Leonardo da Vinci – the Most Universal Genius of all Time

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci
(April 15, 1452, the town of Vinci, near Florence – May 2, 1519, Chateau Clos-Luce near Amboise, Touraine, in present-day Indre-et-Loire, France)
Nationality: Italy
Category: Art Workers
Occupation:  Painters, Sculptors, Inventors
Specification: High Renaissance
Unique distinction: The most universal genius of all time, the founder of the High Renaissance style.
Homo Universalis
Gender: Male

Leonardo Quotes:
1. Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses- especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.
2. I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.
3. There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.
4. Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.
5. I love those who can smile in trouble…
6. The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.
7. It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.
8. Time stays long enough for those who use it.
9. Who sows virtue reaps honour.
10. Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.
11. The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
12. The eye sees a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination awake.
13. Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.
14. Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.

Achievements and contributions:

Social and professional position: Leonardo was a great Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, engineer and scientist, inventor, anatomist, botanist, musician, writer, philosopher and polymath.
The main contribution to (Best Known for): He was the founding father of the High Renaissance style and exercised an enormous influence on contemporary and later artists. Leonardo is the most diversely talented person ever to have lived  and generally recognized as the most universal genius of all time.
His wide range of interests and abilities makes him the archetype of the Renaissance man. Painter of the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper.

Contributions to Art and Science:

Painter and sculptor
 Leonardo was and is renowned primarily as a painter. Moreover, he is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time.
One of Leonardo’s earlier works was the portrait Ginerva de’ Benci (1474-1478), which was completed when he was apprenticed to Andrea Verrocchio in his Florentine workshop. In 1478 Leonardo became an independent master. His first commission, to paint an altarpiece for the chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio, the Florentine town hall, was never executed. Other works ascribed to his youth are the Annunciation (1475-80), and the so-called Benois Madonna (1478).
His first large painting, The Adoration of the Magi,  which he began in 1481, was left unfinished because he departed for Milan the following year.
Between 1482 and 1499 working in Milan Leonardo executed some of his best-known works. He was commissioned to paint the Virgin of the Rocks for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception.
There are two different paintings with almost identical compositions, one of them is now in the Louvre, Paris which was painted around 1483-1486, and another in the National Gallery, London (1495-1508).  In 1485 Leonardo drew the Vitruvian Man, which is regarded today as a cultural icon.  The Lady with an Ermine and  Madonna Littais are one of the great paintings by Leonardo da Vinci was painted by him, from around 1489–1490.
Leonardo’s famous fresco of the Last Supper for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan was begun c.1495 and completed by 1498.
When in 1500 Leonardo returned to Florence, where he created some of his most outstanding masterpieces. In his works of these years, the emphasis is almost exclusively on portraying human vitality, as in the Leda and the Swan (1502).
His great work the Mona Lisa (c. 1503 – 06) the portrait of the wife of a Florentine merchant.  Her enigmatic and ambiguous half-smile is one of the striking features of the painting.
This work along with the Last Supper, is considered as the most famous and significant masterpieces of all time.
A painting generally ascribed to this period were St. Anne, Mary, and the Child  (1508-1509)  and the Bacchus (1513-1515), a works that exemplifies Leonardo’s handling of sfumato-misty, subtle transitions in tone. In 1513 he executed the enigmatic painting of the young St. John the Baptist and his most famous drawing Self-Portrait (c. 1513-16).
Though only nearly fifteen completed paintings survive, they are universally seen as masterpieces.
These few works, together with his notebooks, which contain drawings, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting, comprise a contribution to later generations of artists.
His writings on art established the ideals of representation and expression, the approach to three-dimensional art the standards in figure draughtsmanship, handling of space, depiction of light and shade, and representation of landscape. Unfortunately, none of his sculptural projects were brought to completion and actually carried out as he devised them.
He is best known for his paintings “The Last Supper” and especially the “Mona Lisa” (La Giocondane).
Leonardo apparently was quite fond of the completed work, as it accompanied him on all of his travels.
The Mona Lisa, like many of his paintings, features a landscape background utilizing atmospheric perspective. Leonardo was one of the first painters to introduce atmospheric perspective into art.
There is a story about painting the Last Supper. Leonardo first paints Jesus. Some years later Leonardo discovered a hard-bitten criminal as the model for Judas, not realizing he was the same man. However, there is no evidence that Leonardo used the same model for both figures.
Architector. In Architecture Leonardo created the project “Ideal City” (1484), a two-level masonry bridge over a river, arched bridges, and project of a central domed church.


