Hands on History: Leonardo da Vinci: An All-Round Genius
By Shani Asokan
An outstanding painter, inventor, and all-round genius, Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest minds of the Renaissance period in Italy. He played a number of different roles during his lifetime including a painter, engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor and architect. Today, we will learn all about this man of many talents and how he made history.
Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452, in a village called Vinci, in Italy. His place of birth contributed to his surname, da Vinci, which literally means ‘from Vinci’. As a child, it is said the Leonardo loved nature, and spent a lot of time outdoors. When he reached his late teenage years, Leonardo moved to Florence, Italy, where he took painting lessons. He began using a technique of painting called Tempera, in which the artist mixes colour pigments with water and egg yolk to make paint. This was a popular method painting at the time, used in fine painting, usually on wood panels. This technique eventually gave way to oil painting.
As a young man, Leonardo began writing down his ideas. In just a short while, he had around 20,000 pages of ideas! He used a form of coding in his writing, spelling out words backwards, reversing each letter in the word so that it could only be read if held up to a mirror. This ‘mirror writing’ could have been to protect his writing from prying eyes, or to prevent his ideas from being stolen. In the 1490s, Leonardo sketched designs of a flying machine.
This idea was way ahead of his time, as though experiments were done in the late 1800s, the first successful plane was only flown in 1903 by the Wright brothers. Leonardo’s blueprints make him the first known person to seriously study the possibility for humans to fly in aircrafts. Later this same decade, Leonardo painted one of his most famous paintings, ‘The Last Supper’. He painted it at the request of the Duke of Milan, who asked Leonardo to paint a mural for a dining room. People loved this piece of art, and word spread quickly, propelling Leonardo to fame.
In 1503, Leonardo began work on the ‘Mona Lisa’, another one of his famous paintings. This painting is known for the mysterious way in which the eyes of the Mona Lisa appear to follow viewers wherever they move. Between 1513 and 1516, Leonardo spent his time living in the Belvedere Courtyard in the Apostolic Palace, in Vatican City. It is said that two other famous painters and sculptors Michelangelo and Raphael were also at the Apostolic Palace at the time In 1516, Leonardo was asked to be the official painter for the King of France.
He accepted, travelling to France where he would live out the rest of his life. This turned out to be just a few years, as Leonardo died in France in 1519 at the age of 67, possibly of a stroke. Leonardo da Vinci was a man of many talents, one, who is more ways than one was very much ahead of his time. Today, we have looked at just a few of his accomplishments, but there is a lot of his life yet to be discovered. There’s plenty of material available in books and on the internet if you wish to know more of his life.