Italian painter, sculptor, architect,
engineer, and scientist.
One of the greatest figures of the Italian Renaissance, he was active
in Florence, Milan, and, from 1516, France. As state engineer and court
painter to the duke of Milan, he painted the Last Supper mural about
1495 (Sta Maria delle Grazie, Milan), and on his return to Florence
painted the Mona Lisa (Louvre, Paris) about 1503-06. His notebooks and
drawings show an immensely inventive and enquiring mind, studying aspects
of the natural world from anatomy to aerodynamics.
Leonardo's inventions ranged from complex cranes to pulley systems,
lathes, drilling machines, a paddlewheel boat, and an underwater breathing
apparatus. As a military engineer he was responsible for the construction
of assault machines, pontoons, a steam cannon, and a tortoise-shaped
tank. For a castle in Milan he created a forced-air central heating
system and also a water-pumping mechanism.
Principally between 1490 and 1495, Leonardo produced his notebooks,
in mirror writing. The illustrated treatises deal with painting, architecture,
anatomy, and mechanics. The last dates from the late 1490s (Biblioteca
Nacional, Madrid). In it Leonardo proposes his theory of mechanics,
illustrated with sketches of machines and such tools as gear, hydraulic
jacks, and screw-cutting machines, with explanations of their functions
and mechanical principles and of the concepts of friction and resistance.
He studied the flight of birds and designed the prototypes of a parachute
and a flying machine. His studies of the properties of water were carried
out about 1503 when he was planning a ship canal.