Take a moment to think of your day…
Think of some of the objects you saw: family, friends, trees, maybe a pet, or the big blue sky and white moon in the dark of night. Maybe you saw a smile and objects moving, a car speeding by, or someone kicking a ball. Most of these objects are things you are used to. But when you were a baby they were very interesting! You were curious about everything because it was all new and fresh! As we get older many of these things to become familiar and perhaps not as interesting. Tonight we’re going to learn about Leonardo da Vinci, also known as one of the most curious and creative geniuses in recorded history. As we learn about him, think about how he saw the world differently and how you might see the world differently, too.
When was Leonardo da Vinci born?
Leonardo was born on April 15th, 1452 in the country of Italy in a town called Vinci. Leonardo da Vinci means Leonardo of Vinci, the town where he was born. He was born during a time that later became known as The Renaissance, which means “Rebirth” because the way people saw the world was changing dramatically during this time. The Medieval Times was over and people were beginning to see themselves as beings who had control over their life and the world and could think differently than those who came before them.
Childhood & Early Education
Leonardo grew up with his father and spent much of his time exploring the land around their home. He loved to observe the birds and animals and get lost in the beautiful countryside. Around the age of 15, his father noticed he had an interest in and a gift for art. For this reason, his father had him become an apprentice to Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence, Italy. An apprentice is a student to a master artist. And at this time Florence was known for its gifted artists and sculptors. In Verrocchio’s workshop, Leonardo learned from his master how to paint and sculpt. Sculptors used materials like clay or marble to make grand sculptures.
Leonardo studied and helped with paintings and sculptures in Verrochio’s workshop until he was 20 years old. The next step in an artist’s life was to join a guide and Leonard did just that when he was accepted into the painters’ guild in Florence. A guild was a group of skilled artists who worked and met together. At this time he created many pen and pencil drawings and technical drawings of weapons and other mechanical devices. He was very interested in how things worked and in creating new devices. He loved inventing things!
Milan and Duke Sforza
In 1482, when he was about 30 years old Leonardo moved to the city of Milan where he worked for the city’s duke, Ludovico Sforza. There he created paintings and worked on inventions for the Duke. The ability to create and improve technical devices is called engineering — and Leonardo was a very gifted engineer. He worked for Duke Sforza for many years. There he painted two of his best-known works The Virgin of the Rocks and The Last Supper depicting Jesus and his Twelve Apostles. He also helped design buildings and gave the Duke engineering advice for his army.
One of Leonardo’s other biggest projects was a huge, 24-foot bronze horse for Duke Sforza. He spent 12 years designing it out of clay, which would be a mold to be turned into bronze. Unfortunately, before they could pour the metal into the mold to finish the horse sculpture, the project was stopped, because a war started and the metal had to be used for cannons instead of the horse! In our day, someone decided to get together the money to finally build the horse Leonardo always wanted. If you ever visit Milan, Italy you can see it today!
After the war Duke Sforza was no longer Duke, so Leonardo stopped working for him. Leonardo continued working in his workshop in Milan and soon had his own students and apprentices.
In the 1500s a French army invaded and took over Milan, so Leonardo left and went to Florence, where he had been an apprentice as a young man. In Florence, he painted his most famous painting, The Mona Lisa. Leonardo was a gifted artist, but he wasn’t afraid to learn new topics and never stopped learning. He was infinitely curious! Leonardo began to study math and science. He studied the human body, which is called anatomy. He also observed the flight of birds and studied the flow of air and water. He looked at everyday objects through different eyes. He wondered how bodies worked, how birds flew, and what gave living things their motion. He didn’t take anything for granted and saw the miracle in everyday life and studied deeply to try and understand it.
Eventually, Leonardo moved back to Milan and continued his scientific studies, writing and creating many sketchbooks to help others understand the human body and how it worked. He came to believe that all bodies and living things worked according to certain laws of nature, which was very ahead of his time.
In 1513, around the age of 60, Leonardo again moved to Rome where he lived in the Vatican and worked for Giuliano de Medici. At this time many of the popular Renaissance artists were living and creating amazing works of art in Rome. The famous St. Peter’s Cathedral was being built at the time and Raphael was painting walls in the Pope’s new apartments. One of the most famous artists of all time, Michaelangelo, was also in Rome working on the Pope’s tomb.
By the age of 65, Leonardo was asked by the King of France to move there, where he became his main painter, architect, and engineer, which was a great honor. There he continued his sketches and consulted other artists in their works. He also helped plan a palace and garden for the king. He spent a lot of time arranging his writings and sketches about nature in his many notebooks, which fortunately we have today! Leonardo passed away at an old age while living in France.
Today we’re lucky to have many of Leonardo’s paintings and notebooks. Many of the ideas he had were for machines that wouldn’t be invented for hundreds of years. For example, in his study of birds and flight, he had the idea for an airplane, a helicopter, and a parachute, which he sketched in his notebooks. He also had the idea for many military machines, such as an armored car, a giant crossbow, and a three-barreled cannon. When you get the chance you can find a book about Leonardo’s inventions at the library or look at them online. They are amazing!
What can you learn from Leonardo?
One of the most interesting things about Leonardo was his ability to take his artistic talents and engineering skills and combine them. He became known as a Renaissance Man because of his curiosity and ability to combine many different skills to invent amazing things. He believed artists were the best qualified to achieve true knowledge, because of the unique way they were able to view the world. Think about that as you observe the miraculous world around you. Never take for granted the little things. Even the smallest living things like a flower or a bee are extraordinary as you look at them closely and learn more about them. Think about what you might do to learn more about the world around you like Leonardo. You could take the time to study a rock or a leaf and sketch it into a notebook as Leonardo did. This is the way he came to better understand the world, one simple object at a time.