Leonardo Da Vinci showed the world glimpses of a future no one else could see, writes Sibashis Mahapatra.(this article was published in the YT section of ThePrint)
Leonardo was born on 15th of April, 1452 in Vinci, just outside Florence in Italy. His father, Ser Piero, was a wealthy Florentine notary, and his mother, Caterina, was a peasant. Da Vinci’s parents were not married, so he grew up with his father’s family. As a child, he showed an early interest in drawing and painting, and was also exposed to Vinci’s longstanding painting tradition. Since he was an illegitimate child, he could neither inherit his father’s estate work at any respectable position as per the norms of medieval Florence .However Ser Piero wanted a better life for Leonardo and apprenticed him at the age of 15, to the renowned workshop of famous Renaissance era painter Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence. Indeed, his genius seems to appear in a number of pieces produced by the Verrocchio’s workshop, the painting of an angel in Verrocchio’s “Baptism of Christ” being one of those. As an independent painter, Da Vinci didn’t have much success because he couldn’t deliver his commissioned projects in time. He earned a bad reputation in Florence due to this, and later realized that the life of a professional painter didn’t suit him. He had a craving for weapon design and made sketches of weapons which were way ahead of his time. But he didn’t have the resources to execute his ideas.
At that time, Duchy of Milan was more likely to get into conflicts, as compared to the neighbouring states. Hoping to work for Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, Leonardo moved to Milan and wrote a letter boasting of his prowess as a military engineer and mentioned his abilities as a painter at the bottom of the letter in a throwaway line. Impressed by this, the Duke of Milan, Sforza offered Leonardo a job at his court. But the Duke employed him as more of a painter, than as a design expert. His most famous work under the patronage of Duke of Milan was -‘The Last Supper’, which Da Vinci painted at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
During his time at Milan, used to make sketches of different parts of human body and wrote his observations in a secret sketchbook, which was found only in the 1600s. His observations about human body were revolutionary and became the foundation of the modern anatomy.
The Sforza family of Milan were overthrown by Kingdom of France in 1500 AD .Da Vinci moved to Venice initially, but couldn’t find a patron and thought of moving to his native place. When he had just thought that the people of Florence would have forgotten about his bad reputation and he could start a fresh life there, he never imagined that the world of art in Florence was highly competitive and there was already a young genius in town, named Michelangelo who was well known in Florence. Interestingly, he then found a new patron in famous yet scandalous Italian condotierro (mercenary leader) who was the Marshall of Papal troops and Duke of Valentinois – Cesare Borgia. It was here that Da Vinci’s expertise on engineering designs was brought to test. He supervised the construction of forts, towers, weapons and made maps of the towns that Borgia was planning to invade. Meanwhile Da Vinci met Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine diplomat and the author of the statecraft treatise -The Prince, and likely had an influence on him.
Da Vinci left his service at Borgia’s court in 1503 and joined a guild. He started working on the world famous portrait of the Mona Lisa. It’s believed that Da Vinci wasn’t satisfied with the portrait of Mona Lisa and kept on improvising it till his death. After spending few years in Rome, Da Vinci was invited by the King of France, Francis-I in 1516 to serve him. Da Vinci, in his 60s now, accepted the offer and served Francis, despite being paralytic in his right hand. The great polymath breathed his last on 2nd May, 1519
Despite his myriad achievements, Leonardo’s life was not without its challenges and setbacks. Yet he used his wit to mask his shortcomings and talk his way out of the trouble or embarrassment caused by his behaviour.
Leonardo’s fascination with engineering led him to design and sketch numerous machines and devices, which were unimaginable for the common people of that time. He left behind 15000 pages of notes and sketches, which were only published after his death. He wrote his observations in a mirror image cursive style perhaps because not many would be able to read those and steal his ideas. Some of the finest designs of Da Vinci include a giant crossbow, flint lock rifle, parachute, hang glider, a diving suit, a self-propelled cart, multi barrel cannons, armoured fighting vehicle and a robotic knight.
Leonardo da Vinci’s life was a singular journey of intellectual curiosity and unparalleled innovation that transcended the boundaries of time and space, leaving an enduring legacy that will continue to inspire generations to come. He remains a towering figure in human history, an icon of the Renaissance, and a symbol of the limitless potential of the human mind. There goes a famous saying-“Leonardo was born illegitimate, but died as a king”