Leonardo Da Vinci
"I have been impressed with the urgency of doing.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Being willing is not enough; we must do."
Leonardo Da Vinci invented the sniper rifle. Did you know that? No kidding, in the early 16th century Leonardo Effing Da Vinci was standing on the walls of his besieged hometown of Florence, Italy, firing down at enemy soldiers 300 yards away with a custom-built wheelock rifle he had fitted with a homemade telescopic sight designed to improve accuracy and range. He did lots of other totally sweet stuff too, of course, and it's high time we started recognizing this crazy scientific and artistic mastermind for something other than the half-insane notion that he was some kind of ridiculous Knight Templar who enjoyed constructing overly-elaborate puzzles, stealing religious artifacts, and rabbit-punching theology professors in the junkbags when they were least expecting it.
Born in 1452 near a town called Vinci (it appears that "Da Vinci" is more than just a clever epithet), Leonardo was pretty much one of the most brilliant human beings ever produced by our species. In addition to the afore-mentioned 16th century headshot-dealing sniper rifle, he also laid out plans for all kinds of other crazy crap, most of which wouldn't be actually expounded upon by lesser geniuses until a couple centuries after Leo's death. His almost-unbelievable list of inventions includes things like helicopters, bicycles, tanks, pontoon bridges, cameras, solar power, calculators (though evidently not solar-powered calculators), the internal combustion engine, siege engines, a mechanical animatronic lion, a machine that pulls bars off of stone windows, a machine designed to open jail cells from the interior, and a device called the "Aerial Screw", which quite honestly sounds like the name of some kind of insane inverted pole dancing maneuver. I can't overemphasize how goddamned ridiculous it is that Da Vinci conceptualized the freaking helicopter at a time when most people were riding around on donkeys and using a sundial to approximate the time of day. Seriously, the freaking printing press was considered cutting-edge technology in these days, and Da Vinci was one step away from dusting Versailles in a goddamned Apache Gunship.
Anyways, I guess I should talk a little about his skill as a painter and an artist, even though Art History is generally the sort of thing that causes me to spontaneously break out in hives and start dry heaving into an airsickness bag with the maximum amount of force that can possibly be mustered by my diaphragm. I'll suffice it to say that he did the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, and those pieces are pretty famous I guess. I mean, last I heard, the Mona Lisa is insured by the Louvre in the amount of something like $800 million, making it the most valuable piece of art ever created, so I suppose that says something about Leonardo's talent as a painter. The sweet thing is that Da Vinci never half-assed it when it came to perfecting his skills. For instance, this guy wanted to be able to draw horses and humans, so he dedicated his youth to learning everything he possibly could about biology and anatomy – he devoted himself to the point where he became one of the world's foremost experts on the internal workings of the human body, and only THEN did he start really trying to draw and paint people. I mean, the big deal with the Mona Lisa was that it was so realistic and lifelike, thanks in no small part to Leonardo's bitchin' application of bump-mapping, cell-shading and 3D texture rendering. Think of it this way… remember the first time you saw a Final Fantasy game on the PS2 and the graphics were so crazy nuts that you were like, "OMG TOTEZ ROXXORZ WTF"? It was kind of like that, only rendered on oil and canvas, and with marginally less androgyny and significantly less crazy shit going on in the background. In addition to rocking out with a brush, he was also really into sculpting, metalworking, drafting, and drawing, and he did some of history's first intricately-detailed anatomical drawings… the most famous of which was this dude:
My guess is that you've probably seen that guy somewhere before, seeing as how it's probably the most famous anatomical drawing ever created. LDV also exploded faces with his crazy mathematics, geometry, architecture, and engineering skills, composed a bunch of music, had a beautiful singing voice, played the lyre (WTF who plays the lyre?) and taught himself Latin. Yeah, the same Latin language that includes six cases, three genders, three moods, two voices, two numbers, three persons, and six verb tenses and forces most people stupid enough to subject themselves to it to a world of pain and suffering far more sinister than anything the human mind can comprehend. Sheesh, in freaking Latin you pretty much have to conjugate punctuation marks, yet this ultra-brilliant super-genius taught it to himself for fun after he got bored decoding the secret of the universe and figuring out the best way to transcribe the image of God into a five-digit number.
