Leonardo di Ser Piero d'Antonio di Ser Piero di Ser Guido da Vinci—for that was his full legal name—was the natural and first-born son of Ser Piero, a country notary, who, like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, followed that honourable vocation with distinction and success, and who subsequently—when Leonardo was a youth—was appointed notary to the Signoria of Florence. Leonardo's mother was one Caterina, who afterwards married Accabriga di Piero del Vaccha of Vinci.
Leonardo Da Vinci, the many-sided genius of the Italian Renaissance, was born, as his name implies, at the little town of Vinci, which is about six miles from Empoli and twenty miles west of Florence. Vinci is still very inaccessible, and the only means of conveyance is the cart of a general carrier and postman, who sets out on his journey from Empoli at sunrise and sunset. Outside a house in the middle of the main street of Vinci to-day a modern and white-washed bust of the great artist is pointed to with much pride by the inhabitants. Leonardo's traditional birthplace on the outskirts of the town still exists, and serves now as the headquarters of a farmer and small wine exporter.
Leonardo, whose birth antedates that of Michelangelo and Raphael by twenty three and thirty-one years respectively, was thus in the forefront of the Florentine Renaissance, his life coinciding almost exactly with the best period of Tuscan painting.
Leonardo was the first to investigate scientifically and to apply to art the laws of light and shade, though the preliminary investigations of Piero della Francesca deserve to be recorded.
He observed with strict accuracy the subtleties of chiaroscuro—light and shade apart from colour; but, as one critic has pointed out, his gift of chiaroscuro cost the colour-life of many a noble picture. Leonardo was "a tonist, not a colourist," before whom the whole book of nature lay open.
We can readily believe the statements of Benvenuto Cellini, the sixteenth-century Goldsmith, that Francis I. "did not believe that any other man had come into the world who had attained so great a knowledge as Leonardo, and that not only as sculptor, painter, and architect, for beyond that he was a profound philosopher."
Leonardo anticipated many eminent scientists and inventors in the methods of investigation which they adopted to solve the many problems with which their names are coupled. Among these may be cited Copernicus' theory of the earth's movement, Lamarck's classification of vertebrate and invertebrate animals, the laws of friction, the laws of combustion and respiration, the elevation of the continents, the laws of gravitation, the undulatory theory of light and heat, steam as a motive power in navigation, flying machines, the invention of the camera obscura, magnetic attraction, the use of the stone saw, the system of canalisation, breech loading cannon, the construction of fortifications, the circulation of the blood, the swimming belt, the wheelbarrow, the composition of explosives, the invention of paddle wheels, the smoke stack, the mincing machine! It is, therefore, easy to see why he called "Mechanics the Paradise of the Sciences."
Leonardo was a SUPERMAN.