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L is for Leonardo da Vinci

Updated: Jul 9

I have long been fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci. I have wondered whether he was on some kind of spectrum (he rarely went back to projects and they were often unfinished). I have even wondered if there was some divine inspiration in his life as he was so ahead of his time in the inventions he developed and his myriad ideas. For a man born in 1452 he almost got it right with his design for a helicopter. Amazing.

Not only did he have a fertile scientific mind, he was gifted artistically, and both come together in his drawing known as Vetruvian Man. I find his sense of anatomy stunning but I also find the drawing is full of humanity. He was interested in the proportions of the ideal body. He saw the navel as the centre with the perfectly proportioned torso, head, arms and legs inhabiting both a circle and a square. He used his drawing to celebrate mathematical and philosophical ideas. It made me think of the current search for a robot that looks like a man undertaken by Tesla and Boston Dynamics. Being constructed from ink on paper, Vetruvian Man is rarely seen as it is so delicate.

Another picture by Leonardo that I admire is also not very accessible. The Last Supper can only be seen by small groups for 15 minutes because it is so fragile. Leonardo painted a scene designed to show the individual reactions of the disciples according to temperament. His insight into psychology is shown in the gestures and facial expressions he used. He was at the forefront of technology and used different techniques to paint his image but, in this instance, the materials used have not worn well. This is partly due also to the damp atmosphere of the refectory in which it hung. The Milan Museum website suggests bombings took the roof off the refectory in 1943 and it remained open to the elements for several years. I like the idea that when you were sitting down in the refectory you were reminded that you were part of the family of God.

And now, of course, the Mona Lisa. I have watched many films and YouTube clips about this enigmatic painting. I have never seen it in reality but I sometimes find that seeing a painting in the flesh can be a less than satisfactory experience. Over-familiarity meant I was left with little response when I saw ‘Sunflowers’ in the flesh and found myself distracted by the varnish and cracks. I find with the Mona Lisa that I almost don’t care about all the details and theories. For me it remains simply a wonderful painting of a lovely face.

Leonardo da Vinci was a man I truly respect and admire. I have been told that he was ambidextrous, so able to use left and right hands to paint and write. This trait seems to reflect the wide genius of a man who made so many strides in science and art and has been most fittingly described as ‘the original renaissance man’.


Having recently visited the National Gallery London, I had the pleasure of seeing the wonderful piece of work by da Vinci now know as 'the Burlington House Cartoon'. I am finding it difficult to express how amazing this piece of art blew me away! Please try and see this if you are able to.

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