I recently finished reading “Leonardo Da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson, a biography about the ultimate Renaissance man. I didn’t know much about him going into this book apart from the fact that he painted the Mona Lisa, explored various topics such as flight and the body, and was considered a “genius”. I could never share in people’s excitement over new revelations about Leonardo or new exhibits featuring him at museums. Part of that mystery led me to want to learn more and be, “in the know”.
After finishing the book, I’m left with total awe and appreciation for his life. This book taught me how much of a genius this man really was. Facts about his life were interesting to follow, but the big take away here is just how curious, detailed and passionate he was. It’s one thing to want to paint the human body well. It’s entirely another to then dissect actual dead bodies and analyze the muscles of the face to see how emotions are expressed. In dissecting bodies, he discovered a new muscle in the neck that helped him illustrate more realistic portraits. He even made discoveries about the heart that weren’t confirmed until the 1900s. Sadly these works were never published or shared with doctors, because if they were they would have accelerated the field by about 200 years.
Leonardo made discoveries in so many different areas of study. He discovered fish fossils on the tops of mountains and therefore concluded that mountains were formed by being pushed up from the sea. He challenged accepted knowledge of the day and formed new theories based on empirical experimentation and observation. He was particularly interested in engineering and their military applications. He designed bridges, a wheelbarrow type contraption that could measure distance (which led to the most sophisticated map drawing of a city - Imola), and even developed a plan to divert rivers in Italy. It’s this cross-discipline mastery that led him to use analogies between different parts of nature and make breakthroughs.
And he was an artist. It was his intense focus, attention to detail and curiosity that enabled him to create art that fascinates on so many levels. Unfortunately for us, the side effect of his intense curiosity and perfectionism often led him to jump to other subjects and rarely finish a work. He was more interested in wisdom and art for his own sake. However, this did lead him to learn more and pursue a variety of subjects without needing to stop and publish.
Today, we take for granted how things work, why things look a certain way and how things came to be. They are facts of life we simply accept. In Leonardo’s era, everything had yet to be understood and he went out without any preconceived convictions and explored them with childlike curiosity. I think we can learn a lot about the way Leonardo approached life. There is so much to marvel at; take a moment to explore it.
P.S. - The last thing he wrote in his journal a few days before his death was -
“Because the soup is getting cold.”