Devinnci Essay, Research Paper
Leonardo was born in the town of Vinci in the Tuscan hills, on April 15, 1452. This is known
from his grandfather, Antonio, who wrote down the details of the baptism:
A grandson of mine was born, son of Ser Piero, my son, on April 15, Saturday at
three in the night (11 pm). He was baptized by the priest Piero di Bartolomeo,
Papino di Nanni Banti, Meo di Tenino, Piero di Malvolto, Nanni di Venzo, Arrigo
di Giovanni the German, Monna Lisa di Domenico di Brettone, Monna Antonia di
Giulliano, Monna Nicolosa del Barna, Monna Maria, daughter of Nanni di Venzo,
Monna Pippa di Previcone.
The names following that of the priest were of the witnesses, five men and five women as tradition
demanded. Noticeably, the boy’s mother is not present at the time of baptism. Leonardo’s father
was Piero Da Vinci, and of his mother only her name “Caterina” in known. Caterina is understood
to have been a peasant girl, or perhaps a barmaid. When the young boy was born, he lived with
his mother for the first few years of his life. It is intriguing that in all of his writings, Leonardo
never mentioned his mother, even though there is evidence that later on his life he was aware of
who she was.
The Da Vinci’s were a family that had been established in Vinci since the 13th Century. Many
generations of notaries had given the family a status, and the title of Ser which was passed down
to Leonardo’s father. Although it is very difficult to find information about Leonardo’s ancestors,
this is a brief genealogical table:
Ser Piero di Ser Guido (d. 1412)
Ser Antonio di Ser Piero di Ser Guido (1372-1464)
Ser Piero da Vinci (1426-1504)
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Ser Piero, Leonardo’s father was a man of great virility, who lived to the age of 77, had four
wives, and fathered 12 children (the last one at the age of 75). During the time Leonardo spent
with his mother, Ser Piero married his first wife, a sixteen year old Albiera di Giovanni Amadori
(1436-1464), who as it turned out was barren. This is perhaps why when Leonardo was a few
years old (three or four), he was brought to live with the Da Vinci’s. Being a bastard child was
not greatly disturbing at the time, as the Renaissance homed the growth of many illegitimate
children. In the Da Vinci household, he lived with his grandparents, his uncle Francesco, his
father and his step-mother. Living with his father, the boy was given a decent education in the
math’s, writing and Latin. In 1456 his father was commissioned to work in Florence, and the Da
Vinci family left young Leonardo with his uncle Francesco, until they settled in the nearby city.
The relationship between Francesco and Leonardo was a loving one, as references to his uncle are
found throughout his writings that show how much he respected and liked his closest family
member. Francesco apparently never worked, and for this his father was always resentful,
referring to him as the son who did nothing all day. Francesco was interested in plants and
animals, and it is during the time that Leonardo spent with his uncle, that his curiosity and regard
for nature were sparked. Francesco taught his nephew about the different plants, their uses, and
taught him to respect nature’s beauty. Soon, his father sent for the boy, and he was to spend the
rest of his childhood in Florence, where the Da Vinci’s (his father and grandfather) were working
for Lorenzo de Medici. Uncle Francesco never left Vinci, and for the exception of Leonardo no
other family member ever went to visit him.
By now Leonardo was showing a robust health, being no doubt attributed to his father. It was said
that Leonardo could bend a horse-shoe with his bare hands. This boy from Vinci astounded
everyone with his superhuman abilities throughout his life. While in Florence, he studied the
letters and music. He was interested in the plant life, and begun his paintings and sketches. Even
at this point in his life, young Leonardo was extremely accurate in his drawings, and his father put
him under the care of Maestro Verrocchio, where he would be an apprentice for the next six
years. So far his life had been somewhat ordinary, but he had shown to be extraordinary, and this
consistency carried on for much of his life. Here he learned the basis of his technological
knowledge while working on church pieces, silverware, and bronze statutes. By 1472, his
apprenticeship was over, and he had been passed as a master in the St. Luke guild of painters.
Society and it’s Influences
During Leonardo’s apprenticeship with Maestro Verrocchio, he had the chance to work in several
pieces for the Medici. In 1469, Lorenzo de Medici is over-thrown from power, and from then on
the Medici’s and the Pazzi’s, two powerful houses in Florence feud for power. On June 15, 1464,
Ser Piero’s first wife died, and he married his second wife. Francesca di Ser Guiliano
Lanfrendini (1441-1475). She did not like Leonardo, who often spent time in his father’s house.
