Everyone's heard of Leonardo da Vinci. He's the master behind the Mona Lisa, and that alone would serve to distinguish an artist's career from any other. And when you hear the term “Renaissance man,” Leonardo da Vinci is probably the first name to pop into your head. With good reason! Did you know that he was one of the first people to make detailed anatomical drawings? Or that he designed one of the first robots? Leonardo da Vinci was not only an amazing artist, he was also a talented scientist, inventor, and musician. One of his only shortcomings, actually, was that he had more ideas than he could possibly bring to fruition in a lifetime.
By the time he was seventeen, Leonardo's artistic talents were becoming obvious, and his father apprenticed him to a leading artist in Florence. Leonardo quickly proved himself, then went on to surpass his master in terms of both skill and execution. He moved from place to place with ease, always striving to prove himself in yet another field.
Throughout his long career, Leonardo worked for everyone from kings and dukes to warlords. He wasn't just a painter, either—he traveled as a military engineer with the infamous Cesare Borgia, using his genius to create machines of war. During more peaceful times, Leonardo was fond of making mathematical discoveries, investigating the secrets of the human body, and inventing parachutes. In his spare time, he even came up with plans to divert an entire river!
In spite of these other endeavors, Leonardo is mostly famous today for his paintings, though only a handful of his finished works survives. This is no coincidence; Leonardo started countless projects, but finished only a few. Even the paintings he did manage to finish suffered from his constant innovation. In fact, most of Leonardo's inventions weren't ever built; he would come up with an amazing design or idea, work on it for a while, and then he'd move on to something else. Fortunately, Leonardo's detailed notebooks answer many of the questions that his physical works left behind.
Of course, with Leonardo, nothing is ever easy. Not only did Leonardo write in a strange backwards mirror writing, his notes also weren't particularly organized or dated. He planned to arrange and publish them, but he just never got around to it. Leonardo left his notebooks to his student and close friend (and probable lover) Francesco Melzi, but after Melzi's death, many pages were dismissed as scribbles and lost or dispersed. Today, what remains of Leonardo's writings has been carefully collected and the pieces are reverently displayed in museums around the world.
When we look at Leonardo's accomplishments today, the sheer breadth of his talents is even more remarkable than the talents themselves. Not only did he paint one of the most amazing and talked-about paintings of all time, the Mona Lisa, he came up with designs for a helicopter, a mechanical loom, a car, a bicycle, and a multi-barreled gun! Leonardo was secretive and he had trouble following through with things, but he still fits the ultimate definition of a Renaissance man. More than simply being good at his job, he was a groundbreaking innovator who excelled at everything he tried. Imagine what he could have accomplished with modern technology!