Biography of Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian genius centuries ahead of his time

Leonardo da Vinciborn in Win in 1452 and died in France (Amboise) in 1519was a universal genius, capable of reaching very high levels in numerous fields of arts and knowledge, and one of the most important and iconic figures of our Renaissance. As painter he created imperishable masterpieces, including the Mona Lisa and the Cenacle; as inventor, designed highly innovative machines, such as those for flight, which would only be built several centuries later; as scientist, carried out important studies in various disciplines. Leonardo's genius was born from his curiositywhich pushed him to question everything he saw, and by the ability to observe reality in rational and scientific manner. Let's summarize his story.

Who was Leonardo

Leonardo was born in 1452 in Vinci, near Florence, by Piero, a notary and man of culture, and by a woman of servile conditions. The name “da Vinci” logically refers to the country of birth (at Leonardo's time the surname was not yet used by everyone).

From a young age, Leonardo showed aptitude for studies. His father allowed him to attend the workshop as an apprentice Andrea Del Verrocchio, a Florentine painter, and Leonardo soon demonstrated his qualities. He also began to take an interest in different fields of knowledge, showing an uncommon curiosity.

In 1482, when he had already gained a fair amount of notoriety, he moved to Milan at the court of Ludovico il Moro. During his Milanese period he painted one of his best-known works, the Cenacleand planned a great one equestrian statue of Francesco SforzaLudovico's father, never made.

Study for the horse of the statue of Francesco Sforza
Study for the horse of the statue of Francesco Sforza

He remained in the Lombard capital until 1499, then lived for a few years between Mantua and Venice, then returned to Florence. In the second Florentine period he painted the Mona Lisaprobably built between 1503 and 1506, and worked as a military engineer in the service of Cesare Borgia, lord of Romagna.

From 1508 to 1513 he stayed in Milan again, then he lived for a few years in Rome and finally, in 1517, he moved to France at the court of Francis I, bringing with him some of his works, including the Mona Lisa. He died in Amboiseat the LoireIn the 1519.

Leonardo's religion and private life

Leonardo, in all likelihood, was a deist: he believed in the existence of a superior being, but believed that he did not intervene in human affairs. Consequentially, he did not believe in the Church and the dogmas of Catholicism, anticipating, in some respects, the position of the Enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century. Very little is known about Leonardo's private life. It does not appear that he was married or in a stable relationship. Most likely, as appears from various sources, he was homosexual.

Self-portrait of Leonardo

The scientist and the philosopher

Leonardo believed that nature was regulated by laws that were expressed through mathematics and therefore therefore followed a rational approach, observing reality with a scientific spirit. Although best known as a painter and inventor, he made important contributions to various fields of science. In the context of geology, was one of the first to understand the nature of fossils (until then mistakenly believed to be remains of the universal flood); in astronomy, he intuited some characteristics of the Sun, the stars and gravitational attraction, well before the law of gravity was formulated; in the botanywas among the first scholars to understand that leaves are arranged on trees according to mathematical proportions and not randomly.

Leonardo painter

Leonardo was the author of over 200 works including paintings, sketches and drawings, and introduced innovations of great importance. First of all, he carried out in-depth studies on nature and the human organism, like the very famous one Vitruvian Man, and was therefore able to use a large anatomical realism in his works.

The Vitruvian Man
The Vitruvian Man

He was also an innovator in the field of perspective and managed, in a certain sense, to paint the “interiority” of his characters. For these reasons, Leonardo was one of the major representatives of Renaissance Italian.

Thanks to his genius, the painter achieved immortal masterpieces: first of all the Cenaclekept in Milan, and the Mona Lisa, better known as the Mona Lisa and considered the most famous painting in the world, but also other works of the highest level, such as the Virgin of the Rocksthe Lady with an Ermine and many others.

The Lady with an Ermine

Leonardo's inventions and genius

Leonardo was also an inventor, capable of drawing highly innovative machines. The most famous and important are those for flying, like theornithoptera machine with flapping wings for which he was inspired by the flight of birds.

Ornithopter (credits Edoardo Zanon)
Modern ornithopter model (credits: Edoardo Zanon)

Leonardo was also responsible for the drawings of a sort of predecessor of the current one parachuteof the diving suitof a machine similar to the bicycles and gods war instruments of various kindsincluding a predecessor of the current one tank. Almost none of Leonardo's inventions were built and applied on a large scale: some became prototypesothers remained at project stage (some were built in recent times to be displayed in exhibitions and museums).

The inventions, however, demonstrate Leonardo's genius, which lies in having been capable of assimilate all the knowledge of his timein merging them together and making them progress, anticipating the times and “projecting themselves” into the future.