She hated him for he was a bastard child, and like Ser Piero’s first wive, she could not bear
children. In 1478, while Leonardo was painting his first well known work, The Baptism of
Christ, there was a conspiracy to kill the Medici’s. Guiliano de Medici is murdered during a
mass, and his brother Lorenzo proceeds to kill all the conspirators, hunting them and bringing them
from as far as Turkey. Leonardo is commissioned to paint Giuliano’s murdered, Bandini who was
hanged. The painting was done on a mural in the city, as a warning to those who opposed the
Medici’s. While this happened, Leonardo was in a good social standing, and was able to begin
his work on the human anatomy. He frequently visited the Santa Maria Nuova hospital in
Florence, where he would study the patients there. One day, he found an old man, probably over
one hundred years of age, who said that his grandson was turning sixty that year. Leonardo talked
with the dying old man, and after a few hours, the old man passed away. Leonardo then proceeded
to take the body and do an autopsy, in order to study the human anatomy. He wanted to know why
the man who seemed to be in good health had passed away. This was his first subject. The second
was a two year old boy. When Leonardo wrote about this, it was cold, and unfeeling. He had
been describing the good natured old man, and without a pause went on to describing his
anatomical studies. This coldness was seen through his life.
Ser Piero married again when his wife died in 1475. This time to Margherita di Francesco di
Jacopo di Guglielmo. This third wife bore him four sons and two daughters. When she died he
married yet again, to Lucrezia di Guglielmo Cortigiano, who did better, for in a period of seven
years, she gave him a daughter and five sons. Between 1476 and 1498 Ser Piero fathered twelve
children, making up for his lost time in the first two barren marriages. The last two wives never
liked Leonardo, and his siblings never talked to him. When Ser Piero died, he left equal parts of
his state to all his children, including Leonardo. His brothers and sisters however went to court,
and on the grounds that he was the illegitimate child of his father, changed the will so Leonardo
would not get a part of it. This isolated the young man who was now in his twenties. There was
another event, which made him feel unwelcome in his native Tuscany. There existed the Police of
Public Morals, and the Nocturnal Traffic office which regulated the morals of the people of
Florence. On April 9, 1476, there was an anonymous accusation of sodomy, against Leonardo and
three other young men. The punishment was death by burning at the stake, but luckily one of the
mentioned men was a relative of Lorenzo di Medici, and not wanting to anger the powerful house,
the case was filed away deep in the archives for furthered investigation, never to be found for the
next few hundred years. Although the accusations had been dismissed, Leonardo was greatly hurt
by this, and the rumors around Florence haunted him. He knew that he had to go away, for a while
Leonardo begun to write so that his notes could only be read if put by a mirror. He felt that his
studies of anatomy could get him into trouble, and begun to be secretive about his work. By now,
Leonardo was 30, and in 1482 he decided to go to Milan where he would work in the Court of the
Sforzas. Lombardy was the northernmost territory at the time, and Lodovico the Moro, ruler of
Milan was constantly preoccupied with his military abilities. He had to worry about the Turks
from the East, the French from the West, and the Swiss from the North. Here we see Leonardo’s
ingenuity in war tactics, as he offers the designs for the Tank, designs of bridges that could be
carried with the army and set up with ease, and several other inventions which he had created in
his spare time back in Florence. Excited, Lodovico the Moro took Leonardo, and commissioned
him to do work for his court. Leonardo would stay in Milan until 1499, when the French invade
Lombardy. During his time in Milan, Michelangelo worked on the Last Supper, and many other
projects for The Moro. During a visit to Pavia in 1490, Leonardo takes a young boy named Gian
Giacomo. The ten year old boy is adopted by Leonardo, who gives him the name of Salai. The
boy was a thief, a liar, and a glutton, but for some reason Leonardo kept him until Salai decided to
part ways some twenty six years later. The relationship is not very clear between Leonardo and
Salai, as he always spent money on the boy, and bought him clothes even as he grew into manhood.
Now things are good for Leonardo, but his father had dies on 1493, and the following year the
French have invaded Tuscany under the rule of Charles III, driving the Medici’s out of Florence. It
is now as well that records show that he paid Caterina some money, and that she stayed with him
for a short while. Then a final record is seen, when he pays for her burial in Milan. By 1499,
Salai was 17 and Leonardo had finished the Last Supper, not too soon before the French, under
Louis VII invade Lombardy. The Moro is taken to France, where he dies in a prison at the age of
86. Leonardo escapes south, through Mantua, and then on to Venice. Here, the Venetians are
worried about a possible attack from the Turks by sea, and so Leonardo invents the Submarine,
scuba diving, and designs fortifications against an attack by sea. This is a very important part of
Leonardo’s life, for he struggles with the need to help his fellow Italians, and the knowledge of the
great superiority his inventions would give. He decided to keep his inventions secret, as they
would certainly be used for evil. Leonardo envisioned submarines attacking merchant ships, and
his “Skin Divers” (scuba divers) being put to use against the people which he sought to serve.
