Today in Milan we visited the Da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology, and I learned many things I had not previously known about Leonardo Da Vinci. One of the most interesting of these was that “Da Vinci” is not his last name, it simply means “from Vinci” in Italian, as Vinci is a city in Italy. Therefore, he is just Leonardo. Anyway, Leonardo is known worldwide as one of the most famous artists in history, but what many people are not familiar with are his contributions to society through engineering and philosophy. The aspects of his legacy include his role in the Renaissance through his practical designs and his modern ideas of mankind, and these fascinate me the most.
First, I was very intrigued to learn more about the Vetruvian man that Leonardo drew. I have seen the piece of art many times, but I never knew quite how symbolic it was. I learned today that the Vetruvian man is a drawing to scale of the required proportions for the “perfect man.” All the lines seen on the drawing are measurements, including the four lines measuring his height that mark the four lengths from his fingertips to his elbow- he is exactly that tall. Also, the circle and the square around the picture are symbolic as well. In the square, the man is standing upright with his arms outstretched, and the very center of the square lies on the man’s reproductive organs. Since the square is the symbolic shape of the material universe, this shows that man is the center of that universe and that reproduction is necessary for its continuation. In the circle, the man’s legs and arms are spread and pointed outwards from him. In the center of the circle, the Vetruvian man’s navel is shown. The circle is historically the symbol of the spiritual world. Leonardo’s drawing was one of the first representations of man being the center of this other worldly universe: before the center had been undoubtably God. This represents the symbol and meaning of the Renessaince, as man was beginning to take more of an importance in the spiritual world and in the material world as well as a creator. I found these symbolic meanings as well as the sophisticated measurements of the Vetruvian man to be quite fascinating.
Also, I thought Leonardo’s modern, practical, and efficient designs of architecture and other creations were very unique and extremely advanced for his time. Leonardo originally moved to Milan because he wanted more of an artistic challenge and specifically wanted to work as an engineer. His vast skills impressed the Duke of Milan, and he was hired as a military engineer for the city to aid in the wars that were occurring during that time. He made many ships and other materials that would aid in war, along with various other practical inventions that could have been used by the city. He wrote all of his ideas down using a method called “exploded drawings,” in which he drew each angle and aspect of the inventions and wrote a detailed description of the materials and dimensions to be used in each segment. Although most of his pages of work were lost over time, these exploded drawings still allowed for his inventions to be interpreted and recreated. It was fascinating to see all of his work in the displays, because some of the items or parts of them are things we use today. Also, I thought Leonardo’s design of the perfect city was very impressive. The engineer found ways to fix the major problems of the city of Milan that were causing major illnesses, such as open air sewage and overcrowding. His main idea was to incorporate a canal system; this would eliminate the toxicity of open air sewage and would create an efficient means of transportation into, out of, and around the city of Milan. If it was easier to get in and out of the city, more people would be able to live outside of it, therefore eliminating the overcrowding issue. Leonardo was truly a visionary.
In conclusion, there were many aspects of Leonardo’s legacy that I learned about today that both impressed and fascinated me. His contributions to the ideology and purpose of the Renaissance through his vast array of work are incredible, both in quality and quantity. It is important to not only recognize his name as an artist, but also as an engineer, inventor, and a revolutionary.