A Collection of Wisdom

Leonardo da Vinci

Italian Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is considered one of history’s greatest geniuses and most versatile people. He was an artist, architect, inventor, scientist, engineer, mathematician, and philosopher. Leonardo revolutionized almost every one of those fields, and his work was truly ahead of its time.

Notable Traits

One of Leonardo’s most effective habits was his use of objective observation. Leonardo observed all things around him with an objective mind, and thus experienced life and approached his work in a way that contributed to his understanding, and aided his success in virtually all the fields he covered.

Some other Leonardo's other positive traits include:

Scientific Methods

In his scientific work, Leonardo covered such topics as anatomy, zoology, botany, geology, optics, aerodynamics, and hydrodynamics (the motion of fluids). He used a systematic approach to investigate his observations and make conclusions. Leonardo also repeatedly tested his work, and recorded much of it in numerous volumes of notes and illustrations in notebooks, most of which still exist today.

Leonardo’s methods were in deep contrast to the vast majority of scientists before him, most of who were often unprofessional and biased in their work, and frequently jumped to error-filled conclusions without proper testing.

In the field of science, Leonardo made many important discoveries on topics such as the details of human anatomy, the formation of fossils, the mysteries of flight, and the nature of the sun, moon and stars. He also made many geological observations and theories that foreshadowed later breakthroughs in many fields.

Leonardo truly elevated the field of science by leaps and bounds, and laid the foundation for a much more accurate scientific approach than what was previously used.

The Innovator, Inventor, Engineer and Architect

Leonardo often worked for various people and Italian governments as an engineer and architect. He designed and coordinated the construction of many structures, and at several times he also worked as a military engineer and weapons designer.

Leonardo also enjoyed studying machines, and was particularly interested in mechanical gears and levers. In his sketches, he outlined the basic structure of such things as bicycles, automobiles, and even helicopters. However, he never got around to producing them, and their structure existed primarily in the form of his sketches and notes. As we know, these ideas became prophetic and inspirational for many inventions that occurred centuries later.

Leonardo also had a great interest in the mechanics of water. Since he lived before electricity had been harnessed, water was the best source for power in his time. Leonardo sketched plans for a device to measure humidity, a cannon powered by steam, a waterwheel, and many other water-powered machines. He also sketched devices similar to scuba gear.

The Artist

Leonardo’s art style was realistic and lifelike, which is not surprising considering his traits mentioned earlier. Leonardo preferred following the laws of nature in his works. He observed and studied light, shadow, spatial dimensions, color, detail, depth, and atmosphere to add to his artistic accuracy and realism. He also drew upon his scientific knowledge of nature and human anatomy to further the realism of his works.

Leonardo’s most well known art works include the Mona Lisa, Madonna of the Rocks, and The Last Supper. Strangely enough, Leonardo left many of his paintings unfinished, and although he was one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance time period, he only a produced a handful of completed paintings.

A Major Flaw

One major flaw of Leonardo was his tendency of leaving work unfinished. This not only included most of his artwork, but it also included many of his sketches for new inventions. Additionally, evidence shows that Leonardo planned to turn his 4000+ pages of notes and sketches into a published encyclopedia, but like many of Leonardo’s other projects, he left that unfinished, too.

Leonardo da Vinci Quotes

Every once and a while, go away and take a relaxing break, and then when you come back to your work, your judgment will be better—because remaining constantly at work will hinder your power of judgment. Move some distance away, because then your work will appear smaller, and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and any lack of harmony or proportion… will be more effortlessly seen.

Anyone who debates by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence—he is just using his memory.

The grandest pleasure is the joy of understanding.

[The three classes of people are]: those who see, those who see when they are shown [what to see], and those who do not see.

You do evil if you praise what you do not understand, but worse if you condemn it.

To speak well of a vulgar man is much the same as speaking ill of a good man.

Men of elevated genius, when they are doing the least work, are the most active.

Common sense is what judges the things given to it by other senses.

When you are identifying science of the motion of water, remember to include under each subject its application and use, so that the science will be useful.

He is a poor disciple who does not excel his master.

Nature has beneficently provided that throughout the world, you may find something to imitate.

Just as courage endangers life, fear protects it.

I [will now] reveal to men the origin of the first, or perhaps second cause of their existence. Lust is the cause of procreation. Appetite is the support of life. Fear or timidity is the prolongation of life and preservation of its instruments.

