Leonardo da Vinci

By Emily Carlaw

"Mechanics is the paradise of the mathematical sciences, because by means of it one comes to the fruits of mathematics.”- Notebooks, v. 1, ch. 20.


Leonardo da Vinci can be described as the man who inspired the term “a Renaissance man.” This expression is derived from the Renaissance ideals: the belief that it was possible to have a universal understanding though a diverse scope of interests. For da Vinci, his talents included mechanics, geometry, hydrodynamics, anatomy, mechanics, mathematics, optics, botany and, as he described himself, as able “to do a little bit of painting” - what modesty.

Da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, Italy, just outside of Florence. He was the illegitimate son of a notary, Ser Piero, and a peasant girl, Caterina. Da Vinci’s father took custody as his parents did not stay together. Da Vinci’s was first educated in his father’s house where he received the typical elementary education of reading, writing and arithmetic. In 1469, when da Vinci reached the age of 17, his father apprenticed him to the prestigious workshop of Andrea del Verrochio.

In 1482 Da Vinci was in search of new challenges, so he entered the service of the Duke of Milan. During this time, da Vinci hit his highpoint of exploration and discovery. Here, Leonardo began painting, sculpting and designing elaborate court festivals, but he also began his work designing weapons, buildings and machinery. From 1485 to 1490, he began studies on specialized subjects such as nature, flying machines, geometry, mechanics, anatomy, municipal construction, canals and architecture. Da Vinci also started his own workshop where he taught apprentices and students. In addition to this, while in Milan, Leonardo acquired an interest in geometry after reading Leon Battista Alberti's books on architecture and Piero della Francesca's On Perspective in Painting. He applied this math to his art. He proposed methods on squaring the circle, using mechanical methods, and he also wrote a book on the theory of mechanics in 1498. An equation relating to his work on squaring the circle is as follows:

A = (d-d/9)2= 64/81d2
A = π (d2/4)
π = 256/81 = (4/3)4= 3.140493827

In 1502, da Vinci traveled for a year as military engineer with Borgia’s army. During this time he met Niccolo Machiavelli, author of 'The Prince. In 1503 Leonardo began his work on the Mona Lisa. From 1513 to 1516, he worked in Rome with a workshop and undertaking a variety of projects for the Pope, although the Pope forbade him from dissecting on cadavers. In 1516, da Vinci suffered paralysis of the right hand but that did not stop him from continuing with his art, or prevent him from teaching. Leonardo later entered the service of King Francis I in France. The King gave Leonardo the title of premiere painter, architect, and mechanic. Leonardo died on May 2, 1519 in Cloux, France, where legend has it, King Francis was at his side cradling Leonardo in his arms.


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