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Leonardo da Vinci: The man behind the artist

7 things you can learn from his life

Leonardo Piero Da Vinci aka Leonardo da Vinci is popularly known as an exceptional renaissance artist. His famous artworks include masterpieces like The Monalisa, The Last Supper and The Lady with an Ermine. His artwork is widely celebrated all across the globe in museums like The Louvre, where hundreds and thousands of people queue up just to get a glimpse of his brilliance. His identity is usually considered to reflect through his work, hence people never fail to marvel at his excellence and the grandeur of his work. Few, however, have the knowledge of his actual life experiences and understand how he came to be the man everyone knows today.

This is one man with varied experiences with a passion for all that he did in the course of his life that is kept alive in his work to this day. Here are 7 aspects one can learn about from his life that most people wouldn’t know about. These are few deductions of his qualities as a human that led him to become the man of utmost greatness that he was.

Let us unravel Leonardo – The man behind the artist:


  1. Not born with a silver spoon:

Leonardo da Vinci was born in Florence to a peasant woman. He was born out of wedlock in the 15th century, which meant quite a difficult life in society back then. An illegitimate child back then would not get a share of the family’s property and there would be little investment made for their education. Basically, Leonardo’s situation was the opposite of the saying ‘born with a silver spoon in his mouth’. He was definitely underprivileged even as compared to his own siblings and other family members. How did he then manage to reach such heights or even think of doing so in the first place?

Leonardo didn’t play victim to his situation. He was aware of what the world had to offer him and had strategies to extract what he wanted. He could have given up due to being mistreated or being declared a bastard by default, but he didn’t. He chose to let his merit define what would be of him rather than letting his unfortunate status of birth dictate to him, what he could not do.

You don’t need to have a lot of privileges by birth in order to succeed in whatever it is that you want to do. Sure, having such privileges can be a bonus, but your mettle is what ultimately counts, with or without them.

  1. The possibilities were several, he gave them a chance:

Few people are aware of the fact that for a major chunk of his life, Leonardo da Vinci was a mechanical engineer of sorts. It is only later that he picked up on his passion for painting and art. He spent a considerable portion of his youth working as an apprentice in Verrocchio’s workshop; where he mastered skills like painting, sculpting, carpentry, as well as gained a wide range of theoretical and technical training.

He might be well known for his artistic skills, but that in no way can deny his brilliance in other fields. His notebooks are a testimony to his fascination for all things and a general curiosity for how everything works. He wanted to know it all, and it is fair to say that he did to quite an extent. His contributions include mechanisms of machines of war and several other technical experiments that he did for his patrons. He was primarily keen at being a successful engineer and painted frequently just to make extra money; as fate would have it he ended up being a prolific painter and an artist that would be remembered for years to come.

You might not end up pursuing what you started with or even something close. But like Da Vinci did, you need to weigh the possibilities and keep your options open; you never know when and how just the right thing for you passes by.

Da Vinci’s Lady with an ermine.
  1. Survival of the fittest:

You can either choose to play helpless to your situation or choose to work towards how you can get out of it to reach where you want to. It is very fortunate that Leonardo da Vinci chose the latter. Imagine yourself in a situation where you are type-casted by the society for no fault of yours; when you live in an era when you need patronage to be successful in any kind of a craft; where only wealth or status of birth is synonymous with power, and you have neither; what would you do in such a situation?

There is no surprise that many would accept fate and lead their life as per what is dictated to them in such a situation. For Da Vinci, however, this was not a concern. He seemed to remain focused on what he thought was the greater purpose of his life: to work what he was passionate for and quench his ever-increasing curiosity about everything. Once he knew what he wanted to do, he figured out how he was going to overcome the societal obstacles to achieve it. He absolutely sidelined the existence of all the bias and focussed on how to survive in the given situation.

Survival of the fittest doesn’t hold true just for the biological survival of species in the world. It very much applies to our everyday social and physical survival in the world that we live in.

  1. A growth mindset:

Sometimes we have a thought block about what we think we are supposed to do in our lives. As a result, we tend to turn a blind eye to all other options and force ourselves upon this one supposed goal. Leonardo da Vinci didn’t do that. He tried his hand at what came by, built up his skills in different ways and then finally struck a balance between his passion and the things that worked out.

He set out as a mechanical engineer turned artist who then went onto discover diverse subjects in the future. In his later days, he performed anatomy for the sake of his curiosity of the most complex machine: the human body. Towards his last days, he created a blueprint for a flying device which after years went onto become the basis for the first flying machine created.

He made swift decisions to move out of his comfort zone into areas where he saw a potential for growth. This might seem risky at times but just like old garments sometimes we grow out of our present situations and what our surroundings have to offer us; it is then that we need to venture out of the comfort zone into an area of growth.

An excerpt from his notebooks.
  1. Using one’s resources well:

Most of us have certain established means in some fields and very few in some others. It is very significant as to how we put our resources to use. Except in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, he didn’t have any. What do you do when you don’t have well-established resources. The answer to that is: You create them.

Leonardo da Vinci had very little by birth but he accumulated a lot by meeting people, establishing his connections and creating useful resources to achieve his goals. He started out as an apprentice on a recommendation in Florence, who then decided move out to expand his profession and in search of patronage. His passion for his machines led him to expand further to Milan where he could get funded to bring his technical ideas into form. Patronage was extremely important for artists and creative persons back then, it can be considered as a modern-day sponsorship of sorts which was important to fund the business of art.

He essentially did what needed to be done unlike what any average person in his place would have done. It is not our abilities that make us average or less, but our inhibitions and apprehensions about ourselves that prevent us from making choices that would let us excel.

  1. Choose your stepladder well:

No one is completely self-made. In the end, our success or failure in life is a product of the choices we make and the people that we meet.

Leonardo da Vinci’s life witnesses pattern of moving from place to place and working with the most affluent people of his times. With no platform to exhibit his talents, his hand at art or the list of innovative ideas he had for the world would be absolutely useless. The reason why you and I know him today is because he made the right choices and chose to work with the right people or patrons, in his case, to be able to climb up to new heights in his career and in the society.

We all can witness the need for growth and discovering new opportunities in our careers; few, however, are willing to take the risk of venturing into the unknown for the sake of their greater purpose. This demarcates great thinkers like Leonardo from the ordinary.

A Self Portrait.
  1. Vision with a blueprint:

Leonardo da Vinci was definitely a man of great vision. He could foresee what benefits certain prospects could bring or what disadvantages some paths could offer. He made his choices accordingly. But the fact that shouldn’t be ignored is that he did all the groundwork needed to execute his vision. Whether it be establishing contacts for patronage or venturing into different genres of work for profit; he had a blueprint of how he could get things to work for him.

We are so taken aback by our ideas of dreaming big and being passionate that we very conveniently overlook the work that needs to be put in to execute our plans. Leonardo saw through this fact , therefore, it is fair to say that the man we all unanimously cherish today didn’t just get lucky or happen to be at the right place at the right time by chance; he worked his way up and out of a system which was all set to want to pull him down. In the end, if you intend to make it work, it will.

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