It may seem strange to look to someone so far back in history as a historical figure with the ability to influence others still. Still, the formation of Leonardo da Vinci continues to inspire me.
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He lived during a time in which there was a renewed focus on the symbolism and skill represented in the artworks of the ancient world, now referred to as the Renaissance because of the tremendous ‘rebirth’ of ideas that were exploding into more common knowledge.
This renewed focus on learning and knowledge encouraged the curious Leonardo to explore all his interests in nature and life. Discovering how things work had fascinated him since he was a young boy in the Italian countryside. Leonardo saw the world from his own perspective and made no apologies about it.
While he acknowledged his own brilliance, he did so in a way that enabled him to explore many of his ideas to an unprecedented level, pass these ideas on to future generations and still managed to find a way of serving his own community. What inspires me most about this figure is not his tremendous range of interests, but the degree to which he developed them and the energy he placed in putting them to use to benefit mankind.
Leonardo is most commonly thought of as a great painter who lived during the time of the Italian Renaissance, making significant contributions to the world of art. He produced several material works of art that continue to be revered. His artistic techniques were recorded regarding his use of color and light to create more realistic, dimensional images on a flat surface, revealing the ways in which his vision differed from those of the masters who had gone before.
More than just painting, Leonardo displayed a particular genius in investigating many subjects, constantly learning, observing and making hypotheses that he would test out whenever he could (Campbell 2004). During his life, da Vinci took time out from his art to re-design cities, sketch out canals and invent war machines. He kept large collections of these sketches that also show his interest in birds and other flying things as well as a keen interest in science and philosophy.
These studies led him to investigate different possible types of machines to accomplish a variety of purposes and the instruments that they would need to measure success or proper operation. Demonstrating a genius for invention and insightful inquiry centuries ahead of his time, it can be argued that Leonardo da Vinci is as famous as an early engineering genius as he is as an artist.
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The more I learn about Leonardo da Vinci, the more I appreciate his genius and energy. His sketchbooks are full of ideas centuries ahead of his time simply because he was willing to look at things from a more open point of view, considering the various options and possibilities and exploring these to some sort of conclusive end. His fascination with flight, for example, led him to discover the various sorts of mechanisms that allowed natural elements such as birds and insects to float in the air and then begin to duplicate them. His studies of water led to the development of city street plans that would more easily accommodate the mass of citizens that had to move around in it everyday.
Today, when I approach a problem, I try to remember Leonardo so that I can keep my mind open to the possibilities, explore the ideas that arise and find a means of bringing those ideas to work for the advancement of my community. Even if none of my ideas are ever actually put into practice, at least I will know that I lived to my greatest potential and perhaps my notebooks will someday serve as inspiration to someone else.
Campbell, Gordon. Renaissance Art and Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.