da Vinci

1452 - 1519

 Renaissance Art Map
     Leonardo da Vinci - biography
     Leonardo da Vinci
     1452-1481 Leonardo in the Florence of the Medici    
     1482-1499 At the court of Ludovico il Moro    
     1500-1508 The return to Florence    
     1508-1513 The Milan of Charles d'Amboise    
     1513-1519 The last years: Rome and France    



Leonardo da Vinci
c. 1512




The return to Florence




Studies on flight and the cosmos


Leonardo's studies of the flight of birds and the manner in which the principles of flight might be adapted, naturally and artificially, for human purposes are rich in scientific observation and imaginative power. The fascination of these farranging investigations resides in the analogy that Leonardo sought to establish between humans and natural creatures: birds, insects, and bats. He spent many unfruitful years, during his first stay in Milan (1486-90) and his second period in Florence (1505), experimenting with a flying machine. The attempt to support and move the human body in the air failed because, in the absence of an internal combustion engine, Leonardo could not create mechanisms of propulsion capable of providing the necessary upward lift. Nevertheless, based on his understanding of air currents, pressure, and resistance, he came up with designs for machines that anticipated the modern glider, parachute, and helicopter. Related to these studies were notes concerning the cosmos, later developed by Galileo.




Leonardo da Vinci,
Study of a Large Wing with Manoeuvrable Tips, Codice Atlantico, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan.
Leonardo was convinced that man could achieve his objective of flight only by imitating the natural movements of birds and other winged animals.


Leonardo da Vinci, Drawings and Notes on the Illumination of the Sun,
the Earth and the Moon
Leicester Codex, 1506-08,
Bill Gates Collection, Seattle.


Leonardo da Vinci, Helical Airscrew, c.1487,
Manuscript B, Institut de France, Paris.
The airscrew may be regarded as the ancestor of the modern helicopter. The plan, long pursued by Leonardo, for a flying machine that used only human muscular energy failed because he did not manage to find a system of propulsion that corresponded to the supporting strength of the wings.



Leonardo da Vinci, Gliding Birds Exploiting the Air Currents, c.1505, Codex on the Flight of Birds, Biblioteca Reale, Turin.
"Define the power of the wind and then describe how birds steer themselves by means of a simple balancing of wings and tail." Leonardo analysed in astonishing detail the equilibrium, resistance, and flexibility of birds, as shown here by their acrobatic efficiency, flying with and against the wind, in horizontal and angled trajectories. The kite, in Leonardo's view, was the best at flying, even in the most difficult atmospheric conditions. This research also extended to other birds of prey and bats.


Leonardo da Vinci
Drawing of a flying machine
c. 1485
Pen and ink on paper


Leonardo da Vinci
Flying machine
c. 1487
Metalpoint, pen and ink on paper
Insritut de France, Paris


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