It sat alone in a dark corner of the floor exhibit; a small, single, red notebook. Two guards stood at attention watching for any would be photographers or thieves. Approaching the small Codex on the Flight of Birds I couldn't help, but be surprised at how small the book actually was. It was unassuming and seemingly bland compared to fancy colorful rockets, and airplanes that littered the Air and Space Museum. Alone in the quiet corner of the exhibit I envisioned the elderly man pictured above meticulously scribbling his famous notes in backwards Italian. Several lit candles aiding him late into the night sitting on a wooden work desk. Hunched over close with his failing eyesight observing his diagrams, and possibly a dissected bird or two in various states of study. I like to image off in the distance the Mona Lisa sat in an unfinished state looking over him with her famous smile. Observing a master at work, a man hundreds of years ahead of his time, and the gift of uncanny observation.
Leonardo da Vinci was no doubt a human, but his observational powers were nothing short of super human. His ability to understand, grasp, and detail his observations in both writing and art has made him one of the most revered artists to ever live. But to simply classify him as an artist is an injustice. His scientific studies and endeavors were nothing short of astounding and ground breaking. The irony in it all being that no one else alive was able to fully appreciate all he had discovered. Even by today's standards his achievements of the many disciplines in engineering, mathematics, anatomy, geology, physics, music, military technology, aeronautics, etc... are unmatched by any single person.
Ask yourself this one simple question: Why is the sky blue?
If you were paying attention, and following along, the introductory quote is Leonardo's explanation of why. Astoundingly, his answer is completely right, and he even notes the "imperceptible atoms" scattering the sunlight. Today this is known as Rayleigh Scattering. Named after Lord Rayleigh the man credited for finding and explaining this discovery. The only problem is that Leonardo had already done the work for him nearly 400 years earlier. What is truly amazing when viewing and appreciating his artwork is knowing that all of this scientific studies and observations were included in his art. The geology of rocks in different states of erosion from the ocean current and waves, the anatomical accuracy for the types of plants drawn based on: the season and region being depicted, the leaf formations in different states of growth and maturity, and the human anatomy on display with its bone and muscle structures, and finally his delicate use of sfumato or blending of colors. His amazing ability to remove all lines and borders in his artwork.
Plant and Foliage studies.
Sfumato and the worlds most famous painting.
For a man so revered today it is astonishing that his notebooks, and scientific studies went mostly unnoticed for hundreds of years after his death. Nearly half of all his documented work has been lost or destroyed in the years following his death. For me it is one of the greatest scientific tragedies to date. Hundreds of years ahead of his time the knowledge he left for the world was simply to groundbreaking and complex. How far along could our science be today if his discoveries were studied and used? It is a question that we will never know now, but I can't help imagine the possibilities.
So sitting alone in a dark corner of the floor exhibit; a small, single, red notebook laid. Unassuming and bland the notebook was mostly passed by many of the museum patrons. Leonardo's true genius on display for the world to see, and it barely was getting an attention. His codices are collectively just too simple and elegant, unlike his flashy artistic masterpieces revered around the world. It appears that his greatest achievements will forever stay out of the spotlight, a fringe set of masterpieces destined to inspire only those who seek them out.
Leonardo said it best. "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. "