Leonardo da Vinci is regarded as the model Renaissance Man whose endeavors reflect his accomplishment in a variety of artistic and scientific disciplines.While best known for his paintings Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, he was also a scientist who pursued an astonishing diversity of studies.His Notebooks contain observations and inventions that reveal a wide-rangingintellect centuries ahead of its time.
Leonardo was born in the village of Vinci in 1452, the illegitimate son of awell-to-do Florentine notary. He was educated at home, where he also receivedinstruction in music and art. Around the year 1467 Leonardo was apprenticedto Andrea del Verrocchio, a prominent Florentine painter, sculptor, and goldsmith. Verrocchio tutored da Vinci in painting and sculpture, though more often than not, according to legend, the student corrected the master. In 1472 Leonardo was inducted into the Florentine guild of painters. During the decadethat followed he became one of the most sought-after artists in Florence.
Leonardo's interests were not limited to art. Sometime between 1481 and 1483he became a military and civil engineer for the duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. Leonardo flourished among prominent artists and scholars, and the two decades of his residence in Milan were the most productive of his career. He pursued studies in several disciplines and began keeping the first of his voluminous notebooks. In addition to painting such masterpieces as the Virgin ofthe Rocks and The Last Supper, he completed a substantial portionof a treatise on painting and laid the groundwork for texts on anatomy, architecture, and mechanics. Because most scientific and philosophical literaturewas not available in Italian, da Vinci taught himself Latin. This enabled himto read the works of authors, particularly Archimedes, whose scholastic methodology he believed paralleled his own. When Milan fell to French forces in 1499, Leonardo returned to Florence. From 1502 to 1503 he was chief architectand engineer for Cesare Borgia, designing weapons and drawing strategic mapswhich are early examples of modern cartography. Returning to Milan in 1506, Leonardo enjoyed a prominent position at the court of French governor Charlesd'Amboise. In 1517 he was invited by Francis I to join his court at Amboise,where he lived until his death in 1519.
For over three decades da Vinci kept detailed written records and illustrations of his work. Believing the individual must "understand how to see, "he considered his eyes his most valuable asset and acquired knowledge chiefly through observation. The diversity of his interests, as well as his apparent passion for recording in minute detail virtually all of his perceptions, resultedin writings on a multitude of subjects. The Notebooks contain preliminary notes and outlines for treatises on art, architecture, and engineering, as well as studies in several branches of science, notable anatomy, zoology, physiology, geography, and astronomy.
During the early years of his career, da Vinci was chiefly interested in mechanics and engineering. His desire to understand not only how something works,but also why, led him to a number of discoveries. Included among his projects were plans for a helicopter, a submarine, and an armored tank. Later he concentrated almost exclusively on his scientific studies, particularly human anatomy. Leonardo performed over thirty dissections, documenting in detail thecirculatory system and internal structure of the human body.
Most scholars concur that da Vinci's observations and inventions were in advance of their time, and that his scientific methodology anticipated the techniques of future generations of scientists. Today his Notebooks are considered among the best evidence of the transition from Renaissance to Modern scholasticism, and are highly valued for the insight they provide into both the artistic and scientific achievements of the Italian Renaissance.