Leonardo Da Vinci Biography, His Art And His World

What would bring a man so driven to keeping notes

Few people who lived during the period of history known as the Renaissance embody the ideals of that era better than the enigmatic and well-learned figure of Leonardo da Vinci. Born of humble enough beginnings, his genius would inspire the greatest minds of science, avionics and the arts for centuries after his death in 1519. But, for all that he would inspire greatness in those who came after him, da Vinci's personal life is shrouded in secrecy and legend, with few true facts available about him. Why did a man who so carefully documented even his observances of the flight of birds not leave some clue to his own life? The answer could lurk within the carefully worded contents of his meticulous notes and the flowing symmetry of his breathtaking art.

Among da Vinci's artistic accomplishments, which still so fascinate the world, are the now-famous Mona Lisa, the religiously inspiring The Last Supper, and the touching Madonna of the Rocks. Even more captivating to the imagination of many is the controversial self-portrait da Vinci sketched in his later years. Its structural similarity to the face of the Mona Lisa has long held the interest of artists and scientists alike, each abounding with speculations that they are the same face. But are they the face of the artist, or the face of the subject? Some recent theorists have posed the idea that the Mona Lisa may in fact be genuine, and not a rendition of da Vinci's own face. Instead, they believe that da Vinci's obsession with the subject of his Mona Lisa is apparent in his own self-portrait, to which he added details of the face that so obsessed him.

In his life, da Vinci guarded no painting as well as he did that of the enigmatic Mona Lisa. Originally called La Gioconda, it appears to have been a prized possession of his. So prized, in fact, that he refused to hand it over to the party who had commissioned it in 1503.

It should also be noted that, prior to this famous painting, da Vinci showed no particular care for his art either before or after its completion. Many of his projects, whether complete or not, were often unceremoniously left wherever he had been in residence when they were begun, even as the artist himself moved on to other places and things. That detail alone makes the story of the Mona Lisa even more fascinating, for it was the only painting which da Vinci carried with him until his death in France May 2, 1519. The truth behind both the painting's subject and da Vinci's careful guardianship would follow him to his grave, and begin the first of da Vinci's contradictory mysteries.

The second mystery of da Vinci is, like the Mona Lisa, art related. In his lifetime, da Vinci began dozens of paintings, but abandoned the majority of them before they were completed, never returning to finish them. Many artists attest that this is not an occurrence unique to da Vinci, and that such abandonment stems from creative exhaustion. If he never found the inspiration to complete the pieces, he would naturally never return to them, according to art scholars. But psychologists and historians speculate that da Vinci's personality was simply too restless to complete many projects, most of which were started simultaneously and abandoned on a whim. This latter explanation seems more likely to suit what little is known of da Vinci, when one considers how many later scientific projects were abandoned in similar manners.

It is worth mentioning that, although da Vinci ranks among the top ten geniuses of all time, he is not even listed within the top one hundred most influential people to live. With few completed paintings and no completed inventions, his only true contribution to the world seems to have been mysteries, of which he left many.

The third of Leonardo da Vinci's mysteries appears in a most bizarre manner, and contradicts any hypothesis of restlessness or boredom. In his later years, he devoted a substantial amount of time to carefully constructed notebooks filled with scientific notations and compelling sketches, all meticulously inscribed and diagrammed backwards, so that they can only be read with the aid of a mirror. Why he chose this manner of record remains one of the greatest mysteries of history, and a contradiction to every popular period history recorded of him. In his day, Leonardo da Vinci was known as a great artist and thinker who sought to educate not only the people of his own time, but also the generations of the future. Why, then, did he leave his notes and theories in such a strange, difficult-to-read format? Scientists and researchers speculate that, while da Vinci hoped to enlighten posterity, he also sought to obscure such knowledge from the "ignorant masses," perhaps revealing a disassociation between himself as an old man, accomplished and prized by some of the wealthiest nobles in the known world, and himself as a child, impoverished and uneducated. There is also some speculation that da Vinci might have been slightly schizophrenic, leading to a complete reversal of his personality as he aged, which he then attempted to express via a complex task of laborious writing. Still others believe that da Vinci suffered from paranoia in his later life, and perhaps even the beginnings of senile dementia, and wrote everything backwards in order that his enemies, whether real or imagined, would be unable to make sense of his notes. Whatever his reason, however, Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks provide a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a true genius.

Whatever his motivations in either art or science, the two facets of Leonardo da Vinci's mind and life cannot be separated from each other, or from the man who was their genesis. Lauded in his own time as a master painter, he contradicted that definition by completing less than half of his artistic endeavors and leaving all but one of them scattered all over Europe. Hailed in the modern age as an inventive genius and dedicated scientist, his notes are studded with artistic achievements and his inventions were quickly discarded by his own scientific mind as flights of fancy. Of everything Leonardo da Vinci has been accredited with, only one appears to bear infallible truth: Leonardo da Vinci's creative genius is the most puzzling and complex of all time.

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