man was Italian, the illegitimate son of Piero and Caterina. He had a
stepbrother, Bartolommeo who was his junior by 45 years. He lived to the
age of 67, and died in the arms of a French king. He was generous to his
friends, he wrote riddles, he was a practical joker. He was tall and
handsome, he was muscular and athletic, he was a homosexual.
aside his personal background and traits, however, I must
perforce ask another question: did he achieve anything
worth mentioning in these pages?
ever. Although he was an inveterate procrastinator, he managed to get
enough things done to be remembered — among numerous other roles — as an
anatomist, an architect, an astronomer, a botanist, a geologist, a
musician, a painter, a philosopher and a sculptor.
Vasari (1511-74) wrote of him, “He might have been a scientist if he had
not been so versatile.”
was right. He was also a prolific inventor, whose devices (about 1000)
include such wide-ranging creations as the alarm clock, the bicycle chain,
the deep-sea diving suit, the flame-thrower, the helicopter, the
parachute, the tank and the variable-speed drive.
his musical inventions was his “lyra”, which he designed to accompany him
when he sang. This was a sort of lute, which he fashioned in silver in the
form of a horse’s skull, where the teeth served as the frets.
portrait he painted (on wood) was of a Florentine woman, but her husband,
who had commissioned it, did not think much of it and refused to pay.
Today it is could well be the most valuable painting in the world.
say you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this Lion of a man was
born in a little Tuscan town called Vinci, which lies between Pisa and
spare a few minutes next month (April), to reflect upon the legacy of the
definitive Renaissance Man? It will be his birthday on the fifteenth.