The Incredible Legacy of Leonardo da Vinci

by Khushi Srivastava

Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, engineer, architect, inventor, and science enthusiast. His inherent genius cut across so many areas that he embodied the title “Renaissance Man.” Today, he is best known for his paintings “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper.” He was largely self-educated, filling dozens of hidden journals with inventions, observations, and speculations on topics ranging from aeronautics to human anatomy. His combination of intellect and imagination enabled him to design, at least on paper, inventions such as the bicycle, helicopter, and airplane based on a bat’s physiology and flying ability.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Personal Background

Da Vinci was born in Anchiano, Tuscany (now Italy), in 1452, near the town of Vinci, which gave him the surname we know today. In his day, he was known simply as Leonardo or “Il Florentine,” as he lived near Florence, and was renowned as an artist, inventor, and thinker.

 Leonardo da Vinci’s father, an attorney and notary, and his peasant mother never married, and he was their only child. They had 17 more children with various partners, including da Vinci’s half-siblings.

Da Vinci’s parents were not married, and his mother, a peasant named Caterina, married another man and started a new family while he was quite young. Beginning around the age of five, he resided on the estate in Vinci owned by his father, Ser Peiro, an attorney and notary. Da Vinci’s uncle, who shared his passion for nature, also assisted in his upbringing.

Early years

Da Vinci received no official schooling beyond basic reading, writing, and math, but his father recognized his creative aptitude and apprenticed him to Florence’s renowned sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio when he was about the age of 15. For over a decade, da Vinci honed his painting and sculpting skills and studied mechanical arts.

The painters’ guild of Florence offered da Vinci admission when he was 20, in 1472, but he remained with Verrocchio until 1478, when he achieved independence. Around 1482, he began painting his first commissioned piece, The Adoration of the Magi, at Florence’s San Donato, a Scopeto monastery.

However, da Vinci never finished that artwork because he moved to Milan to work for the reigning Sforza dynasty as an engineer, painter, architect, designer of royal festivals, and, most importantly, sculptor.

The family commissioned da Vinci to produce a beautiful 16-foot-tall bronze horse statue to honor the dynasty’s founder, Francesco Sforza. Da Vinci worked on the project intermittently for 12 years, and by 1493, a clay model was ready for display. However, impending war necessitated repurposing the bronze intended for the sculpture into guns, and the clay model was destroyed during the conflict after the governing Sforza duke fell from power in 1499.

 Painter or engineer?

Leonardo da Vinci is widely regarded as a genius, particularly for his art, as evidenced here with his Mona Lisa. He was the ideal Renaissance man, a master in several fields of study, but common culture still focuses on his paintings as his primary “masterpieces.” However, da Vinci’s flying prowess is sometimes celebrated as much as his artistic accomplishments. Even still, this concentration fails to recognize da Vinci’s flexibility.

While engineer and architect are hardly the first descriptors that come to mind when picturing one of history’s most famous figures, da Vinci was equally competent in these domains as he was in others. He designed bridges to connect Asia and Europe, plans to preserve and strengthen towns, more architectural plans and specifications, and even military hardware such as a prototype machine gun.

The engineer and architect

Civil engineering, military engineering, architecture, and urban planning are closely related fields, each focusing on different aspects of infrastructure, defense, aesthetics, and city development. Each requires practitioners to focus on maps, with civil engineering focusing on infrastructure function, military engineering on defense, and architecture on aesthetics.

Architects today can gain insight into the mind of Vinci through a closer inspection of blueprints, which provide a deeper understanding of the differences and subtleties in various fields.

Da Vinci’s Plan of Imola, Italy, serves as a useful example for civil engineers to study grading, riverways, and existing structures. Military engineers, on the other hand, focus on using these elements for defense and war, as seen in canals and farmlands.

Da Vinci’s genius extends beyond engineering, as he also excelled in architecture. In his notebooks, he recorded notes on centralized building plans and math for roofing. The math calculations are unclear, but they mostly focus on roofing tiles and shingles. This curious page showcases da Vinci’s ability to calculate and present his work, demonstrating his practicality and not being a wizard.

Vinci Contribution

Da Vinci never stopped thinking large, and evidence can be found throughout his writings. The photograph above shows one of da Vinci’s notebooks from the Paris Manuscripts, which exhibits a concept for a bridge across the Bosporus Strait. If built, the building would have been 280 meters long, or little more than 900 feet, and one of the world’s longest prior to the Industrial Revolution. The structure was designed and submitted to Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II to connect Istanbul with Galata.

In 1482, da Vinci wrote a cover letter to the Duke of Milan, expressing his desire to share his secret inventions with the Duke, having observed and considered the experiments of other masters.

Leonardo appealed to authority for military engineering works, citing his extensive experience in designing war weapons. He also mentioned the possibility of creating less flashy military engineering works, such as water cutting in a siege. 

While da Vinci did develop a tank concept, which he acknowledges in his letter to the Duke, the illustration above may be the strangest idea in his whole notebook series. The “machine gun” appears to be constructed of a massive gear, similar to a water wheel, with crossbows within. It’s hard to tell at first, but there look to be people on the machine and one within the inner wheel. Perhaps they are supposed to spin the wheel and reload the crossbows in order to maintain what would have been an unthinkable firing rate for the day. The Gatling Gun, the oldest machine gun comparable to this design, was  not invented until 1861 during the American Civil War, 400 years later!

Death of Da Vinci

In 1516, Da Vinci was offered the title of “Premier Painter, Engineer, and Architect to the King” by French ruler Francis I, allowing him to paint and draw at his leisure. He died in Cloux at age 67, and his gravesite was demolished in the early 1800s due to the French Revolution.

Reference: –   History

 Leonardo da Vinci: Engineer and Architect

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