We don't know a whole lot about Da Vinci the man, though the stuff we do know is pretty interesting. Depending on who you ask, (and, if you're interested, Sigmund Freud has plenty to offer on the subject) the enigmatic Leonardo was either completely celibate or a heavily-closeted homosexual… though the fact that he was once incarcerated for sodomy probably provides you with the quick and easy answer. He was also a hardcore vegetarian and animal lover who was known to go around to pet stores, buy a bunch of caged birds, take them outside, and set them free. (This of course was back in the day when being an artist actually provided you with enough money that you could afford to go around doing such things.) Other than that, we don't know a whole hell of a lot about the guy, and his enigmatic life really only serves to make him more badass in the long run.
Leonardo also rocked out one some sweet adventures, traveled on campaign with notable tyrant/evil person Cesare Borgia, went out and chugged ales at the taverns with Niccolo Machiavelli, traded snarky verbal jabs with Michelangelo, and served on the committee that forcibly moved Mike's famous sculpture of David (against the great artist's will - take that Michelangelo!). Another interesting note is that Da Vinci actually coined the word "nards" – according to the legend that I just made up he originally intended to use the term as a one-syllable nickname for "Leonardo", but during the 16th century everybody just associated "Da Vinci" with "giant nutsack", and over the years "nards" became more synonymous with balls than with the actual artist himself. I guess that just how it goes sometimes. Anyways, 'nards lived in the Vatican for a while, painted some towering works of artistic genius, created an impractically-large sculpture of an 80-ton bronze horse, and was so mind-flayingly hardcore that King Francis I of France paid him a huge stipend just to sit around in a dark, foreboding castle and think about stuff that was awesome.
Another totally sweet aspect of Leo was that almost everything he ever wrote or drew was put down into several massive, sprawling notebooks filled with an unending stream of brilliant shit. These Tomes of INT +5 contained tens of thousands of pages scrawled with drawings, musings, inventions, etc., all compiled in a giant leather-bound journal that somewhat resembled Henry Jones Senior's Grail Diary:
Basically, LDV's journal contained a bunch of masterfully-drawn pictures accompanied by line after line of small-lettered text written completely backwards… in cursive. People like to blame this crazy eccentric writing style on Da Vinci being a lefty, but I'm a lefty as well, and the last time I checked you don't need to hold your computer monitor up in front of the bathroom mirror just to read my website. Instead, I prefer to think that Da Vinci was just one of those Tesla-esque mecha-geniuses who was just too earth-shatteringly brilliant for his own good. Writing this mind-bending insanity in backwards cursive was probably the only way that this dude could actually challenge himself intellectually.
Either way, Leo updated his crazy Renaissance LiveJournal daily, adding all sorts of cool shit to it, and it now basically represents the dude's entire life work. He only really completed a few paintings, never published any of his over-the-top inventions (he was probably just so far ahead of him time that the prospect of building a goddamned Sherman Tank in 1520 would have just exploded most peoples' brains) and left most of his work half-finished. And yet he's still considered to be one of the most brilliant men to ever live. That's pretty damn sweet, if you ask me.
Leonardo Da Vinci died at the age of 67, and his legacy is preserved today in art museums and other snooty places across the world. Perhaps more importantly than that, the leader of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is named in his honor, which is totally radical.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Science: Leonardo
Abbott, Elizabeth. A History of Celibacy. Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Euvino, Gabrielle and San Filippo, Michael. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Italian History. Alpha, 2001.
Roberts, Craig. Crosshairs on the Kill Zone. Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Artists. Trans. George Bull. Penguin, 1987.
Zollner, Frank. Leonardo Da Vinci. Taschen, 2000.
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