The Major Accomplishments of Leonardo Da Vinci
It would take an encyclopedia to begin to to do justice to the full scope of Leonardo's accomplishments. We can get a glimpse of his most notable achievements through categories of art, invention, military engineering and science.
Leonardo the artist transformed the direction of art. He was the first Western artist to make landscape the prime subject of painting. He pioneered the use of oil paints and the application of perspective, chiaroscuro, contrapposto, sfumato, and many other innovative and influential methods. Leonardo's Mona Lisa and The Last Supper are recognized universally as two of the greatest paintings ever produced. They are certainly the most famous. Leonardo also created other wonderful paintings including The Virgin of the Rocks, The Madonna and Child with St. Anne, The Adoration of the Magi, St. John the Baptist, and his portrait of Ginevra de' Benci that hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Leonardo was also renowned as an architect and a sculptor. Most of his architectural work focused on general principles of design, although he did consult on a number of practical projects including cathedrals in Milan and Pavia, and the French king's chateau at Blois. While he is believed to have contributed to a number of sculptures, scholars agree that the only existing sculptures definitely touched by the maestro's hand are three bronze on the north door of the Baptisery in Florence. The Saint John the Baptist Preaching to a Levite and a Pharisee was created in collaboration with the sculptor Rustici.
Leonardo the inventor made plans for a flying machine, a helicopter, a parachute, and many other marvels including the extendable ladder used by fire departments today, the three-speed gear shift, a machine for cutting threads in screws, the bicycle, an adjustable monkey wrench a snorkel, hydraulics jacks, the world's first revolving stage, locks for a canal system, a horizontal waterwheel, folding furniture, an olive press, a number of automated musical instruments, a water-powered alarm clock, a therapeutic armchair, and a crane for clearing ditches.
As a military engineer Da Vinci made plans for weapons that would be deployed four hundred years later, including the armored tank, machine gun, mortar, guided missile, and submarine. As far as we know, however, nothing he designed was ever used to injure anyone during his lifetime. A man of peace, he referred to was as "pazzia bestilissima-beastly madness," and found bloodshed "infinitely atrocious." His instruments of war were designed "to preserve the chief gift of nature, which is liberty," he wrote. At times he shared them reluctantly, accompanying one design with a written glimpse of his ambivalence: " I do not wish to divulge or publish this because of the evil nature of men."
Leonardo the scientist is the subject of considerable scholarly debate. Some scholars suggest that if Leonardo had organied his scientific thoughts and published them, he would have had a massive influence on the development of science. Others argue that he was so far ahead of his time that his work would not have been appreciated even if it was formulated in comprehensible general theories. While Leonardo's science may best be appreciated for its intrinsic value as an expression of his quest for truth, most scholars agree that he can be credited with significant contributions to several disciplines:
- He pioneered the discipline of modern comparative anatomy.
- He was the first to draw parts of the body in cross section.
- He was the first to make casts of the brain and the ventricles of the heart
- He pioneered modern botanical science.
- He noted that the age of a tree corresponds to the number of rings in its cross section.
- He was the first to describe the system of leaf arrangement if plants.
Leonardo's investigations led him to anticipate many great scientific discoveries including breakthroughs by Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Darwin.
40 years before Copernicus - Da Vinci noted, in large letters for emphasis, "IL SOLE NO SI MUOVE," "The sun does not move." He added, "The earth is not in the center of the circle of the sun, nor in the center of the universe."
60 years before Galileo- He suggested that "a large magnifying lens" should be employed to study the surface of the moon and other heavenly bodies.
200 years before Newton- Anticipating the theory of gravitation, Leonardo wrote "Every weight tends to fall towards the center by the shortest possible way." And elsewhere he added that because "every heavy substance presses downward, and cannot be upheld perpetually, the whole earth must become spherical."
400 years before Darwin- He placed man in the same broad category as monkeys and apes and wrote, "Man does not vary from the animals except in what is accidental."
More valuable than any of his specific scientific achievements, Leonardo's approach to knowledge set the stage for modern scientific thinking.