From Issue #1
The Original Renaissance Man
All About Leonardo - Da Vinci, that is!
By Liane Beam
one of the world's most famous paintings, protected behind
bulletproof glass in the Louvre Museum in Paris. And she's
fooled everyone for 500 years. Why is the Mona Lisa smiling?
It's a question that observers have asked for centuries.
As enduring and mysterious as the Mona Lisa, is her enigmatic
artist, Leonardo Da Vinci.
life spanned the mid 15th and early 16th centuries, a
period known as the Renaissance. During this time, artistic,
social, scientific and political thought shifted from
the ignorance and superstition of the Middle Ages to embrace
reason, science, learning and tolerance.
in Italy on April 15, 1452 in the small mountain town
of Vinci (Leonardo Da Vinci=Leonardo of Vinci), Leonardo
was the son of a lawyer and a peasant girl. He grew up
exposed to a tradition of painting. Legend has it that
when Leonardo was young, his father asked him to paint
a picture of a shield. Leonardo thought it would be much
more interesting to paint a monster. He collected lizards,
bats and other dead animals and tried to replicate them
to create his masterpiece. He didn't even notice that
the animals were rotting as he painted. When his father
saw the painting, he was impressed by its realism and
knew that Leonardo must be an artist.
Leonardo the Artist
Accordingly, when Leonardo was 15, he began an apprenticeship
with a renowned workshop artist, Andrea del Verrocchio,
in Florence. Throughout his life, Leonardo would use close
observation to understand the world around him. In his
art, Leonardo applied his observations on nature to paint
realistic-looking pictures. Unlike many other artists
of his time, he did not paint overemphasized muscular
bodies. He was the first artist to study the physical
proportions of the human body and use his studies to paint
lifelike people. His style eventually became the standard
for much of the art produced in the 16th century.
also experimented with light and shadow in his artwork
to recreate the 3-dimensional form of objects. His paintings
were among the first to show changes in the detail and
colour of an object to create an illusion of depth and
distance. His most famous artworks include The Baptism
of Christ, The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and The Adoration
of Three Kings.
important aspect of Leonardo's work as an artist was his
ability to combine art and science. He used his knowledge
of anatomy and his observations of how objects moved and
appeared naturally to complement his art. Since the 19th
century, Western culture has considered art and science
as separate schools of thought. Many consider Leonardo's
work to symbolize the former state of unity between the
Oh, Mona Lisa, why art thou smiling? Hmmm, I wonder...
During the later years of his life, Leonardo was more
fascinated by science than he was by art. Leonardo was
not limited by the technology of his time. He studied
and thought of ideas that were possible or conceivable.
One of his greatest accomplishments is the range of topics
that he studied including anatomy, zoology, botany, geology,
optics, aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. His interests
were so broad that he often became interested in something
else and failed to finish what he started. Even still,
Leonardo was so far ahead of his time that many of his
ideas would not be further explored or even understood
for another 300 to 400 years.
Leonardo observed, analyzed and recorded everything he
saw in meticulously illustrated notebooks. Despite producing
thousands of pages of observations in his manuscripts,
Leonardo never published his ideas. He even went to great
lengths to conceal his work by writing in cryptic shorthand
or writing backwards. Some of his scientific notebooks
still exist today. The most famous, Codex Leicester, was
purchased by Bill Gates in 1994 for $30 million. The Codex
Leicester contains observations of the natural world detailed
by text, images and diagrams. Unlike casual observers,
Leonardo mentally dissected his experiences and recorded
each action and occurrence. He immersed himself in nature
and asked himself questions about what he saw. While contemplating
the answer, he painstakingly recorded each detail of the
solution, constantly applying his techniques of observation
Leonardo's fascination with learning led him to undertake
some creepy investigations. For example, it's recorded
that Leonardo, in his quest for knowledge, would use the
bodies of criminals who had died, to examine and draw
the limbs, nerves and joints of the human body.
And one and two and one and two...
To earn extra money, Leonardo put his drawing skills to
work sketching inventions. (Even in the Renaissance, artists
had a hard time earning a living.) Although it wasn't
hard to find somebody to repair a machine, it was something
extraordinary to find somebody to invent one. His talents
in art allowed him to draw his designs clearly. Many of
his drawings are considered the initial blueprints for
machines that exist today. Again, Leonardo used his method
of close observation to study how machines work. He understood
their design and structure and was able to improve existing
machines and create new ones. Leonardo designed several
flying machines, including a helicopter. These machines
were impractical, but study of his designs shows that
they were composed of sound aerodynamic principles.
the age of 67, Leonardo died in 1519 in the arms of the
king from that common killer: old age. Leonardo's legacy
of inspiration and ideas remain strong. He embodied the
spirit of the Renaissance through his intellectual pursuits
and desire to use his talents for the good of society.
His diverse knowledge and many contributions make him
a leading example of a "Renaissance Man."