Leonardo is revered for his technological ingenuity.  He invented a large number of ingenious machines,  among them: submarine, tank, bike, robot, spotlight,  magnifying glass concentrated solar power, a calculator, mechanical grill,  mobile homes,  diving suits and flippers. Some of his sketches anticipate modern inventions such as the helicopter,  glider, hang glider aeroplane and parachutes.
His flying devices embodied sound principles of aerodynamics, which he developed after carefully studying the flight of birds.
In the field of Mechanics, he created projects rolling machines, metallurgical furnaces, printing presses, powerful cranes, woodworking machinery, and power looms.
Few of his designs were feasible during his lifetime, but some of his smaller inventions, such as an automated bobbin winder and a machine for testing the tensile strength of wire.
 As a scientist in his lifetime  Leonardo permanently continued his scientific investigations and as a consequence greatly advanced the state of knowledge in the fields of anatomy, geology, botany, civil engineering, mechanics, optics, mathematics and hydrodynamics.
He made detailed drawings of human anatomy which are still highly regarded today. In anatomy, he studied the circulation of the blood and the action of the eye.
Leonardo recognized, however, that many properties of the eye, such as ‘irradiation’, lie in the fact that bright objects appear larger than dark ones.
He made discoveries in meteorology and geology, learned the effect of the moon on the tides, outlined a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics, foreshadowed modern conceptions of continent formation, and surmised the nature of fossil shells.
He was among the originators of the science of hydraulics and probably devised the hydrometer; his innovative designs of canals and irrigation systems still have practical value. His numerous hydraulic engineering experiments enabled him to describe accurately the equilibrium of fluid in communicating vessels.
In the field of Botany, he offered a description of the fillotaksis, heliotropism and geotropism laws and, a description of the method for determining the age of plants with the structure of stems and trees with annual rings.
Leonardo also was an ingenious and peculiar philosopher and mystic. Leonardo’s paintings are full of philosophical and spiritual reflections. Some of his paintings and writing have become a mystifying riddle to the people.
Thus, for the acute perception of the world and development of imagination, Leonardo created puzzles and predictions: “Men from the most remote countries shall speak one to another and shall reply”.  (Internet. Telephone). “Invisible money will cause many who spend it to triumph”. (Electronic funds transfers).
Leonardo also offered a special method of imagination stimulating: “In order to excite the mind, contemplate walls covered by shapeless stains. Find in the mountain landscape, trees, battles and faces”.
His scientific theories, like his artistic innovations, were based on careful scientific observation. He believed that the power of perception and the ability to draw the received observations are the universal keys to nature’s secrets.
Major works: Portrait of Ginevra de’Benci (1474-1478), Annunciation (1475-80),  Madonna Benois (1478-1480), Madonna of the Carnation (1478-80), The Adoration of the Magi (1481), Virgin of the Rocks (Louvre) (1483-1486), The Vitruvian Man (1485), Lady with an Ermine (1488-1490), Madonna Litta (1490), The Last Supper (1498), Leda and the Swan (1502),  Mona Lisa (1503-07), Virgin of the Rocks (1505-1508), The Virgin and Child with St Anne (1508-1509), St. John (Bacchus) (1513-1515),  St. John the Baptist (1513-16), The Self-Portrait (1514–1516).

