Ask people to name a famous artist, and they are likely to mention Leonardo Da Vinci whether they know anything about art or not. His influence cast a broad shadow over the art world. He stands as one of the greatest artists humanity has ever seen.
“But is he overrated?” you might ask.
Leonardo was truly a unique individual, not just artist, and part of the value and superiority of his art is his interest in the world around him.
There are five excellent reasons that he deserves the spot as the greatest artist ever to live. Let’s take a look.
1. He had no formal education
This isn’t just about art education. He had no formal education period. He was born illegitimately to a poor family, and the beginnings of his education happened only at home. From here, his natural curiosity took over, and he was able to teach himself concepts in math and science that informed his artistic decisions.
His quest for lifelong learning gave him access to a wide range of disciplines from which to draw artistic inspiration and skill. He didn’t settle for apprenticing under an artist and painting the popular style. He transformed the art he created through his increasingly intimate understandings of anatomy and physics, particularly the laws of motion.
2. He didn’t confine himself to traditional forms of art
He had big dreams. He made plans for flying machines and other inventions. He created specs for massive bronze sculptures that would tower over a city, more architecture than art. He was an expert salesman and often sold himself as an engineer who could build fantastic war devices such as smoke machines and cannons.
We often think of art as just painting or drawing, but Leonardo’s inventions could be considered art as well. The classic story of his flying machine, created 400 or so years before the Wright Brothers built their machine, could be regarded as a true example of his creative mind. For Leonardo, art was everywhere.
3. Even his unfinished pieces are considered masterpieces
His first commissioned work, The Adoration of the Magi, is unfinished but in it, he introduced several key concepts that would be the basis for all his later work. Movement and drama are evident in this piece, a key departure from the prevailing artistic style of the day. He also introduced Chiaroscuro or the idea of defining forms through the interplay of light and shadow.
He outlined this concept in his notebooks under the sections where he made notes on environmental laws and physiology. The notebooks themselves draw wild crowds wherever they are displayed.
4. Paralysis couldn’t stop him
He suffered from paralysis in his right hand. That’s right. In his later years, he only had use of one hand. Although he was left handed, he was still able to paint, record his ideas, study, and run a workshop full of apprentices.
It’s hard to believe that an artist wouldn’t have the use of one of his most valuable tools, but nothing could stop da Vinci’s spirit. Scholars believe he suffered from a series of strokes that contributed to the paralysis of the right side of his body. While this wouldn’t have affected his left-handed ability to sketch or paint, it would have made movement difficult.
This didn’t stop him from continuing to produce work and to study until his death.
5. He was a people person
Da Vinci was notorious for talking to everyone so that he could figure out how things worked. He used these skills to inform his artistic work. If he wanted to find out the latest advancements in war materials, he talked to soldiers and made notes in his notebooks. If he wanted to understand the human body, he got special permission for dissections.
All these conversations gave him new perspectives and new ideas to present whether in paintings, sculpture ideas or his notebooks. Art is an examination of what it means to be human, our beliefs and questions. Da Vinci’s art incorporated his explorations and curiosities. His reported ability to talk to anyone about anything gave him an edge that other artists didn’t have.
Da Vinci’s work is timeless. Even his notes, full of grocery lists and names of people who owed him money interspersed with genius inventions, draw huge crowds. He is the definition of a renaissance man, and there has been no one like him since.
His two paintings, The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, are some of the most visited works of all time and some of the most valuable paintings there are. He left the art world with new techniques, new styles, and invented brilliant things far ahead of his time.