We know Leonardo da Vinci most famously for his painting of the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. However, he was a great many more things.
He is referred to as the Italian Renaissance polymath. A polymath is someone who is considered very knowledgeable about many different things. da Vinci was a polymath, or a Renaissance Man.
Can you imagine one person being a painter, a writer, mathematician, engineer, architect, sculptor, cartographer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, botanist, and musician?
This man is by all accounts the greatest of painters, and perhaps one of the most talented human beings ever to have lived. For someone who was so great, his beginnings speak nothing for it.
He was born in the town of Vinci near Florence in Italy to the wealthy notary Messer Piero, and Caterina, a peasant woman. His parents were not married when he was born, and his father brought him up.
His name “da Vinci” actually means “from Vinci”. His full name was “Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci”, which meant Leonardo son of Messer Piero from Vinci.
Unfortunately, not much is known of his childhood. Some experts who have studied the life and times of da Vinci say that even though he was not born within marriage, he still enjoyed everything a legitimate child would have. On the other hand, others say that because he was not born within marriage, he could not study and become a notary or a doctor.
During his childhood years of schooling, he learned Latin, geometry, and maths.
His painting skills began to shine as early as 15 years, and he worked as an apprentice for a famous artist Verrocchio in Florence. He soon became even better than Verrocchio did, and Verrocchio soon retired because it caused him too much embarrassment.
His apprenticeship under Verrocchio taught him many things that would be the foundation to some of his greatest inventions and creations. He learned mechanics, metallurgy (the study of metal), drafting, chemistry, leather working, carpentry, sculpting, modelling, and plaster casting.
During his lifetime, he produced a great many paintings and sculptures. But he also experiment with different artistic styles and most of these experiments did not work out well. He also had a history of always postponing work so he ended up wasting much time.
There are about fifteen paintings of his that have survived, and a few drawings. However, he left many notebooks in which he drew diagrams of scientific experiments and wrote many thoughts down about art and sculpture.
He qualified as a master in a school for artists and doctors (of medicine) as well. His contribution to engineering and medicine is not as popular as that to the world of art, but most of his ideas were beyond those of his time.
He moved away from just accepting what his teachers taught him and instead taught himself to observe his subject matter closely, took detailed notes of his observations, repeatedly tested his findings and recorded everything in notes and pictures. This led him to theorize on many topics, like formation of fossils, the stars and the planets, but most importantly the mystery of flight.
Around the 1520s Leonardo started cutting open dead bodies to understand how the human body functioned. While it was quite disgusting, his notes and observations from these experiments shaped the study of human anatomy.
His excellent artistic skills led him to draw sketches for military weapons like missiles, multibarreled machine guns, mortars, grenades, and even the modern war tank. He also drew sketches of designs for, canal building, and architecture.
He realized the importance of gears and leavers, and like many of his drawings show, gears and leavers played an important role in his other inventions of helicopters, cranes, and automatic turnspits.
He was however careful and did not abuse his genius. He refused to make an underwater breathing gadget because he felt it would be used for “evil in war”.
During Leonardo’s time, water was the main source of energy. His brilliant mind studied water in its liquid, ice and steam forms and he devised waterwheels, steam powered cannons and many other water powered devices.
All this inventions, paintings, and theorizing did not leave him much room to form any close relationships, but he had a huge respect for life which lead him to lead a fully vegetarian life, even going to the extent of buying caged animals just to set them free.
Although he had a few friends who were also intellectuals like himself, he did not ever get married, and history records his close friendship only with two sisters Beatrice and Isabella d’Este.
He kept his private life very private and so nothing very much is known of it. He was close to a few of his pupils, but became very close to Francis I of France around 1516. He soon gave Leonardo a place to life, and Francis I was with Leonardo, holding his head in his arms as he peacefully passed away of old age on 2nd May 1519.
Looking at all of Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci creations it is no wonder that he is considered by many to be the smartest, most brilliant man to ever have lived.