Career and personal life:

Family background: Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in the Tuscan hill town of Vinci, in the lower valley of the Arno River about 25 miles west of Florence.  He was the illegitimate son of Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, a Florentine notary, and Caterina, a handsome peasant girl.
Leonardo had no surname in the modern sense, “da Vinci” simply means “of Vinci”. His full birth name was “Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci”.
He spent his first five years in the hamlet of Anchiano, then lived in the household of his father, grandparents and uncle, Francesco, in the small town of Vinci. His father had married a sixteen-year-old girl named Albiera, who loved little Leonardo but died young. When Leonardo was sixteen his father married again, twenty-year-old Francesca Lanfredini.
Education: Leonardo received an informal education in Latin, geometry and mathematics. In 1466 his father apprenticed him to Andrea del Verrocchio (1435–1488).
Influenced by: Andrea del Verrocchio

Career highlights:

1. The Florentine period (1466-1482)
In 1466, at the age of fourteen, Leonardo was apprenticed to the artist Andrea di Cione, known as Verrocchio whose workshop was “one of the finest in Florence”. There he received training in painting, sculpture, and mechanical arts.
By 1472, at the age of twenty, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of St Luke, the guild of artists and doctors of medicine (1466–1478).
In January 1478 he received his first independent commission, to paint an altarpiece for the Chapel of St Bernard in the Palazzo Vecchio.  In this year he left Verroccio’s studio and was no longer resident at his father’s house.
In 1480 he was living in the palace Medici and working in the garden of the Piazza San Marco in Florence.

2. The Milanese period (1482-1499)

In 1482 he entered the service of the Duke of Milan Lodovico Sforza. as a “painter and engineer.” In Milan, his artistic and creative genius unfolded. Furthermore, in 1490 he began his project of writing treatises on the “science of painting,” architecture, mechanics, and anatomy.
While living in Milan between 1493 and 1495 Leonardo listed a woman called Caterina among his dependents in his taxation documents. When she died in 1495, the list of funeral expenditures suggests that she was his mother
When the French invaded Milan (1499), Leonardo left and began a nomadic life mainly devoted to wide-ranging scientific and scholarly work. In 1499 Leonardo moved to Mantua and then to Venice to seek employment.
3. The Nomadic period (1499-1519)
Second Florentine period (1500 -1508). On his return to Florence in 1500, he was living with monks at the monastery of Santissima Annunziata.
In 1502 Leonardo entered the service of Cesare Borgia, the Duke of Romagna and the son of Pope Alexander VI, as a military architect and engineer.
Leonardo created a map of Cesare Borgia’s stronghold, a town plan of Imola in order to win his patronage. Thereby he laid the groundwork for modern cartography. Acting as a military engineer he supervised construction on forts in the Papal states in central Italy and travelled much throughout Italy with his patron.
However, he did not stay in Milan and in 1503 he again was back in Florence. There Leonardo rejoined the Guild of St Luke on October 18, 1503 and served on the art commission of artists.
Florence was at war with Pisa, and Leonardo served the city-state as a military engineer while continuing his scientific research.
In 1504 his father died, and Leonardo tried to sort out problems with his brothers over his father’s estate.
Leonardo began to design a painting for the great mural of The Battle of Anghiari for the Signoria to commemorate the Battle of Anghiari, a Florentine victory over Pisa. He spent two years designing and producing a full-size sketch in 1505 but never executed the wall painting.Second Milanese period (1508-1513). After five years of painting and scientific study in Florence,  by 1508  he returned to Milan, living in his own house in Porta Orientale in the parish of Santa Babila,  where his scientific work flourished.
Roman period (1513-1516). From September 1513 to 1516, Leonardo spent much of his time living in the Belvedere in the Vatican in Rome, where Raphael and Michelangelo were both active at the time. Later he short time worked in Bologna and Venice.
French period (1516-1519). In 1516 he entered the service of Francis I of France and he never returned to Italy.
In France, he lived near the king’s residence at the royal Château d’Amboise, at the home awarded to him by Francis I.
It was here that he spent the last three years of his life, accompanied by his friend and apprentice, Count Francesco Melzi, supported by a pension totalling 10,000 scudi.

