Leonardo da Vinci Quotes

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Leonardo da Vinci Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
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“Vision without execution is hallucination. .. Skill without imagination is barren. Leonardo [da Vinci] knew how to marry observation and imagination, which made him history’s consummate innovator.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Above all, Leonardo’s relentless curiosity and experimentation should remind us of the importance of instilling, in both ourselves and our children, not just received knowledge but a willingness to question it—to be imaginative and, like talented misfits and rebels in any era, to think different.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“If we want to be more like Leonardo, we have to be fearless about changing our minds based on new information.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“men who desire nothing but material riches and are absolutely devoid of the desire for wisdom, which is the sustenance and truly dependable wealth of the mind.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo Da Vinci
“His lack of reverence for authority and his willingness to challenge received wisdom would lead him to craft an empirical approach for understanding nature that foreshadowed the scientific method developed more than a century later by Bacon and Galileo. His method was rooted in experiment, curiosity, and the ability to marvel at phenomena that the rest of us rarely pause to ponder after we’ve outgrown our wonder years.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Leonardo had almost no schooling and could barely read Latin or do long division. His genius was of the type we can understand, even take lessons from. It was based on skills we can aspire to improve in ourselves, such as curiosity and intense observation. He had an imagination so excitable that it flirted with the edges of fantasy, which is also something we can try to preserve in ourselves and indulge in our children.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“But I did learn from Leonardo how a desire to marvel about the world that we encounter each day can make each moment of our lives richer.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“In addition to his instinct for discerning patterns across disciplines, Leonardo honed two other traits that aided his scientific pursuits: an omnivorous curiosity, which bordered on the fanatical, and an acute power of observation, which was eerily intense. Like much with Leonardo, these were interconnected. Any person who puts “Describe the tongue of the woodpecker” on his to-do list is overendowed with the combination of curiosity and acuity. His curiosity, like that of Einstein, often was about phenomena that most people over the age of ten no longer puzzle about: Why is the sky blue? How are clouds formed? Why can our eyes see only in a straight line? What is yawning? Einstein said he marveled about questions others found mundane because he was slow in learning to talk as a child. For Leonardo, this talent may have been connected to growing up with a love of nature while not being overly schooled in received wisdom.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo Da Vinci
“The sexual act of coitus and the body parts employed for it are so repulsive that, if it were not for the beauty of the faces and the adornment of the actors and the pent-up impulse, nature would lose the human species.”7”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“One mark of a great mind is the willingness to change it. We can see that in Leonardo. As he wrestled with his earth and water studies during the early 1500s, he ran into evidence that caused him to revise his belief in the microcosm-macrocosm analogy. It was Leonardo at his best, and we have the great fortune of being able to watch that evolution as he wrote the Codex Leicester. There he engaged in a dialogue between theories and experience, and when they conflicted he was receptive to trying a new theory. That willingness to surrender preconceptions was key to his creativity.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“An object will display the greatest difference of light and shade when it is seen in the strongest light. . . . But this should not be much used in painting, because the works would be crude and ungraceful. An object seen in a moderate light displays little difference in its light and shade, and this is the case towards evening or when the day is cloudy; works painted then are tender, and every kind of face becomes graceful. Thus, in everything extremes are to be avoided: Too much light gives crudeness; too little prevents our seeing.3”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“There have been, of course, many other insatiable polymaths, and even the Renaissance produced other Renaissance Men. But none painted the Mona Lisa, much less did so at the same time as producing unsurpassed anatomy drawings based on multiple dissections, coming up with schemes to divert rivers, explaining the reflection of light from the earth to the moon, opening the still-beating heart of a butchered pig to show how ventricles work, designing musical instruments, choreographing pageants, using fossils to dispute the biblical account of the deluge, and then drawing the deluge. Leonardo was a genius, but more: he was the epitome of the universal mind, one who sought to understand all of creation, including how we fit into it.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo Da Vinci
“The tongue of a woodpecker can extend more than three times the length of its bill. When not in use, it retracts into the skull and its cartilage-like structure continues past the jaw to wrap around the bird’s head and then curve down to its nostril. In addition to digging out grubs from a tree, the long tongue protects the woodpecker’s brain. When the bird smashes its beak repeatedly into tree bark, the force exerted on its head is ten times what would kill a human. But its bizarre tongue and supporting structure act as a cushion, shielding the brain from shock.1 There is no reason you actually need to know any of this. It is information that has no real utility for your life, just as it had none for Leonardo. But I thought maybe, after reading this book, that you, like Leonardo, who one day put “Describe the tongue of the woodpecker” on one of his eclectic and oddly inspiring to-do lists, would want to know. Just out of curiosity. Pure curiosity.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo Da Vinci
