Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452 “at the third hour of the night” in the Tuscan hill town of Vinci, in the lower valley of the Arno River in the territory of Florence. Little is known about his early life.
Best known for his creativity and inspiration (not to mention the Mona Lisa and Last Supper), all of us creative types have known since we were fledgling artists that Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most well-known and respected artists of all times – but did you know he was an engineer as well? It’s hard for us to imagine the depths of this man’s intelligence, especially considering the fact that he lived 500 years ago, before there was electricity, bridges on which to cross water, or a way to measure time.
Like many artists who find it difficult to earn a living, Da Vinci had to find another way to support himself. He did this by using his artistic genius in such fields as military engineering, weapons design, architecture, and even canal building! At one point in his life, Leonardo earned a salary by working for the Duke of Milan in the capacity of a military engineer. What’s really interesting though is that in this job, he proved to be very talented. Some have called him a “genius,” but whatever you call Leonardo he had a knack for using his artistic talents in some very strange ways. According to the Museum of Science website, Leonardo desired to create “new machines” for a “new world.”
While it’s widely known that Leonardo called war a “beastly madness” and was adamantly against it, he could not avoid getting involved when Renaissance Italy seemed to be engaged in war constantly. Some of the weapons he is said to have designed during the period include grenades, mortars, missiles, and multi-barreled machine guns.
During his years of work with the Duke of Milan which spanned from 1482 to 1499, Duke Ludovico Sforza kept Leonardo busy sculpting and designing all types of things from buildings and machinery to the study of mechanics, geometry, and flying machines. However, it was 1485 to 1490 when Leonardo concentrated his work on producing studies of submarines, a tank, and other advanced weapons. He worked for the Duke a total of 17 years until Sforza’s fall from power in 1499.
It is said that during these 17 years Leonardo produced only six works of art, because of his tendency to jump from one subject to the next. The Last Supper was one of the works produced during his so-called “engineering” years with the Duke of Milan.
There have been many “facts” over the years that may in reality be fabricated rumors, such as the claims that Leonardo was a strict vegetarian. While we may never know for certain which stories are true and which are not, it’s all certainly intriguing!