Universal genius

Leonardo deserves,  more than anyone, the title of Homo Universalis, Universal Man. He was a  perfect creator of all kinds of art, a discoverer in most branches of science, and a gifted inventor in the fields of technology. He was almost equally talented and successful in architecture, sculpture, engineering, geology, hydraulics and military engineering.

Personal life: 

Two childhood incidents had influenced the rest of his life.  Little Leonardo saw a kite drop from the sky hovering over his cradle and opened his mouth with his tail.  Later he regarded it as an omen. Also once exploring in the mountains he discovered a cave and was both terrified that some great monster might lurk there and driven by curiosity to find out what was inside.
In 1490  da Vinci took Gian Giacomo Caprotti, the 10-year-old boy under his wing. Later, the boy got the nickname Salai or il Salaino (“The little devil), and was described by Giorgio Vasari as “a graceful and beautiful youth with fine curly hair, in which Leonardo greatly delighted.”
However, a year later Leonardo made a list of the boy’s misdemeanours, calling him “a thief, a liar, stubborn, and a glutton.” Il Salaino remained his companion, servant, and assistant for the next thirty years.
Leonardo met Niccolò Machiavelli, with whom later he developed a close friendship.
Also among his friends are counted Isabella d’Este, who was his closest female friend.
Leonardo died at Clos Lucé, on May 2, 1519. Francis I had become a close friend and by Vasari’s recording the King held Leonardo’s head in his arms as he died.
Leonardo was buried in the Chapel of Saint Hubert in Château d’Amboise.
Melzi was the principal heir and executor, receiving as well as money, Leonardo’s paintings, tools, library and personal effects. Salaino was not forgotten, receiving half of Leonardo’s vineyards and the Mona Lisa.


Leonardo was an artist of outstanding physical beauty, endowed with superhuman abilities and a mysterious power. He was gifted with a gargantuan curiosity concerning the physical world and an unlimited desire for knowledge, moreover, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent.
In addition, he was a handsome, tall, cheerful and friendly man. He was persuasive in conversation, a gifted orator, a good sportsman and a fine musician and improviser. Giorgio Vasari, in his “Lives of the Artists” wrote about him: “A single person is marvellously endowed by Heaven with beauty, grace and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind”.
Leonardo was naturally left-handed and wrote notebook entries in the mirror (backwards) script, a trick that requires a mirror to be read and which helps to keep many of his observations from being widely known. Leonardo was a vegan.
Zest: He was the first person in history to make a reasonably accurate study of human anatomy, and to make accurate sketches of it. He did it partly by secretly dissecting dead bodies and examining them. Leonardo worked for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, for nearly eighteen years (1482-99).
He received a fresh burst of public interest in 2003 with the publication of The Da Vinci Code, the bestselling thriller by author Dan Brown. There are hidden messages associated with his paintings, which can be called “Pictures within Pictures”.
Sigmund Freud in his essay written in 1910 tried to resolve the mystery of Leonardo da Vinci. He analyzed Leonardo’s anxious earliest years,  unconscious mind and driven motives. Thus he explained that depicting the Virgin Mary with St Anne (1508) represents protection under two mothers.
According to Freud the partial completion of Madonna and many other Leonardo’s unfinished works is symbolic and it was the unconscious expression of da Vinci’s experience of the deprivation of his mother. Experts claim that androgyny and eroticism manifested in a number of works of Leonardo, such as in the Mona Lisa and St. John the Baptist. Some Italian Anthropologists and experts determined that the fingerprint suggested Leonardo’s mother was of “oriental origin” and probably she was Arab. Sigmund Freud said: “Leonardo da Vinci was like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep”.