There has possibly never been a person who so intimately understood his own humanness than Leonardo Da Vinci. When most people think about Da Vinci however, the first thing that always comes to mind is his art work, especially his paintings. Images of the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper can be seen all over the world today and even many of his sculptures are fairly well known. What many people do not know about this man however is that Leonardo did not have a real passion for his art. Da Vinci was not an artist who created with his heart. He was a scientist who created with his brain, using mechanical principles.
Young Leonardo was born without much chance of creating a real future but while he was physically beautiful he was also blessed by an almost unnatural inquisitiveness and intelligence. Leonardo the child spent much of his time studying everything from birds in flight to the muscle movements of humans and animals. His original drawings were his efforts to record what he saw for later study. While he was born into a Christian culture and even lived inside the Vatican, during the period that both Michelangelo and Raphael were working there on commissions, his writings and work suggested that he had deep questions about the apparent contradictions between biblical teachings and his observations of nature. To his young mind there was a lot more God in Nature than Nature in God.
Da Vinci was an engineer and scientist at heart. All of this later works, with the possible exception of the Mona Lisa, he completed simply to afford him the financial opportunity to design his true loves: Machines of war.
Da Vinci spent his entire independent career seeking clients who would pay him for innovative designs. The first tanks, built in World War I, we built around a Da Vinci design made in the 15th Century. But he would design anything for money and worked directly for some of the most powerful people in Europe. We must keep in mind that the very idea of a “bastard” son of a merchant who would live in the Vatican as an honored guest and die in the arms of the King of France is simply astounding and a testament to the monumental power of the man.
But Da Vinci had a sense of humor as well and we can see signs of it in art more than anywhere else. In Dan Brown´s book “Da Vinci Code” he puts Leonardo into the middle centuries long conspiracy. While there is a tremendous about of symbolism, even some Pagan symbolism, in his art, it is more likely that he put it there out of a sense of irony or his vast sense of humor. In his painting “John the Baptist” he used Satai, one of his pupils and lifetime friend, as the model. The ironic, and humorous, part of this was Da Vinci´s name for Satai was “Little Devil”.
This period is one of the most important in the history of art. The men who worked during this period were arguably among the finest thinkers in human history. For that reason we will cover some of the Greatest Masters who lived during this period in great depth. The next few articles will concentrate exclusively on the life and works of Leonardo Da Vinci. If you are in an online masters program it might be a good idea to save these links because we will be presenting some hard to find material.