“Necessity is the mother of invention.” - Plato
I have already featured Leonardo da Vinci previously in this blog for Art Sunday, however, since it was his birthday on April 15, I blog about him once again! His life and work is a treasure trove of interesting and astonishing marvels, so there is no shortage of things to admire, delight in or marvel at.
Leonardo da Vinci, was born out of wedlock on April 15, 1452 in Vinci, Italy (near Florence), Leonardo’s illegitimate standing kept him from receiving a good education and excluded him from the more lucrative occupations. Perhaps one may conjecture that it was because of such limitations that Leonardo’s desire for knowledge and great ambition were fanned.
When he was 15 years old, Leonardo became the apprentice of the painter Andrea del Verrochio in Florence. It was there that his immense talent was channelled fruitfully, by the extensive training in the skills he needed to have as an artist. Such was his aptitude and talent that it even intimidated his mentor. While always interested in inventions, it was a change of scenery in 1482 that truly unleashed the inventor in da Vinci.
Looking for a broader scope of work, Leonardo moved from Florence, widely considered the cultural capital of Italy, to Milan, a much more political and militaristic city. There, da Vinci sold himself to Duke Ludovico Sforza (a successful military leader called “the dark one”) as a military engineer. In the city that “lived and died by the sword”, da Vinci began developing many of his famous war inventions.
Da Vinci spent 17 years in Milan working for the Duke, inventing, painting, sculpting, studying science and conceiving an endless stream of innovative and daring ideas. Without a doubt, the 17 years spent in Milan were da Vinci’s most productive period. But, of course as we all know, all things must eventually come to an end.
In 1499, the French invaded Milan and Duke Sforza was sent fleeing the city. Leonardo spent the remaining years of his life travelling to cities like Venice and Rome to work on different projects, with a greater concentration on his art (starting on his most famous piece, the Mona Lisa, in 1503) and studies in anatomy (da Vinci conducted over 30 autopsies in his lifetime). After envisioning hundreds of inventions, bringing to life legendary works of art and making breakthroughs in a vast array of other fields (ranging from astronomy to architecture), da Vinci died in 1519 at the age of 67.
In the drawing above, Leonardo plays with ideas that illustrate principles of hydraulics and he draws Archimedean screws, water wheels, cogs and machines that involve using the power of water in order to harness it to do useful work. As usual, his exquisite drawings are supplemented by his notes (written in his characteristically cryptographic “mirror writing”). The drawings are not only accurate enough to allow construction of many of the machines he invented (and many have been constructed in modern times), but they qre also pleasing as works of art.