Who was Leonardo da Vinci - really? This section will attempt to answer the biggest questions about his enigmatic and eccentric life. From his birth till his death and everything in between.
“1452. There was born to me a grandson, the son of Ser Piero my son, on the 15th day of April, a Saturday, at the 3rd hour (10.30pm) of the night. He bears the name Lionardo.”
Leonardo Is considered the greatest genius of all time, beating out the likes of Einstein, Shakespeare, and Galileo. He left behind around 5,000 of pages of notebooks that explored such subjects as light, visual perspective, painting, drawing, anatomy, war machines, flight, botany, and dozens more. He was the first to design tanks, planes, helicopters, robots, automobiles, the contact lens, parachutes, devices to breathe underwater, and to diagnose heart disease.
He grew up in Vinci Italy where his name also originates. His father was a notary (similar to a lawyer) and one of the richest men in his town. His mother Caterina was a peasant girl (potentially an Arab Slave) and they never married - Da Vinci was illegitimate. This made him unable to pursue his fathers career. So he was left with very little formal education and spent most of his younger years exploring the country side under the care of his grandfather and uncle.
When he was 14 his father would help him get accepted as an apprentice in what we might today call: a "prestigious art school." There he studied all types of art from sculpture to architecture - and of course paintings. He went on to work for various patrons and royalty before dying in the service of the King of France in 1519.
- His height/ weight/ hair, and eye color are unknown. He was said to be proportional and well built. It's probable that his sketch of the "Vitruvian man" is mostly a self portrait.
- His finger prints have been found on his paintings and are on file with the FBI.
- Although most people only consider him as an older- balding-bearded-professor-type, when he was younger he was said to be incredibly attractive, could bend horse shoes with his bare hands, he could sing, play the "violin" (and created his own design to look like a horse skull) and was a party planner and costume designer for royalty.
- Leonardo was 67 yo when he died in the service of the King of France.
- He was alive during the time that Christopher Columbus "discovered" the new world - the Americas. This would almost be as significant as the Moon Landing and he would have not only heard stories about this new amazing culture, structures, but also could have seen some of the things they brought back.
- Leonardo is the only child that his parents had together but they went on and separately had 17 other children total. 12 from his father and 5 from his mother.
- He was the first to diagnose heart disease.
- He dissected over 30 bodies. Imagine doing so without refrigeration, any febreeze, and only by candle light.
- He was a vegetarian and animal lover. He designed stables for his horses that had "air conditioning" and it's said he would buy birds just to set them free.
April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519 (Aries/ Monkey)
These are the various titles that could be applied to Leonardo da Vinci. The term for someone with such varied interests is a "polymath" or "Renaissance man."
- Set designer
- Costume maker
How smart was he?
After over 8 years of re-searching Leonardo I've found it really difficult to label him appropriately. The closest I could come was to simply call him a "Genius" but he was in a league of his own. The only people who seem to rival him are people called "Prodigious savants" - but that also didn't quite fit him. He didn't seem to be a savant.
"A prodigious savant is someone with a skill level equivalent to or greater than that of a prodigy, regardless of any cognitive disability. The most common trait of prodigious savants is their seemingly limitless mnemonic skills, with many having eidetic or photographic memories. Prodigious savants are extremely rare, with fewer than one hundred noted in more than a century of literature on the subject. Treffert estimates that fewer than fifty or so such individuals are alive today."
He didn't seem to have an eidetic memory and even mentions in his notebooks that there are too many things to remember so you should write them down and sketch what you see when you see it so you don't forget. While I do think that he had a form of mild autism that accounts for his eccentric behavior and both obsessive focus and concurrent inability to finish anything he didn't display any savantish abilities.
So in my quest to slap a label on his amazing mind I decided that he was worthy of a new title: I'm calling it a Prodigious Genius.
What is a Prodigious Genius and how is it different from a "normal" genius? Well I would say that a Prodigious genius is well versed in many subjects. The closest other term would be a "Polymath" which is has become almost synonymous with a "Renaissance Man":
" Is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath (or polymathic person) may simply be someone who is very knowledgeable. Most ancient scientists were polymaths by today's standards. The term was first used in the seventeenth century but the related term, polyhistor, is an ancient term with similar meaning."
While a polymath is someone who knows a lot about a lot of things, a Prodigious Genius is someone who contributes something new and original or revolutionary to many different fields. Anyone could potentially learn what others have already taught - and memorize it. A prodigious Genius might not even know about those fields, there may not even be those subjects to study - they create them.
The main thing that separates a Prodigious Genius from other geniuses is their creativity and imagination. They don't just think outside of the box - they turn boxes into spheres.
There have probably been quite a few potential prodigious geniuses throughout history - the problem is that even fewer get the chance to reach this potential. With most of the world being illiterate and uneducated and having no access to any knowledge outside of family stories - it's only been a very select few that were given the opportunity and had the innate mental capacity to achieve such intellectual heights. Even if someone had - we would never know about them unless they left something behind for us to find.
