
the first man to fly. Leonardo spent great amounts of time
and energy in trying to develop a working flying machine.
He studied birds in flight and also conducted tests to see
how air made flight possible. Leonardo was again concerned
with safety and he once said "This machine should be tried
over a lake, and you should carry a long wineskin as a
girdle so that in case you fall you will not be drowned."
This was his idea of a parachute. Leonardos greatest
discovery in flight was that of the helicopter. He thought
of the idea when he saw a Chinese toy. He designed an
aerial screw that was meant to be whirled to attain flight.
He did not have a proper power source in his time to carry
this invention to completion. If he were alive today
perhaps he would be working as an aeronautical engineer.
Leonardo did make many discoveries involving power, like
new gear arrangements and roller bearings. He designed
sprocket chains that are very similar to those found today
on bicycles. He could never have built such chains with the
workshop tools of the time, but he built the plans for
Science was not Leonardos livelihood although he spent
most of his time working on new inventions and problems.
Leonardo was an artist. Back in Leonardos day the lines
between science and art were not so defined as they are
today. Artists in Leonardos time worked out mathematics
using painting, to discover perspective. They discovered
the rules of anatomy.
One of Leonardos greatest achievements was his painting of
the last supper, considered by many to be his greatest
work. The last supper is barely visible now because he
decided to work in his usual easygoing way and not at the
speed that frescos normally take. He decided to develop a
new way to do them. This Painting inspired many of the
people who saw it.
Perhaps Leonardos best known work and that which we most
easily recognize as his is the Mona Lisa, a magnificent
painting. It is a picture of a beautiful lady dressed in
black. This picture is also most probably the most famous
painting in the world. It has been used in advertisements,
magazines and in cartoons to name a few examples of where
you may have seen it.
"His talent with art, indeed, prevented him from
completing many thing which he had begun, for "he felt that
his hand would be unable to realize the perfect creations
of his mind..." In his youth Leonardo wrote "I wish to work
miracles." Leonardo was a perfectionist never happy with
what he had made or accomplished. Despite his incredible
accomplishments, when Leonardo died in 1519 at the age of
sixty seven, he was unhappy. The debate still goes on if he
was a greater scientist or artist, perhaps it will never be
Artist, engineer and scientist, are all words that would
describe Leonardo. Although he managed to become famous
throughout Europe, and go from humble beginnings to the
courts and palaces of princes and popes, Leonardo was never
happy with what he had done. It is this and a longing to
discover the wonderful things around him, that drove him
not any desire for fame or fortune.
Leonardos only characteristics of a great person were the
ability to inspire through his art. He could also work
under pressure when he had not worked on a project in a
long time and his employer was angry. Leonardo was not self
confident, because he would not put the faith in his
ability to be able to reproduce the images in his mind.
Leonardo was not brave for he had no need to be. He was
disorganized and had no course of action.
Although Leonardo did have some characteristics of a great
person he was not great. He was a genius, and a
humanitarian. The great person theory's characteristic
mainly apply to conqueror such as Hitler, Napoleon,
Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. All of these men had
the characteristic of a great person. Leonardo was great in
his own way, a master artist, scientist and engineer he
always tried to overcome his problems. Never happy with
what he had accomplished he continually tried to find
perfection. This drive for perfection would have made him
great no matter when he lived.
Leonardo has fascinated all who have studied him, Bill
Gates paid more than thirty million dollars for a few pages
of a note book that Leonardo had worked in. Such a
fascinating individual will never be reproduced yet if he
were, that person would be sure to attain greatness.
"Leonardo DA Vinci" Encarta 1996 1996
Cooper, Margaret. The Inventions of Leonardo DA Vinci. New
York: The Macmillan Company, 1965