After a few month’s stay, Leonardo returned to Florence. The year was 1500, and Leonardo
would soon turn fifty. In Florence, the french had been driven out, and a republic ruled the land.
The Dominican Fryer Girolamo Savonarola and his dark sermons spread fear in Tuscany. He was
a hater of the arts, and created a fire in the middle of Florence where works of art and writings
which did not celebrate Christ and the saints were burned. Pope Alexander VI tried to quiet him,
and the Franciscan order denounced him as a heretic. The Florentines rose up against him and
burned him in his own fire. So it was to this new Florence that Leonardo returned. Here, he met
Michelangelo Buonarroti, a younger sculptor, and they quarreled from the beginning.
Leonardo’s stay in Florence was short, and only two years later, in 1502, he became the architect
and engineer under general Cesare Borgia. Cesare’s father was pope Alexander VI, and Cesare
was in a powerful position, engaged in a campaign to unite northern Italy. Leonardo designed
fortifications, and traveled around the castles ensuring their defensive abilities. Leonardo stayed
with Cesare until 1503, and although it was a short period, he was able to construct his tanks,
invent the machine gun, and design a bridge that would cross the Bosporus.
When Borgia’s campaign failed, Leonardo returned to Florence, where he continued to do
commissioned works for the Republic of Florence. On march of 1505, Leonardo begun to study
birds. While he was painting the Battle of Anghiari, and beginning his most famed work, the
Mona Lisa, Leonardo spent a great deal of time sketching birds, and understanding how they flew.
Here he discovered the elementary principle of mechanics, which would later be explained by
Newton as a law. “Each movement has a corresponding, or contrary movement”, explained
Leonardo as he watched bird’s wings. As a side project, he invented the parachute, and devised
all the movable parts of a modern day airplane. Leonardo wanted to be the first to create human
flight, and created a machine that would allow a human to fly. While Leonardo kept on working on
his mural for the Republic of Florence, one of his apprentices, Zorroastro took the flight machine
and attempted to fly off Monte Ceceri. This was done without Leonardo’s permission or
knowledge, and after the man glided for a while, a downwind pushed him to his death. Leonardo
did not write about flight after this incident.
On 1506, Leonardo was summoned to Milan by the French Governor, Charles d’Ambroise. Being
tired of his work in Florence, and with the memory of his apprentice’s death, he leaves his work
and goes to Milan. Here, he received a hero’s welcome, as the French under Louis XII admired
his art, especially the Last Supper. Leonardo was asked to stay and work for the French, to which
he agreed. While in Milan, he was commissioned to build a canal between the city and a nearby
lake. The canal was never built, but he invented a system of locks and levels. In the Spring of
1507, the king Louis XII came to Milan. As soon as he had entered the city, he went to Leonardo’s
residence. This visit shows the light in which he was seen by the French.
Thought his time in Milan, the assisted the french in their war against Venice, and studied geology,
air currents, and botany. By 1510 Leonardo had completed a manuscript on human anatomy. Here
he met his pupil Francesco Melzi, who stayed with him until his death.
In 1511, the French abandon Lombardy to the invading Swiss, and by 1512, the Medici’s have
returned to power in Florence. The following year Leo X, a Medici was appointed Pope. On
1513, Leonardo left Milan and went to Rome with Salai and Melzi, where the Pope was his
protector. Leonardo has a chance to study botany, and continue his anatomical studies with access
to the morgues. Leonardo was no longer satisfied with the human body and it’s workings. He now
wanted to learn the reason for life. Also here he begins secret works with mirrors, and convex and
concave lenses. He obtains glass makers from Germany, but has difficulty in dealing with them.
Leonardo kept his work secret, and was afraid that someone would steal his invention. To this day
we do not know what he was working on, perhaps a telescope, but through his fights with the glass
makers, one of them denounced him as a practicer of the black arts, sorcery and alchemy. Even
though he was in direct contact with the Pope, he was ordered to seize his work at the Morgue. He
had been drawing and describing in poetical terms, his visions of doom. Apparently he was
moving too fast for his times, and he was no longer welcome in Rome.
