Most Quoted Innovator: Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci: from Inspiration to Innovation

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519) was an Italian polymath, having been a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. Born as the illegitimate son of a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant girl, Caterina, at Vinci in the region of Florence, Leonardo was educated in the studio of the renowned Florentine painter, Verrocchio. Much of his earlier working life was spent in the service of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna and Venice, spending his final years in France at the home given to him by King François I.

Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the "Renaissance man", a man whose seemingly infinite curiosity was equalled only by his powers of invention. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.

Leonardo was and is renowned primarily as a painter. Among his works, the Mona Lisa is the most famous and most parodied portrait and The Last Supper the most reproduced religious painting of all time, with their fame approached only by Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Leonardo’s drawing of the Vitruvian Man is also regarded as a cultural icon, being reproduced on everything from the euro to text books to t-shirts.

Perhaps fifteen of his paintings survive, the small number due to his constant, and frequently disastrous, experimentation with new techniques, and his chronic procrastination. Nevertheless, these few works, together with his notebooks, which contain drawings, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting, compose a contribution to later generations of artists only rivalled by that of his contemporary, Michelangelo.

Leonardo is revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualised a helicopter, a tank, concentrated solar power, a calculator, the double hull and outlined a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or were even feasible during his lifetime, but some of his smaller inventions, such as an automated bobbin winder and a machine for testing the tensile strength of wire, entered the world of manufacturing unheralded. He made important discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, optics, and hydrodynamics, but he did not publish his findings and they had no direct influence on later science.

Da Vinci scholars believe that there were at least 50 notebooks left in the hands of da Vinci’s pupil Francesco Melzi at the master’s death. Today, just 28 of them survive in museums and with collectors around the world, including the British Museum, The Louvre and Bill Gates. The Louvre is in the process of digitizing its 12 notebooks so that visitors and scholars can have the experience (nearly) of leafing through the delicate pages. The notebooks are a fascinating mixture of philosophy, scientific enquiry and art. Many of the theories and inventions portrayed in the pages have been since proved or built by later generations. Da Vinci’s influence on art has been equally significant.

LEONARDO DA VINCI QUOTES

"A well-spent day brings happy sleep. "

Leonardo da Vinci


"All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory."

Leonardo da Vinci


"As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Common Sense is that which judges the things given to it by other senses."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Experience does not err. Only your judgments err by expecting from her what is not in her power."

Leonardo da Vinci


"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."

Leonardo da Vinci


"He who wishes to be rich in a day will be hanged in a year."

Leonardo da Vinci


"I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do."

Leonardo da Vinci


"I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘This the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death."

Leonardo da Vinci


"In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation… even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind."

Leonardo da Vinci


"It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things."

Leonardo da Vinci


"It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Just as courage imperils life, fear protects it."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Learning never exhausts the mind."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else. "

Leonardo da Vinci


"Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Men of lofty genius when they are doing the least work are most active. "

Leonardo da Vinci


"Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

Leonardo da Vinci


"The function of muscle is to pull and not to push, except in the case of the genitals and the tongue."

Leonardo da Vinci


"The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions."

Leonardo da Vinci


"The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding."

Leonardo da Vinci


"The poet ranks far below the painter in the representation of visible things, and far below the musician in that of invisible things."

Leonardo da Vinci


"The truth of things is the chief nutriment of superior intellects."

Leonardo da Vinci


"There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge."

Leonardo da Vinci


"While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die."

Leonardo da Vinci


"Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?"

Leonardo da Vinci