Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci

Today is the birthday of Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519). I have always had a fascination for that Italian Renaissance polymath who was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer. I love his notebooks that are full of drawings and his imagination.

I also love the many quotes credited to him. Here is one curious quote:

Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.

Curious because, as far as I know, he never did get to experience flight, except in his vivid imagination.

He’s best known for his Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, two of the most famous paintings in the world, but he left fewer than 30 paintings when he died, and most of those were unfinished.

Though I make no claims to be a Leonardo in genius, I do identify with his perfectionism which often led to procrastination.

He worked on the Mona Lisa on and off for the last 15 years of his life. The Last Supper was likely only finished because his patron threatened to cut off his money.

He spent much, maybe too much, of his time drawing up plans for inventions. We marvel that he seems to have invented the submarine, the helicopter, the armored tank, and an alarm clock – but none of them were ever built in his lifetime.

We have 6,000 pages of his drawings and notes remaining today. We don’t know how many pages have been lost.  He moved from astronomy to anatomy to portraits to architecture the way I move from topic to topic on this and my other blogs.

Leonardo wrote these notebooks mostly in a backward script decipherable only in a mirror. Why? To hide them from a casual reader, but not so well hidden that someone with a mirror couldn’t read them.

As the night comes down on this day, I find it sad and telling that when he died, it is said that he apologized “to God and Man for leaving so much undone.”  I hope I don’t feel the same way at the end.

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Ken Ronkowitz

Random by design. Predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente. A lifelong educator.

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