Spotlight: Leonardo da Vinci – Renaissance Man

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Who was Leonardo Da Vinci?

Leonardo Da Vinci (which literally means Leonardo from Vinci) is one of the most famous inventors who ever lived. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, scientist, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, astronomer, cartographer, botanist, historian and writer – perhaps the most diversely talented person in the Western world. He is most widely known for his paintings such as The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, but it was his incredible technological brilliance that was most impressive. Da Vinci’s inventions were never built in his lifetime and stayed as sketches and diagrams. This was because they didn’t have the advanced tools available then that we have today. It would be hundreds of years later that a Da Vinci invention would be made in full working order. Da Vinci really was hundreds of years ahead of his time.

Beginnings of greatness

Leonardo was born on 15 April 1452 in the Tuscan hill town of Vinci, in the territory of the Medici-ruled Republic of Florence. In 1466, at the age of fourteen, Leonardo was apprenticed to the artist Andrea di Cione, known as Verrocchio, whose workshop was “one of the finest in Florence” and was the leading Florentine painter and sculptor of his day. By 1472, at the age of twenty, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of Saint Luke, the guild of artists and doctors of medicine.

Leonardo’s working life – a brief timeline

1478 – received his first of two independent commissions: to paint an altarpiece for the Chapel of St. Bernard in the Palazzo Vecchio and, in March 1481, The Adoration of the Magi for the monks of San Donato a Scopeto. Neither commission was completed.

1482 – created a silver lyre in the shape of a horse’s head. Lorenzo de’ Medici sent Leonardo to Milan, bearing the lyre as a gift, to secure peace with Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.

1482 to 1499 – worked in Milan. Commissioned to paint the Virgin of the Rocks for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception and The Last Supper for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. employed on many different projects for Ludovico, including the preparation of floats and pageants for special occasions, designs for a dome for Milan Cathedral and a model for a huge equestrian monument.

1499 – fled to Venice to avoid the Second Italian War where he was employed as a military architect and engineer, devising methods to defend the city from naval attack.

1500 – returned to Florence

1502 – entered the service of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, acting as a military architect and engineer. Produced many maps which were very rare items at the time.

1503 – painted the famous Mona Lisa painting.

1506 – returned to Milan where he lived comfortably

Inquiry – digging deeper

Da Vinci was fascinated by the form of the human body. Through the drawing of the Vitruvian man and his accompanying notes, Da Vinci described the proportions on the human body.


Are these statements about the body correct?

In pairs, use a string and a ruler to test out the statements below. Record your measurements and share your findings.

  • The span of the man’s arms is equal to his height.
  • The width of his shoulders is one quarter of his height.
  • The distance from the top of his head to the middle of his chest is one quarter of his height.
  • The distance from the middle of his chest to the top of his leg is one quarter of his height.
  • The distance from the top of his leg to the bottom of his knee is one quarter of his height.
  • The distance from the bottom of his knee to the bottom of his foot is one quarter of his height.


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