Leonardo da Vinci, the High Renaissance man known to most of us for his rendition of The Last Supper and his mysterious beauty, Mona Lisa, was much more than the mere word artist can convey. Through his use of keen observation of nature and documentation of these findings, he ushered in what was to become the most prevalent method of scientific study until the 19th century – “the systematic, descriptive method of the natural sciences.” (See Renaissance Man).

Da Vinci’s keen observation and documentation of the anatomy of man (knowledge gained through dissecting human bodies) led to his life-like renditions of man on canvas in a time period when most artwork was “highly figurative and down-right strange. ” His keen observation of nature and natural laws, i. e. , sunlight and shadow, perception and proportions, were all used to perfect his artwork. (See Renaissance Man)

Da Vinci is known for his perfection of chiaroscuro – a technique that “gave his paintings the soft, lifelike quality that made older paintings look cartoony and flat. ” Chiaroscuro technique uses light and shadow to define objects and give them their 3-dimensional qualities on canvas. In addition to chiaroscuro, da Vinci also perfected the technique of sfumato, which encompasses color and detail changes of an object as it increases in distance from the observer. (See Renaissance Man)

Da Vinci also incorporated mathematics into his artwork through use of the “golden rectangle,” (previously used by the Greeks and Romans) as evidenced in his portrait of Mona Lisa. “The Golden Rectangle is considered to be one of the most pleasing and beautiful shapes to look at…” Da Vinci and Piet Mondrian are the two artists most noted for use of the golden ratio, as it is also called. (See Mathematics and Art, and Fig. 1) The accuracy with which da Vinci made his scientific drawings makes them artwork in and of themselves.

Additionally, the hours of study and documentation of nature, of the workings of machine parts, of the anatomy of man, etc. , all led to innumerable inventions, drawings with notations, and writings by the genius. Da Vinci can be credited with the invention of war machines, flying and work machines, water and land machines, and architectural structures such as the proposed bridge to span the Gulf of Istanbul, connecting the Golden Horn and the Bosporus.

Engineers today confess that da Vinci’s bridge, scoffed at by engineers of his day due to its enormity, is indeed plausible and would surely be sound. (See Renaissance Man) For a partial list of over 6,000 folios contained at the Museum of Science, see page 5. It is theorized that da Vinci used his talent at writing backwards, from right to left, to prevent others from deciphering his thoughts and stealing his many inventions. Holding his writings to a mirror is the easiest way to read the handwriting.

See Figure 2 of Vetruvian Man for an example of the backward writing surrounding many of his drawings. In summary, da Vinci utilized everything he learned about nature and nature’s laws to depict the world around him on canvas and to create the many inventions he conceived in his magnificent brain. No one could have described this dependency of art on science better than da Vinci himself, for he believed the eye to be the “perfect instrument for learning these laws, and the artist the perfect person to illustrate them. ”(See Renaissance Man).