Sunday, May 13, 2018

Leonardo Da Vinci

Where to start with Leonardo da Vinci?  Perhaps his art, his drive to perfection, his curiosity and his powers of observation.  One thing just led to another, often leaving some projects unfinished so he could start on another.

From painting he developed an interest in anatomy.  What you see on the outside comes from what is inside.   He dissected countless bodies of all ages to better understand how muscles worked.  Asked to do an equestrian statue he felt it necessary to dissect horses and this triggered an interest in comparative anatomy.  His drawings were very detailed and accurate. and ahead of their time.

Also stemming from painting he developed an interest in optics   An Arab, Ibn al Haytham  had written on optics as early as 1021 and encouraged more development during the Renaissance.   Shadows, Leonardo discovered were useful in creating a three dimensional effect.  A century later, the Dutch painter Vermeer used an optical understanding for doing paintings that were more realistic  --check   Da Vinci's hydrology studies are compared to his interest in blood flow and of course affected some of his painting.

Born 1452 illegitimately which had pluses and minuses.  He spent time with his mother's family and his father's.  If he had been legitimized he would likely have become a notary as his ancestors did and later his own half brothers..  His father helped steer painting commissions his way and supported him in many other ways..  His talents were recognized.

He considered himself an engineer contributing to hydro and military projects.  He was very interested in pageantry and got involved with presentations in Florence and Milan.  Isaacson thought one of the keys to understanding Leonardo was  his intense powers of observation.  One example was that he noted the differences of the upward pull of wings with the downward push and how it differed among different types of birds.  One observation was directed towards the tongue of a woodpecker.

Isaacson noted that Leonardo was not a lonely genius, that in fact he believed in collaboration and stimulating intellectual gatherings.  Like at least two other of his biographical subjects, Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs arranging for meeting other intellectuals was common.

Interesting details of many of his paintings and drawings including The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, but also many lesser works that reveal Leonardo's genius and working methods.  He didn't finish all his paintings and spent years refining others.

When working in Milan he socialized and worked with Nicolo Machiavelli..  Another historical figure Leonardo competed with was Michelangelo.  Leonardo  recognized a talent, but felt in painting at least he was not as sophisticated although a few decades younger.  At one point he was in a position to decide where the famous statue David was to be displayed and he chose a relatively inconspicuous location, however others chose a more prominent spot.

A couple of personal features discussed include that he was homosexual and also a vegetarian.  He loved animals and preferred linen clothing to animal furs.  One detail, not much emphasized that apparently Leonardo was an accomplished lyre player.  He moved a few times in his life usually connected to military or political forces.  His last move was to France where he died in 1519.

It is a long read broken up with many illustrations of his paintings and drawings.  If you are not familiar with Leonardo da Vinci (which I had only a vague notion) there will be a series of amazing facts.  Some of what he could visualize would have effects many years later.  Well worth the effort.

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