Friday, April 15, 2022

Apr. 15: Leonardo da Vinci, Italian "Renaissance Man"


Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an Italian polymath. When people say "Renaissance Man," I think of Leonardo. Bastard son of a pencil-pushing lawyer and a lower-class mom named Caterina, he was followed by a dozen half-siblings much younger than he, one by some 40 years. (Dad was busy.) Both his mother and father married--to other people--the year after he was born. But he had the good fortune to grow up 20 miles from Florence, where he studied and worked for the artist Verrocchio (who himself was a student of the great sculptor Donatello). But beyond the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, he worked as a military engineer. His Notebooks and manuscripts run to around 13,000 pages, including some rather mundane things like lists of groceries and people who owed him money. But there are also sketches for paintings and projects never realized; scientific studies of anatomy and biology; architectural drawings; "flying machines," including a prototype for a helicopter; a sort of tank; a chariot with spinning scythes out in front of the horses; shoes for walking on water; musical instruments; a mechanical knight; hydraulic pumps; finned mortar shells; and a steam-powered cannon. He may well have been homosexual. His tenderness for animals (he purchased caged birds and released them, but this may have been to observe their flight) suggests he may have been vegetarian.


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