By Pam Teel
He was one of the first people to make analytical drawings of the human body. He also designed the first robots, was a talented scientist, inventor, artist, and musician. He was renowned in the fields of civil engineering, chemistry, geology, geometry, hydrodynamics, mathematics, mechanical engineering, optics, physics, pyrotechnics, and zoology. He rarely failed at anything that he tried except he had a problem with finishing what he started.
He was born in 1452 of a young unmarried couple in the region of Tuscany. His father was a notary and his mother a local peasant. Coming from two different worlds, they eventually split up. Though considered illegitimate and not able to take his father’s title, Leo went to live with his father when he was five years old.
His father married another woman and between Leo’s two parents they went on to have 17 more children, who were Leo’s half siblings. Only one of Leo’s relations shared some of the talent that he had. One of his nephews became a great sculpturer.
During his life, he traveled as a military engineer and helped to create many machines of war. He was most famous for his paintings such as the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. He was particularly fond of making mathematical discoveries, learning the anatomy of the body, and inventing. In his teens he spent his time studying and drawing animals and plants. He loved to observe nature. He loved music and played the Lyre and other renaissance instruments. He also enjoyed singing. As a teen, he was sent to Florence to serve as an apprentice for artist Andrea Del Verrochio. He learned a lot from his apprenticeship about techniques. He improved the technique of creating oil paintings by mixing ground pigments with linseed oil and adding beeswax and water to the paint while it was boiling to keep the colors light and to prevent oversaturation of the colors. He was a vegetarian, was also left handed, and was always in great physical shape.
As an engineer, Leonardo conceived ideas vastly ahead of his own time, conceptually inventing an improved version of the helicopter based on earlier preexisting ancient Chinese helicopter toy technology, an armored fighting vehicle, the use of concentrated solar power, a calculator, a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics and the double hull. He drew sketches of flying machines, mechanical looms, a car, a bicycle, a multi barreled gun, a parachute, gliders, and more. He sketched out a hydraulic sow, which was a design to improve on the Archimedean screw water wheel. He designed a water clock alarm that worked based on the amount of water flowing from one container to the other.
Sadly, much of his inventions remained on paper. In practice, he greatly advanced the state of knowledge in the fields of anatomy, astronomy, civil engineering, optics, and the study of water (hydrodynamics). Leonardo’s most famous drawing, the Vitruvian Man, is a study of the proportions of the human body, linking art and science in a single work that has come to represent Renaissance Humanism.
He had a great love for horses and all animals, and when he saw an animal in a cage, he would purchase it and set it free. He dressed fashionable with the time and was known for his jokes, stories, songs, and playing his instruments. He was a humanitarian and was also kind to servants and remembered many of them in his will.
When he died in 1519 at the age of 67, he left behind more than 6,000 journal pages filled with his personal musings as well as plans and designs he drew up over his lifetime.