So who else could be considered in these elite ranks? Einstein? Shakespeare? The Pyramid Designers? Steve Jobs? No, not even Einstein. A prodigious Genius is someone who is universally creative and revolutionary and isn't specific to only one field, or even a couple subjects. They are people who are capable of revolutionary ideas in almost everything they attempt. Einstein was in-arguably a genius, but his focus and range was limited to mostly physics. Leonardo's focus was such that he could focus on one subject - take it to its greatest heights - and then focus on the next thing and do the same- and repeat this for dozens of fields - even physics.
The only other person I've come across that comes close to rivaling Leonardo da Vinci is Nikola Tesla.
Why did Leonardo write in Mirrored Script?
Leonardo wrote mirrored - from right to left. Why? Some people think he did this to hide or "encode" his writing but since he had been doing it in his youth - (before he would have been writing anything secretive) - it's most likely that he was left handed and without anyone telling him how he "should" write he naturally wrote from right to left as is natural for someone left handed. This is where his lack of a formal education came in handy, he wasn't forced to write with his "right" hand.
Put out both of your hands as if you are holding a pencil in each hand in front of you.
Now pretend you are writing your name in cursive in the air with your dominant hand. Then try it with your opposite hand. Now try doing it with both hands at the same time. One of your hands gets confused - right? Now put both hands out in front of you again and try the same thing but this time make each hand mirror each other so that your right hand is going from left to right and your left hand is going from left to right - and they are both making the same moments. See how much easier that is? That's why Leonardo wrote "mirrored" he was writing how someone left handed would naturally and no one "corrected" him and told him to write right. Another thing you can do to see what I mean is to hold out both your right arm and right leg. Move them both at the same time in clockwise circles. Now try to reverse your arm to make counter clockwise circles.
What did Leonardo look like?
- Height: 6'4" (Read this somewhere not sure how they know)
He was obsessed with mirrors and painted more portraits than anything else (that we know of) so it's been sort of a mystery as to what he really looked like. Why aren't there more, if any, obvious portraits of himself?
Almost every artist, especially painters, and even more so - painters who paint portraits - paint themselves a lot. If you have the urge to start painting, and there is no one around - you are always there. I know personally that I have more pictures of myself than anything else. Why? Cause i'm there, all the time.
I would imagine that Leonardo painted, or at least sketched himself, a lot. I would go so far as to say he was one of his own greatest subjects. Getting people to stay still for long amounts of time is very difficult. But when you are looking in a mirror, and painting, you have a subject that will pose for you for as long as you can paint. I would think that in the same way that I taught myself to take portraits, by taking self portraits, da Vinci used his own reflection to do the same.
The logic is sound, but the evidence is evidently lacking. There is really only one sketch that is considered to be a self portrait, and that was in 1516-ish when he was already old.
It could very well be that he knew by only leaving behind enigmatic and mysterious images of himself that it would only add to his mystique. Similar to how someone fantasizes about what their 'blind date' would look like - being able to imagining them out to be whatever you want.
Another potential reason could be that he wasn't able to represent himself in a way that he felt comfortable with. Today people have a similar dilemma when picking out their default picture on social media sites. If you only have a single image that emblematizes yourself - a clever solution would be to not post a picture of yourself at all and let people judge you by your work and not your image, like leaving a book's cover blank.
Leonardo da Vinci's Family Tree
Leonardo had 17 half brothers and sisters. 12 from his father and 5 from his mother.
Ser Guido di Ser Michelo da Vinci (Leonardo's Great - Grandfather)
Had three sons:
- Giovanni (Notary)
- Piero (Notary)
Antonio (Leonardo's Grandfather) - (Farmer)
Antonio married Lucia (Leo's Grandma born 1393) who was the daughter of a Notary.
Although the family tradition/ trade was to be a Notary Leonardo's grandfather Antonio and his uncle Francesco decided to be farmers instead.
Antonio and Lucia had: (Leo's Grandpa and Grandma)
Piero - 1427 - Leonardo's Father
- Francesco - 1435 - Leonardo's Uncle (Farmer)
- Violante - Unknown
Leonardo's father was 25 years old when Fathered Leo and died in 1504. On his father's side he eventually had 9 half-brothers and 2 half-sisters.
Leonardo's father had 4 marriages.
- Albiera (No children)
- Francesca (No children)
Two sons, one daughter
- Antonio 1476 (Ser Piero's first legitimate heir) (Leonardo was 24yo)
- Giuliomo - 1479
- Maddalena 1477-1480
4. Lucrezia: ( 2 Daughters, 7 Sons)
- - Lorenzo 1484
- - Violante 1485
- - Domenico – 1486
- - Margherita - 1491
- - Benedetto - 1492
- - Pandolfol - 1494
- - Guglielmo - 1496
- - Bartolomeo - 1497 -Had a son "Pierino - was a sculptor but died at age 23 and was mentioned in Giorgio Vasari's biographies and one of his sculptures is in the Louvre)
- - Giovnni - 1498
Leonardo's mother was 16 when she had him. She married another man soon after and eventually had 3 daughters, 1 other son, and a the 5th is unknown.
