Leonardo Da Vinci, Man of Math
Ask any given person who the most famous artist during the Renaissance was and the result would be nearly unanimous in the answer of “Leonardo Da Vinci”. But why is that? Yes, there is the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper to his name, but his legacy has extended beyond the world of paint and into other modern popular realms: of best-selling books (The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown) and even world renowned video games (Assassin’s Creed II). For each reproduction of his character, the modern world seems to want more of Leonardo. His ability to wield a paintbrush is undeniable, but other artists from this time could arguably be his equal, or perhaps even better in skill; so the question remains: why is it that these artists are not regenerated in such a way for each new generation to enjoy? Our interest in Leonardo stems from the wide range of his talents; while his art is known around the globe, his notebooks and inventions are possibly just as famous. In fact, with the most recent explorations of Leonardo’s history, it is the scientific mind that is more subject to dissection. Nearly five hundred years later and it seems that the fascination with the man’s complex brain has remained the same in the minds of the public. Simply put, Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius extending eras, trends, and cultural change; people were amazed by his ability during his time and people continue to flock to see his work from all over the world today. There is more to his art than just symbolism and color which attracts viewers, and I believe that his knowledge that extends into the math and scientific world heavily contributes to this. Da Vinci was indeed an excellent painter, but it was his use of science which made his art untouchable in quality by attempts from his peers.
By obtaining an interest in the understanding of proportions early on in his adult life, Leonardo, and subsequently his art, was able to mature in a radical way quickly. Since he was raised away from home for a majority of his life, Leonardo was forced to teach himself how to paint during his childhood, rather than under the eye of a master or a father of the same trade until he was much older. This self-motivated need to learn more had never left him, and it is unsurprising that he decided to take up the study of anatomy in the late 1480s; an obsession that follows him throughout his entire life, an aspect of Leonardo’s interest which I will address later. A wonderful example of the artist’s attention to proportion is his Vitruvian Man (c. 1487) which follows Vitruvius’ human sizing references down to every last word. Leonardo’s interpretation of the famous text of De Architectura in visual form is the most accurate of any artist’s rendition of this time and far and beyond the most well-known for this reason. Leonardo quotes Vitruvius and adds his own comments in his notes, making sure that he is accurate on all accounts during his study of man. The continuation of his study of human forms extended all through his lifetime; and later in his life Leonardo was able to study the body on a much more personal level.
Leonardo always took an interest in the workings of the human body, and used his knowledge to his advantage in order to fascinate the people who would see his work. Within his dozens of notebooks, numerous pages are dedicated to the study of the human figure. As a younger man, Leonardo was able to take his basic understanding of people and ability to observe in order to create his work. But as he grew older, the artist became more intrigued with being able to comprehend the human body as an organic machine, rather than just a subject to paint. As his projects increased, so did his need to learn. At one point, Leonardo had listed 116 books of interest dedicated toward surgery, anatomy, and medical studies of humans. Unsatisfied by learning through text alone, he then took to studying humans into his own hands, literally. At this point, he...
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