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 as revered.
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 the other.
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 relief.
"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 them.
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 resolved.
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