Leonardo da Vinci is remembered by most as an artist with realistic paintings such as the famous Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, that dominated the Renaissance period. However, when you study the life of Leonardo da Vinci you uncover more than just the artist. You find a multidimensional person who contributed to art, science, medicine, engineering, the military, town planning and politics.
Leonardo da Vinci was born in Vinci in 1452. His father was a notary in Florence and his mother a 16 yr old servant girl. He grew up in his grandfather’s vineyard and orchard overlooking the valley of the River Arno. In his early years Leonardo was educated by the local priest, asking many questions and challenged the existing beliefs of the time.
Leonardo eventually moved to the bustling city of Florence, which was a key city of the Renaissance period. He studied as an apprentice in the studio of Andrea del Verrochio where he worked on various art projects. Leonardo da Vinci worked with like-minded people to learn his trade, and share knowledge and technical skills, including drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics and carpentry, as well as the artistic skills of drawing, painting, sculpting and modelling. Leonardo made a significant contribution to refining the art of realism and the use of linear perspective. Leonardo was asked to complete one of Verrochio’s paintings and when Verrochio viewed what Leonardo had completed, he was astounded at the high level of detail and realism that Leonardo achieved. Verrochio had vowed that from that moment on he himself would not paint again. It is clear from the painting below the artistic contribution that Leonardo had made (the detail in the image of the left angel and the distinctive rocky background).
The Renaissance period followed the Middle Ages and began around the 1400s. The period was dominated by learning, discovery and inquiry. Ancient Greek and Roman knowledge was revisited and revised from the perspective of the Renaissance period. One of the key movements during this time was the transformation of two-dimensional Middle Age art to a three-dimensional perspective, creating a sense of realism in artwork. Furthermore, the Renaissance period spawned new discoveries in art, science and adventure. For example, new lands were discovered by Christopher Columbus (1942) during this time.
From an early age Leonardo began to draw and record his thoughts on paper. He kept numerous notebooks of his drawings, designs and observations. He also recorded a number of questions and then tried to answer them as part of his quest for knowledge and understanding. One of Leonardo’s peculiarities was writing many of his notebook entries in mirror image (reverse text) demonstrating superior spacial skills. It has been postulated that he wrote many entries in reverse to try to hide some of his notes, thoughts and ideas from prying eyes, or simply because he wanted to prevent smudging as he was mainly left-handed (although he was also ambidextrous).
Leonardo displayed certain distinct characteristics common amongst creative people, including:
Curious and open-minded
Challenged assumptions and sought the truth
Tolerant of ambiguity
Comfortable with imagination and intuition
Viewed problems as opportunities
Persevered and didn’t give up easily
- Whole-Brain Thinking (art and science)
- Physical Being
Leonardo utilised the seven principles to achieve a number of outcomes. For example, in 1502 he worked as a military engineer for Cesare Borgia the son of Pope Alexander VI at a time where many Italian city-states were always at war. Leonardo’s job was to design new devices to better kill the enemy. He also came up with ways to remove, redirect or poison enemy water supplies.
Leonardo also identified and recorded a number of observations in his journals, and designed a number of inventions before their time:
By studying Leonardo da Vinci we find that we can identify a number of learnings from his life that we can adopt in our personal and working life, including:
Be curious and open-minded
– a wealth of opportunities emerge when our mind is prepared to be open to ideas and curious about our surroundings
Ask questions to solve problems
– asking “Why?”
is a great way to solve problems by finding the root cause or causes
Capture ideas and experiences in a journal
– thinking on paper by keeping a journal is a great way of expressing your internal creative spirit
Balance art and science – get the best of both worlds through reading and creative activities
Harmonize body and mind
– use whole brain thinking
techniques by stimulating and reprogramming your subconscious mind
Appreciate nature and our surroundings – enjoy and protect our world by considering the implications of increasing waste and carbon emissions
Set goals and aspirations
– ensure you set SMART goals
that are backed by action
to create successful outcomes
Create a harmonious work-life balance – both work and play are important for humans, therefore ensure that your work and personal life are integrated and balanced
To continuous learning and creative inspiration!
Dr John Kapeleris