What Are the Contributions of Leonardo Da Vinci?
Leonardo Da Vinci had a natural genius and made important contributions across a number of fields. So ahead of his times was he that his genius could not be truly appreciated by his peers, though today it is easy to look back and recognize that da Vinci was the ultimate triple (maybe quadruple) threat. He was an incredibly talented painter. His scientific breakthroughs laid the pathway for some of today’s most important inventions. His skilled architectural drawings continue to serve as blueprints for modern architects.
This ultimate Renaissance man left an indelible mark on science and the arts. What made Leonardo Da Vinci so special? A journey into his life and legacy is sure to impress.
Surprisingly, Leonardo da Vinci never attended a school of higher education. As a child, he received a basic education from his father. And when he was a teenager, his father arranged for him to embark on an apprenticeship with a local artist, a well respected painter and sculptor. He learned under Andrea del Verrocchio well into adulthood.
In his twenties, Leonardo da Vinci launched his own career in the arts. He was commissioned in Florence to complete two large paintings, but left both of them unfinished to move to Milan and serve the city’s duke. With the tools of the time, huge projects like painting ceilings and building sculptures could take several years to complete. Often, he would be hired by another party before he could finish work for the first person.
While apprenticeships and association with the intelligent people of his day certainly helped to stimulate da Vinci’s ideas, he was largely self-taught in a variety of disciplines. He studied anatomy to further his artistic capacity. His notebooks are filled with scientific observations of his time spent in nature and of his cadaver dissections. He studied water and had ideas for canals, steam-powered cannons and waterwheels. His introduction to the field of geometry did not happen until he was 30, and yet it lead to da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” which is a drawing of a man with his limbs outstretched inside a square and a circle, shows his perceptions of geometrical proportion.
Although he was not always able to bring his ideas to fruition, much of da Vinci’s work was centuries ahead of its time. HIs notebooks reveal that he “invented” the bicycle, airplane, helicopter, and parachute long before these ideas were actualized. You might also say that he invented the robot, though he would not have been likely to call it that. But he did design a mechanical knight, that has been dubbed “Leonardo’s robot.” A person could control the knight with gears and pulleys.
Although he spent most of his career working in the arts, da Vinci’s incredibly detailed drawings were a massive contribution to the science of anatomy. He dissected everything from animals to humans, and some of his drawings rival the detail of modern ones. Leonardo da Vinci even made drawings (these were not so accurate) of what he imagined a fetus to look like inside the womb.
If Leonardo were alive today, he might work in biomimetics. This is a branch of science where engineers and inventors use the natural world as a blueprint for their inventions. Da Vinci was famous for drawing up plans for so-called flying machines. His inventions had some similarities to modern aviation, but their design was, in some ways, much more whimsical.
Some of his inventions could have never withstood the test of actual flight, but others were remarkably well designed. Da Vinci could not always test out his ideas because he did not have the time and resources to build them.
How was an untrained inventor in the 1400s able to design a helicopter that could actually fly? He took notes from the skillful design of the bat. Without having the tools to see the inner workings of the bat, he noticed the unique way in which these not so aerodynamic animals glide across the sky. One of Da Vinci’s most famous flying inventions was a design called the ornithopter.
He designed the machine based on the webbed wings of a bat. (The idea for this kind of flying machine may have been invented centuries earlier, but Da Vinci’s designs were the most detailed and famous.) A pilot would lay down on their stomach to fly the machine, and the pilot could control the wings with his arms. The contraption also had a stabilizing tail-like protrusion on the back. Although the design could have remained airborne, at least in theory, the feat would have been to find a strong pilot to keep the vast wood and silk wings in motion. Today, people still fly tiny model ornithopters, not meant for humans to ride on, for fun.
By far, two of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings are Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. The Mona Lisa remains proudly displayed in the Louvre Museum of Paris, France. Some believe this painting is actually a portrait of a merchant’s wife named Lisa Gherardini. The woman’s slight smile in the painting is so well known that it has become the namesake of the term Mona Lisa smile.
The Last Supper is a religious painting. It depicts the moment when Jesus told his apostles that one of them would soon betray him. Millions of Christians display prints of this painting in their homes, and people from all faiths love to see da Vinci’s skill at constructing a scene. Today, the original lies in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. It took da Vinci three years to paint this on the stone walls of the convent.
His excellence in architecture and anatomy served the realism style of painting that he often subscribed to. The people and scenes that da Vinci crafted so many centuries ago continue to make art lovers feel like they have portals to a forgotten world. Leonardo da Vinci’s work is also known for his frequent use of a geometrical concept called the Golden Ratio.
With so many accomplishments in so many fields, we can thank for laying the groundwork for countless essential modern inventions. Without the contributions of da Vinci, the fields of art, architecture, aviation, and science would be very different today.