Necessity is the mistress and guide of nature.

Necessity is the theme and the inventress, the eternal curb and law of nature.

I teach you to preserve your health, so that you will succeed better in proportion as you avoid doctors…

Every action needs to be prompted by a motive.

The knowledge of past times and of places on the earth is both an ornament and nourishment to the human mind.

The water you touch in a river is the last of what has passed, and the first of what is coming. Thus, it is with present time.

You can have no greater or lesser dominion than the one over yourself.

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

Experience does not make mistakes. Only your judgments make mistakes by expecting from her what is not in her power.

Men wrongly complain of Experience. With great abuse, they accuse her of leading them astray. But they [actually] set Experience aside, turning from it with complaints as to our ignorance, causing us to be carried away by vain and foolish desires to promise ourselves, in her name, things that are not in her power; [and] saying that she is deceptive [/ fake]. Men are unjust in complaining of innocent Experience, constantly accusing her of error and of false evidence.

Wisdom is the daughter of experience.

...My works are the issue of pure and simple experience, which is the one true mistress.

Those who are in love with practice without knowledge [/ science] are like the sailor who gets into a ship without rudder or compass, and who never can be certain where he is going. Practice must always be founded on sound theory; and with this perspective is the guide and the gateway; and without this, nothing can be done well in the matter of drawing.

…Be curious to listen with patience to the opinions of others. Consider and weigh well whether those who find fault [with your work] have ground or not for blame, and, if they do, make the adjustment; but, if not, just act like you didn’t hear [the criticism]; or if he [the criticizer] happens to be someone you esteem, communicate with him to show the cause of his mistake [in judgment].

Ask advice [/ opinions] from he who rules himself well.

We know very well that errors are better recognized in the works of others than in our own; and that often, while criticizing little faults in others, you may ignore great ones in yourself.

…[To avoid such behavior, first] make yourself a master of perspective. Then acquire supreme knowledge of the proportions of men and other animals, and also, study good architecture, as far as it concerns the forms of buildings and other objects that are on the face of the earth. These forms are infinite, and the better you know them, the better your work will be. And in cases where you lack experience, do not stop yourself from drawing them from nature.

But, getting back to the point I initially started, I say that when you paint, you should have a flat mirror, and frequently look at your work as reflected in it. When you see it reversed, it will appear to you like some other painter’s work, and you will be better able to judge of its faults than in any other way.

Historical pictures should not be crowded and confused with too many figures.

The figure that is most admirable is the one that by its actions best expresses the passion that animates it.

We know for certain that sight is one of the most rapid actions we can perform. In an instant, we see an infinite number of forms; still, we only take in thoroughly one object at a time.

Suppose that you, Reader, were to glance rapidly at this entire written page. You would instantly perceive that it was covered with various letters; but you could not, in that [short] time, recognize what the letters were, or what they were meant to tell. Therefore, you would need to see them word-by-word, line-by-line, to be able to understand the letters. Again [, as another example], if you wish to go to the top of a building, you must go up step by step; otherwise, it will be impossible for you to reach the top.

Thus I say to you, whom nature prompts to pursue this art, if you wish to have a sound knowledge of the forms of objects, begin with the details of them, and do not go on to the second [step] until you have the first [step] well fixed in memory and in practice. And if you do otherwise, you will throw away your time, or certainly greatly prolong your studies.

[A Fable:] A rat was surrounded in his little house by a weasel, who with unrelenting alertness, waited for surrender while watching his imminent peril through a little hole. Meanwhile, a cat came by and suddenly seized the weasel, and immediately ate it.

Then the rat offered up a sacrifice to Jove [a.k.a. Jupiter, the supreme God of Roman mythology] of some of his store of nuts, humbly thanking His providence, and came out of his hole to enjoy his lately won liberty. But he was instantly deprived of it, together with his life, by the cruel claws and teeth of the lurking cat.

[A Fable:] An old man was publicly casting contempt on a young one, and boldly showing that he did not fear him. In response to this, the young man replied that his [the old man’s] advanced age served him better as a shield than either his tongue or his strength [did].

[An interesting illusion:] We are two brothers; each of us has a brother. Here the way of saying makes it appear that the two brothers have become four.

A Collection of Wisdom