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Leonardo da Vinci: Why he still fascinates 500 years after his death

Leonardo da Vinci: Why he still fascinates 500 years after his death
Copyright Reuters
Copyright Reuters
By Alice Tidey
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The Italian artist, scientist and engineer died on May 2, 1519. His influence is still being felt today.


Celebrations in France and Italy took place on Thursday to mark the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci's death.

The Italian painter, architect, engineer and innovator died on May 2, 1519, near Ambroise, in the Loire Valley, in north-western France, at the age of 67.

Originally from Anchiano, near Vinci, in Italy's former Republic of Florence, the famed Renaissance humanist, spent the last three years of his life across the Alps following the invitation of French King Francis I. He brought with him some of his most famous works including the Mona Lisa.

French President Emmanuel Macron and his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella commemorated Da Vinci's genius on Thursday with a ceremony at his tombstone in Ambroise. The French leader described Da Vinci as "the historical link that unites Italy and France."

Leonardo the painter

Da Vinci is perhaps best known for his talent as an artist which brought him fame during his lifetime — a somewhat rare occurrence at the time.

Among his most famous works are The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. The second painting, exhibited at the Louvre in Paris, received the highest known insurance valuation in the world when it was estimated at $100 million in 1962 ahead of its transfer to the US for a special exhibition.

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Leonardo the scientist

His thirst for knowledge and his interest in sciences also saw him draw botany, animals and anatomical sketches.

His contributions include, for instance, the first depiction in Western medicine of the cecum and appendix, which he drew based on the dissection of an old man he had witnessed dying in a hospital in Florence in 1508.

He also drew and wrote detailed studies into light, the physical properties of water and the flight of birds.

A keen engineer, he also spent time as a military architect for Cesare Borgia, during which he toured and surveyed the Papal States of Romagna and the Marches and sketched city plans and maps, "creating early examples of aspects of modern cartography," according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Leonardo the innovator

A precursor, Da Vinci is also credited for inventing — or at the very least imagining and sketching — technology that would not see the light of day for centuries.

Among them are the helicopter, the parachute and the tank.

Leonardo da Vinci's helicopter

Da Vinci's musings into art, sciences and engineering were carefully recorded by the polymath himself and continue to fascinate today because they reveal how far ahead of his time the artist was.

The Codex Leicester — a 72-page collection of Da Vinci's writings — was acquired by Bill Gates in 1994 for $30.8 million.

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