By: Basil M. Russo, ISDA President
May 2, 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the great Italian Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci, who was both a master and innovator in the areas of painting, sculpting, architecture, science, engineering, music, mathematics, literature, anatomy, astronomy, architecture and invention.
Because of his exceptional and so widely varied talents, historians have anointed him with the titles “Universal Genius” and “Renaissance Man.”
Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452 in the small hill town of Vinci along the Arno river near Florence. He was born out of wedlock to his father, Piero, a legal notary and his mother , Caterina, a young peasant girl.
As a youngster, Leonardo received an informal education in Latin, geometry and mathematics. At age 14 he served as an apprentice in Verrocchio’s workshop in Florence where he was taught the artistic skills of drawing, painting and sculpting. By age 20 he qualified as a master in the guild of artists and medicine. His contributions to humanity thereafter would arguably never be equaled by another human throughout history. Some of his accomplishments include:
- Painting: Leonardo’s most famous creation is both the best known and most valuable painting in the world, the Mona Lisa orla Gioconda, as it is known in Italian. It is the prized possession of the Louvre Museum in Paris. Other great masterpieces include The Last Supper, which is painted on the wall of a convent in Milan, and The Virgin of the Rocks, which depicts an angel escorting the infant John the Baptist during a visit with the infant Jesus and the Madonna. In 2017 Leonardo’s painting Salvator Mundi sold for a record $450 million. By comparison, that would put the value of the Mona Lisa at several billion dollars! There are only 17 of Leonardo’s paintings in existence today.
- Inventions: Leonardo is regarded as one of the most prolific inventors and innovators in history. He designed a flying machine over 400 years before the Wright brothers were able to fly a plane. He also designed a prototype for the helicopter and the parachute. He created designs for various war machines including an armored car which was capable of moving in any direction with multiple weapons attached. Leonardo improved clocks to provide more accurate time, designed scuba diving equipment, and used his architectural, engineering and inventive skills to design an “ideal city,” that would provide improved communications, services and sanitation to its residents.
- Writings: Leonardo wrote four extensive treatises on painting, architecture, mechanics and anatomy. These notebooks contained over 13,000 pages of insight, which both documented and proposed innovations to help revolutionize these mediums. Leonardo wrote in “Mirror Writing,” which means that he wrote from right to left on each page, so that his writings were only legible when the page was held up to a mirror. To give us some idea of the importance of Leonardo’s writings, Bill Gates paid $30.8 million for one of his manuscripts.
- Renaissance Man: Leonardo epitomized the very definition of a Renaissance Man. He had a wide range of intellectual interests, and was highly accomplished in both the arts and sciences. His unique ability to observe life, study it, and then incorporate his observations and knowledge into his art, made him one of God’s truly great creations.