Leonardo da Vinci
Staff posted on October 12, 2006 |
Leonardo da Vinci; is perhaps best known as an artist; His name inevitably brings forth images of th...

Leonardo da Vinci

While navigating through our site, you might have found the image of Leonardo da Vinci practically inescapable. He is our ambassador, our trade mark, our model, and our icon. In short, he is our inspiration. Why? Well, we at ENGINEERING.com see him as the "Quintessential Engineer", one able to effectively combine scientific intellect with artistic creativity.

Perhaps best known as an artist, his name inevitably brings forth images of the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. He was also an architect and a scientist. Yet, if asked, he would ultimately refer to himself as an engineer. Driven by an unrelenting curiosity and an insatiable hunger for knowledge, da Vinci was an incredibly innovative thinker who perceived the world not only as his personal playground, but also as one with unlimited possibilities. From his fertile mind sprang designs of flying machines and instruments of war, as well as practical theories and concepts in engineering, mathematics, and science, many of which were centuries ahead of their times. If da Vinci lived in our time, his accomplishments would have been considered astounding. His prominent position on the ENGINEERING.com site reflects the unique manner in which he most vividly personifies what, we believe, it means to be an engineer.

As engineers, we originate, plan, design, orchestrate, and construct. The role that we play in this society is a vital one. Our only standard is to strive to be the best in all that we do. We offer you a site that merges all facets and spheres of engineering, one driven by the authentic enthusiasm for knowledge that is common to engineers around the world.

ENGINEERING.com is being developed by engineers for engineers, to become "the ultimate engineering tool" reflecting the many inspiring qualities of the ideal engineer, Leonardo da Vinci, who serves as its beacon.

Mirror Writing

Leonardo Da Vinci is also recognized for his "mirror writing" skills, which is done by starting at the right side of the page and moving to the left. Only when he was writing something intended for other people did he write in the normal direction. Possible motives for this include:

  • He was attempting to make it more difficult for other people to read his notes and steal his ideas.
  • He was concealing his scientific ideas from the powerful Roman Catholic Church, whose teachings sometimes disagreed with what Leonardo observed.
  • Writing left handed from left to right was messy because the ink would smear as his hand moved across it. Leonardo chose to write in reverse because it prevented smudging.
Personal History
Birth April 15th, 1452.
Parentage Illegitimate son of notary, Vincier Piero, and peasant girl, Caterina.
Brothers and Sisters 17 half brothers and sisters.
Apprenticeship When he was about 15, Leonard's father apprenticed him to Andrea del Verrochio in Florence. As the young man's artistic genius shone through, Verrochio allowed him to paint an angel in the corner of his painting, "Baptism of Christ". Afterward, feeling outdone by his apprentice, the master no longer permitted Leonardo to contribute to his work.
Painter's Guild In 1472, Leonardo became a member of the painter's guild of Florence, where he came into contact with other great Florentine artists, including Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Servicing the Duke of Milan In 1482, at the age of 30, Leonardo entered the service of the Duke of Milan. He lived and worked in Milan for 17 years, until Duke Ludovico Sforza's fall from power in 1499. It was during these years that he first explored his engineering talents by working as a military engineer. He studied the design of weapons, tanks, submarines, and other instruments of war. His architectural skills surfaced during this same period in his designs of domed churches, fortresses and canals. His eclectic inventor/engineer's mind was also focused on geometry, flying machines, mechanics, hydraulic, botany, diving, physics, and anatomy.
Return to Florence Leonardo returned to Florence in 1500 where he began extensive theoretical work on mathematics. He also conducted anatomical studies in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova.
Military Engineer In 1502 and 1503, he was a military engineer for Cesare Borgia, a position that allowed him to further pursue his inventions and engineering studies.
Mona Lisa Leonardo reportedly began working on the now world famous "Mona Lisa" around 1503.
Father's Death On July 9th, 1504, Leonardo's father died, but his intrusive half-siblings managed to deny him any inheritance.
Scientific Studies In 1509, Leonardo returned to Milan where he devoted much of his time to scientific studies and engineering projects, such as channeling the course of the Adda River
Workshop From 1513 to 1516, he worked in Rome on a variety of projects for the Pope. He maintained a workshop there with a number of artists and apprentices.
Official Title In 1516, da Vinci was offered the title of Premier Painter, Engineer and Architect to the King, by Francis I in France.
Death Leonardo da Vinci died on May 2, 1519 in Cloux, France. It is said that he passed away while being cradled in the arms of, his patron, Francis I.

Contributions to the Field of Engineering

The writings and sketches that da Vinci left behind display his tremendous grasp of theories, rules and ideas that were only fleshed out hundreds of years later. His visionary ideas have encouraged experimentation and discovery even to modern times.


Leonardo did extensive work in geometry, focusing his attention on the study of arc rupture, a previously unexplored field. He made sketches that calculated the breaking strength of an arch, proving his understanding of the modern concept of the line of thrust. This knowledge was implemented in his designs of the domed churches he did for the Duke of Milan. His analysis of the strength of materials greatly advanced engineering practices.

Flying Machines

da Vinci was primarily interested in ornithopters, flapping wing machines designed to imitate the flight characteristics of birds. While his aeronautic experimentation served as an inspiration to engineers that followed, it wasn't until the early 1900's that any real flying machines were successfully launched. Leonardo was also intrigued by designs of what we now know as parachutes, helicopters and gliders.


While serving as the primary engineer to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, da Vinci worked on designs of military tanks, submarines, catapults, and other combat devices.


da Vinci's extensive work in the study of hydraulics was focused on the canals of the Arno and Lombardy regions. It is suggested that he probably invented the hydrometer, a device widely used to measure the gravity or density of a liquid.


Cesare Borgian hired da Vinci to design a fortress. As this design, along with his work on the Lombard canal system, both clearly demonstrate, his approach was highlighted by a phenomenal emphasis on careful scientific observation and a thorough understanding of the strength of materials.

Even a careful examination of his immeasurable list of diversified interests, projects and talents does little to provide the full measure of Leonardo da Vinci. Nearly 500 years after his death, he remains the epitome of the Renaissance Man and the "Ideal Engineer".

"There may not be in the world an example of another genius so universal, so incapable of fulfilment, so full of yearning for the infinite, so naturally refined, so far ahead of his own century and the following centuries." -Hippolyte Taine
An interesting reconstruction of a car invented by Leonardo Da Vinci in the year 1495.

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