Now he was all alone. Salais was now 35, and at best a mediocre painter. Melzi was his only
companion, and he decided to go back to Milan. In France, Francis I was the new King, and like
his predecessor Louis XII, he was an admirer of Leonardo. Francis I was a serious treat, and after
he defeated the Milanese in two days and left 18,000 dead, the Pope acted. Knowing that further
advance would compromise his positions as supreme Pontiff, Leo X gathered as many artists,
scientists and architects as he could, and went to see the French Ruler. Leonardo was a part of the
Pope’s court, and on 1517 they left Rome. Salais was left in Italy, where a few years later he was
shot in a street brawl.
Upon meeting Francis I, Leonardo was asked to remain in France, as a guest of the French people.
Leonardo agreed, and continued his work on the Mona Lisa, the Virgin, Child and St Anne, and
the St. John the Baptist. In France, Leonardo stayed in Cloux Castle near Ambroise. He was
frequently visited by the king and helped with town planing schemes. His right arm became
paralyzed , and on May 2, 1519 he died. All his work was left to Melzi, and was buried in
His remains were lost during the French Revolution, when the coffins were taken apart; the nails
were turned into bullets; and the bodies were buried in common graves. It is in one of those
wholes in the French soil that the remains of Leonardo rests, among common men.
Contributions to Science
Leonardo was a genius, and a very complicated man. He had conflicting feeling towards his
fellow man. While he did not hate people, he saw them as inferior, and this is expressed in one of
To be honest, when I see certain people pick up a book, I fully expect
they will smell each page throughly as some monkeys do, and eat
everything but the cover.
He was a humble man in actions, and he worked to serve those who had contracted him, but
frankly, he did not believe in the goodness of others. He wrote:
Many of our fellow men are not in fact even human. They are rather
to be looked upon only as consumers of food and producers of
excretion. The majority of them leave to the world after their death
a decaying body, no more.
With this in mind, his driving force must have been derived solely from his inquisitive soul, ever
in search of knowledge. His anatomical work was to find the reason for life. All his military
work was caused by his turbulent times, living with constant change of governments. His work on
the birds and on flight are probably a result of his attempts to escape a time which he did not very
much like, being commissioned to work that he was no longer interested in. The society in which
he lived welcomed his art works, and his architectural advances; however they were afraid of his
scientific studies. This caused him to be very secretive, and having suffered attacks from the
public on two occasions, he had good reason for his secrecy. The first time when he was a young
man, an accusation of homosexuality, which was dismissed on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
Later in life, an accusation of heresy, which because of his friendship with the Pope was
dismissed. He was feared for his eccentric interests in dead bodies, spending the nights in
hospitals and morgues studying, and the days closed up working in secret so that others would not
steal his work, or attack him for doing it.
Leonardo managed to do a lot in his life and below I have outlined his greatest works. Now most
of our knowledge is derived from his manuscripts, and even though a great many of them were lost,
we have enough to form a somewhat clear picture of his life and his works.
-The movement of water and streams.
-The movement of air and wind.
-Anatomical Studies: Thought his life, Leonardo was able to map virtually every part of the Human
body. He begun with the muscles and bones, and then moved on to the organs, including the brain,
eyes, heart, lungs, digestive system, and the unborn child.
-Birds and Flight patters.
-Discovers the law of Motion “for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction”.
-Botany. Leonardo begun to understand the parts of plants and how they worked.
-Optics of a mirror.
-Submarine : a boat that could sink and rise out of the water.
-Skin Divers: Swimmers that could breath underwater with the use of bags with air, and long tubes
that would rise from the water. These men could attack enemy ships without being detected.
-Designs of a bridge to cross the Bosporus.
-The Helicopter, and a winged flight machine.
-The Locks and Levels canal system, now used in the Panama Canal.
-Tanks. An armored vehicle that could withstand cannon fire and clear the way for troops.
-Explosive projectiles. Changed the solid cannon balls so they would break into smaller pieces.
-Ballistics. Reshaped the cannon balls into the modern day “bullet” shape.
-Chain Links. He invented the modern day chain-link seen in bicycles.
-Flyer Spindle. A rope and tread making machine.
-Perpetual Motion Wheel. Although he knew that perpetual motion was impossible
mathematically, he designed a wheel that would turn for prolonged periods of time.
-The Baptism of Christ
-Adoration of the Magi (not completed)
-Virgin of the Rocks
-Statute of Francesco Sforza (not completed)
-portrait of Cecilia Gallerani
-Ceiling of the Sala delle Asse
-The Last Supper
-The Virgin and Child with St. Anne
-Battle of Anghiari (not completed)
-St Jerome (not completed)
-St John the Baptist