- Piera - 1455
- Maria - 1458
- Name Unknown *Leonardo notes that his half brother on his mothers side died from a mortar shot at Pisa.*
Leo's Time Line
Submit a date not listed *
April 15, 1452: Born
"1452. There was born to me a grandson, the son of Ser Piero my son, on the 15th day of April, a Saturday, at the 3rd hour (10.30pm) of the night. He bears the name Lionardo." - in the Village of Anchiano, by "Vinci"
1466 - Statue of David (Models For)
1467 - Enters Andrea De Verrocchio Work shop at age 14.
1472 - Accepted into Painters Guild of Florence
1473 -*The day of Santa Maria della Neve [of the Snows] August the 2nd 1473.
1475 - Father remarried for the third time and had first legitimate son
1476: Sodomy charges:
Sodomy Charges were filed against Leonardo da Vinci, Baccino, Bartolomeo di Pasquino; and Leonardo Tornabuoni, a member of the aristocratic Tornabuoni family: "party to many wretched affairs and consents to please those persons who request such wickedness of him" with Jacopo Saltarelli - a known prostitute.
1478 - January first commission at his own studio
1478 - The Annunciation
1481 - The Adoration of the Magi, at the Monastery of San Donato at Scopeto.
1482-1499 - Moves to Milan to work with the Ludovico Sforza as: "painter and engineer of the duke"
1483 - 1486 - Virgin of the Rocks (Louvre Version)
1485 - Lady with an Ermine
1489 - Sforza Horse
1489 - *"On the 2nd of April 1489, book entitled 'Of the human figure'. "*
1490 - Vitruvian man
1490 - July 22 *"Giacomo came to live with me on St Mary Magdalene's day.."
1493 - " On the 16th day of July. Caterina came on 16th day of July, 1493." (Potentially his Mother - or a servant)
1495 - Last Supper - Starts at the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie
1495-1508 - Virgin of the Rocks (London Version)
1497- Given New Garden by Duke Sforza
1498 - Finishes the Last Supper
1499 - French troops Invade Milan
1499 -*"On the 1st of August 1499, I wrote here of motion and of weight. "*
1500 -Back to Florence
1500 - Begins Child w/ St. Anne (takes 10 years to complete)
1501 - Isabella D'este (Writes to him to commission portrait - Leo Declines)
1502 - Works for Cesare Borgia (son of Pope Alexander VI) as "Senior military architect and general engineer"
1504 - Leonardo's Father Dies: (These are the only instances that Leonardo mentions his father in his Notebooks.
*"On the 9th of July 1504, Wednesday, at seven o'clock, died Ser Piero da Vinci, notary at the Palazzo del Podesta, my father, —at seven o'clock, being eighty years old, leaving behind ten sons and two daughters."*
*"On Wednesday at seven o'clock died Ser Piero da Vinci on the 9th of July 1504. "*
1505-1513 - Milan
1505 - *"Begun by me, Leonardo da Vinci, on the l2th of July 1505. "*
"The title is on the foregoing coversheet as follows: "Libro titolato disstrafformatione coe (cioe) d'un corpo nvn (in un) altro sanza diminuitione e acresscemento di materia"
1508 - *Begun at Milan on the l2th of September 1508. "*
1508 - "Begun at Florence, in the house of Piero di Braccio Martelli, on the 22nd day of March 1508"
- Leonardo's Notebooks; #4 -da Vinci dates and documents the location where he attempted to compile his notebooks. JPR says it should really be 1509.
1515 -St. John the Baptist
1515 - *"The Magnifico Giuliano de' Medici left Rome on the 9th of January 1515, just at daybreak, to take a wife in Savoy; and on the same day fell the death of the king of France. "*
1513 -Rome 24th September
1513 -*On the 9th of January 1513. "*
1516 - Goes to work for the King of France
1518 - *"On the 24th of June, St John's day, 1518 at Amboise, in the palace of… "*
1519 - May 2, - Leonardo dies in France at Clos Lucé and was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in Château d'Amboise, -France.
A # refers to a specific quote from Leonardo's Notebooks and can be found through that section on this site.
**Notes that the date was written in Leonardo's notebooks. There aren't many and they are usually obscure. More about those dates can be found @ Leo's Notebooks: Letters & Dates
*Being updated* 2/22/14 -D
- - Enters Andrea De Verrocchio Work
- - Sodomy Charges.
- - Moves to Milan
- - Salai comes to live with him.
- - Leo's father dies.
- - Goes to Milan
- - Goes to Rome
- - Goes to work for King of France
- - May 2 - Dies in France.