“Leonardo became known in Milan not only for his talents but also for his good looks, muscular build, and gentle personal style. “He was a man of outstanding beauty and infinite grace,” Vasari said of him. “He was striking and handsome, and his great presence brought comfort to the most troubled soul.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Those who are in love with practice without theoretical knowledge are like the sailor who goes onto a ship without rudder or compass and who never can be certain whither he is going,” he wrote in 1510. “Practice must always be founded on sound theory.”11”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Leonardo’s relentless curiosity and experimentation should remind us of the importance of instilling, in both ourselves and our children, not just received knowledge but a willingness to question it—to be imaginative and, like talented misfits and rebels in any era, to think different.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“he never finished any of the works he began because, so sublime was his idea of art, he saw faults even in the things that to others seemed miracles.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“This inability to ground his fantasies in reality has generally been regarded as one of Leonardo’s major failings. Yet in order to be a true visionary, one has to be willing to overreach and to fail some of the time. Innovation requires a reality distortion field. The things he envisioned for the future often came to pass, even if it took a few centuries. Scuba gear, flying machines, and helicopters now exist. Suction pumps now drain swamps. Along the route of the canal that Leonardo drew there is now a major highway.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Occasionally Leonardo appended a moral lesson to the entry, such as this: “The oyster, when the moon is full, opens itself wide, and when the crab looks in he throws in a stone or seaweed and the oyster cannot close again, whereby it serves for food to that crab. This is what happens to him who opens his mouth to tell his secret. He becomes the prey of the treacherous hearer.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Look longer at the picture. It vibrates with Leonardo’s understanding that no moment is discrete, self-contained, frozen, delineated, just as no boundary in nature is sharply delineated. As with the river that Leonardo described, each moment is part of what just passed and what is about to come. This is one of the essences of Leonardo’s art: from the Adoration of the Magi to Lady with an Ermine to The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, each moment is not distinct but instead contains connections to a narrative.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo Da Vinci
“Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work least,”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Leonardo had also been wrestling with the question of why the sky appears blue, and around that time he had correctly concluded that it had to do with the water vapor in the air. In the Saint Anne painting, he portrays the sky’s luminous and misty gradations of blue as no other painter had done. The recent cleaning of the painting fully reveals the magical realism, veiled in vapors, of his distant mountains and skyline.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Kenneth Clark referred to Leonardo’s “inhumanly sharp eye.” It’s a nice phrase, but misleading. Leonardo was human. The acuteness of his observational skill was not some superpower he possessed. Instead, it was a product of his own effort. That’s important, because it means that we can, if we wish, not just marvel at him but try to learn from him by pushing ourselves to look at things more curiously and intensely. In his notebook, he described his method—almost like a trick—for closely observing a scene or object: look carefully and separately at each detail. He compared it to looking at the page of a book, which is meaningless when taken in as a whole and instead needs to be looked at word by word. Deep observation must be done in steps: “If you wish to have a sound knowledge of the forms of objects, begin with the details of them, and do not go on to the second step until you have the first well fixed in memory.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“The Ottoman Turks were about to capture Constantinople, unleashing on Italy a migration of fleeing scholars with bundles of manuscripts containing the ancient wisdom of Euclid, Ptolemy, Plato, and Aristotle.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“In notes for his treatise on painting, Leonardo recommended to young artists this practice of walking around town, finding people to use as models, and recording the most interesting ones in a portable notebook: “Take a note of them with slight strokes in a little book which you should always carry with you,” he wrote. “The positions of the people are so infinite that the memory is incapable of retaining them, which is why you should keep these sketches as your guides.”22”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Leonardo at twenty-nine was more easily distracted by the future than he was focused on the present.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“When Leonardo was painting The Last Supper (fig. 74), spectators would visit and sit quietly just so they could watch him work. The creation of art, like the discussion of science, had become at times a public event. According to the account of a priest, Leonardo would “come here in the early hours of the morning and mount the scaffolding,” and then “remain there brush in hand from sunrise to sunset, forgetting to eat or drink, painting continually.” On other days, however, nothing would be painted. “He would remain in front of it for one or two hours and contemplate it in solitude, examining and criticizing to himself the figures he had created.” Then there were dramatic days that combined his obsessiveness and his penchant for procrastination. As if caught by whim or passion, he would arrive suddenly in the middle of the day, “climb the scaffolding, seize a brush, apply a brush stroke or two to one of the figures, and suddenly depart.”1 Leonardo’s quirky work habits may have fascinated the public, but they eventually began to worry Ludovico Sforza. Upon the death of his nephew, he had become the official Duke of Milan in early 1494, and he set about enhancing his stature in a time-honored way, through art patronage and public commissions. He also wanted to create a holy mausoleum for himself and his family, choosing a small but elegant church and monastery in the heart of Milan, Santa Maria delle Grazie, which he had Leonardo’s friend Donato Bramante reconstruct. For the north wall of the new dining hall, or refectory, he had commissioned Leonardo to paint a Last Supper, one of the most popular scenes in religious art. At first Leonardo’s procrastination led to amusing tales, such as the time the church prior became frustrated and complained to Ludovico. “He wanted him never to lay down his brush, as if he were a laborer hoeing the Prior’s garden,” Vasari wrote. When Leonardo was summoned by the duke, they ended up having a discussion of how creativity occurs. Sometimes it requires going slowly, pausing, even procrastinating. That allows ideas to marinate, Leonardo explained. Intuition needs nurturing. “Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work least,” he told the duke, “for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterwards give form.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo Da Vinci
“Most notably, he was known for his willingness to share his blessings. “He was so generous that he sheltered and fed all his friends, rich or poor,” according to Vasari. He was not motivated by wealth or material possessions. In his notebooks, he decried “men who desire nothing but material riches and are absolutely devoid of the desire for wisdom, which is the sustenance and truly dependable wealth of the mind.”2 As a result, he spent more time pursuing wisdom than working on jobs that would make him money beyond what he needed to support his growing household retinue. “He possessed nothing and worked little, but he always kept servants and horses,” Vasari wrote. The horses brought him “much delight,” Vasari wrote, as did all animals.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Leonardo at twenty-nine was more easily distracted by the future than he was focused on the present. He was a genius undisciplined by diligence.”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci
“Leonardo da Vinci liked to boast that, because he was not formally educated, he had to learn from his own experiences instead”
Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci

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