History : Apr-May 2015
WHITEIMAGES/SCALA,FIRENZE A PASSION FOR SCIENCE 1490-1499 While living and working in Milan, Leonardo undertook in-depth experiments into optics. 1500-1506 Returning to Florence, he conducted research into bird flight. He entered the service of Cesare Borgia. 1508-1513 Back in the Court of Milan, Leonardo made his most exhaustive studies on human anatomy. 1516-1519 After spending a few years in Rome, he moved to the French court, where the king was a great admirer of his art and his wisdom. body. His contemporaries knew that Leon- ardo spent much of his time studying nat- ural philosophy, as science was then known (the English term “scientist” did not appear until 1834). It is also believed that Leonar- do planned to publish a variety of scien- tific treatises based on the material he had included in his notebooks. But in spite of his intense dedication he never managed to achieve that goal. A Paper Trail More than 6,000 pages of Leonardo’s note- books are still preserved today. They contain thousands of beautiful drawings and diagrams annotated in mirror writing. Possibly for rea- sons of secrecy, Leonardo wrote from right to left, reversing the letters, so you have to read the notes with a mirror. After his death Leon- ardo’s notebooks were dispersed among private collections across Europe, most fated to be for- gotten and gather dust or worse. The result is that even though 6,000 pages have survived, at least the same number is estimated to have been lost forever. Or perhaps “forever” is too pessimistic a word; in 1965, in the Spanish National Library, in Madrid, two codices, or Most of these were as brilliant as his art. Per- haps if the Florentine master had actually pub- lished his notebooks, controversial and even dangerous as that would have been, we might think of Leonardo da Vinci as an extremely gifted painter but, much more than that, as a pioneering scientific genius, a visionary cen- turies ahead of his time. In his writings he theorized, experimented, and formulated general scientific principles based on empirical evidence—his practical observations of the world around him. It is only in recent decades that experts have begun an in-depth study of the thousands of pages in his manuscripts, realizing that they brilliantly foreshadow many later discoveries and devel- opments in modern science. A vegetarian with an omnivorous mind, Leonardo da Vinci explored all manner of sub- jects. Alongside his internationally celebrated painting, sculpture, and architecture, Leonar- do made comprehensive studies of geography, cartography, mechanics, geometry, astronomy, anatomy, optics, and botany. His main method of learning was through observation of the natural world: a tree, a stream, a fossil, and particularly the human T he “Mona Lisa” is probably the most famous painting in the Western world. It represents both the artist and the Renaissance age that nurtured his innate talents. There is no doubt that Leonardo was a brilliant artist, yet the fact remains that he is famed for completing only around a dozen known works. Far more prolific are his scientific ideas and observations. W LEONARDO DA VINCI. STATUE BY LUIGI PAMPALONI IN PIAZZA DEGLI UFFIZI, FLORENCE J.M.CHARLES/AGEFOTOSTOCK LEONARDO’S WAR MACHINES Working as a military engineer for the Duke of Milan, Leonardo designed this tank, complete with 36 cannon, which would be operated by eight men. This reconstruction is in the Château du Clos Lucé, in France.