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THE 7 WORLD WONDERS OF LEONDO DA VINCI

Almost 500 years ago, towards the end of the Middle Ages, Leonardo da Vinci died. Even today, his inventions still have the power to astound. Leonardo was far ahead of his time, like someone woken too early, while everybody else was asleep

The place: a bustling market in the small Tuscan city of Verrocchio. The year: 1473. A painter’s apprentice with long blond locks and a short coat mingles among the throng of people. He gazes at the small narrow cages crammed with cats, dogs and birds. “How much are they?” he asks the stallholder. He is quoted an eye-watering price, but the young man pays without batting an eyelid. Despite being short of cash, he’s only interested in opening the cage doors. Birds fly out; cats and dogs disappear into the crowd. The young man watches them and laughs. “Who is this fool?” ask the townsfolk, shaking their heads.

Just a few years later everybody knows the answer. He is Leonardo da Vinci. For many today, he is still the greatest genius to have ever lived. But 500 years ago, he was seen by the people of the Middle Ages as a dreamer, a fantasist and outsider – and many avoided him. Very few recognised his talent in art and in the sciences, but then very few ever truly understood Leonardo.



If you want to get to the bottom of Leonardo’s story, you need to go back to where he grew up. Leonardo’s home town is the village of Vinci in the hills of Tuscany in Italy. Beyond the village, the Apennine mountains rise up into the sky. Before it lies the fertile valley of the river Arno. Little Leonardo’s jaw drops when his father tells him the story of Captain Cecco Santi for the first time. Cecco Santi betrayed his home town because of the love he had for a woman. The punishment for medieval nobility was to be thrown from the tower of Vinci’s city fortress. But rather than hurtling towards the ground, Santi glides like a feather down to the Arno valley, where his beloved is waiting for him. Santi is free because love lent him wings. The truth in Tuscany is not far from this fairytale.

Being able to fly like Cecco Santi was a desire that made Leonardo da Vinci into the greatest universal genius of all time – and simultaneously the unluckiest and unhappiest. That’s because, although in theory Leonardo fulfilled his dream by sketching the first flying machine in history, he lacked the technology, modern materials and tools to make his dream a reality. He is like a time traveller who has mistakenly travelled into the wrong century. Leonardo’s flashes of genius foreshadowed inventions that would only be achieved many centuries later.

As an architect he designed city building concepts that are only just coming into practice today. He constructed hydraulic engines, ball bearings, automated weapons, functioning cars with spring drives, armour, musical instruments and houses with central heating. He was the first person to draw a foetus in its mother’s womb, so anatomically accurate it could be a CT scan. And at the end of his life he’d even worked out human anatomy by conducting dozens of autopsies – at a time when conducting just one autopsy was enough to be burned at the stake as an associate of the devil.

VICTIM OF HIS OWN GENIUS
Even during his lifetime an air of mystery surrounded Leonardo. He could write with both hands, backwards. Sometimes the pages he creates are filled with numbers, but in the middle there are sentences like ‘The sun does not move’. Five hundred years ago the belief was that it was the Earth – and not the sun – that stood still and that all the planets moved around it. He creates masterpieces, although his active, curious mind means that he hurries from one work to another. He finds himself easily bored even by things that he was enthusiastic about just moments before.

Today very few paintings are considered genuine ‘da Vincis’. “One day I will know everything and will have mastered all of the arts that reveal the biggest secrets of mankind,” says Leonardo. To this day many people think he saw belief in God as a superstition – one that he ridiculed. That’s probably why one popular theory suggests that it was Leonardo da Vinci who created the legendary Shroud of Turin, using a primitive camera and light-sensitive chemicals. The same shroud that many believe held the body of Christ after his crucifixion. Was Leonardo really not a religious man? The truth is revealed in his greatest masterpiece The Last Supper. For Leonardo the work was far more than an artistic challenge. It is clear that this painting was a manifesto of his greatest convictions. The fresco is full of symbols and allusions. It is about the reconciliation of religion and science. Leonardo assigns the 12 apostles the four basic temperaments of man and he glorifies the cardinal virtues of the philosophers of antiquity (justice, wisdom, courage and moderation) as the principles of a worthy and just life on Earth. His message? Rationality and faith are a unit, not a contradiction.

Once again, it seems that Leonardo was ahead of his time: at the end of 2014 Pope Francis formally announced that scientific knowledge is not at odds with Catholic beliefs.



1. THE WORLD WONDER OF HARMONY
For Leonardo the human is the crown of creation – he hopes to use the body to solve an eternal puzzle: the squaring of the circle. Leonardo believes that the proportions of the human body show how both a circle and a square can be drawn on the same area using just a compass and a ruler. He nearly succeeded with the Vitruvian Man – Leonardo’s symbol of harmony.

2. THE WORLD WONDER OF ENIGMAS
It is the most famous painting in the world. To this day debate rages over whether the Mona Lisa is smiling or not. Da Vinci used a technique known as sfumato to create a highly illusionistic rendering of her facial features, thus leaving the interpretation down to the viewer. The Mona Lisa also seems to be looking at the viewer – no matter which angle you observe it from. So even 500 years later she greets every single viewer with a different gaze.

3. THE WORLD WONDER OF FLYING
If there had been engines in the 15th and 16th centuries, Leonardo might be considered the inventor of the aeroplane. Hundreds of years before the first manned flight, Leonardo sketched the basics of flying: stable, moveable wings, which would allow humans to travel smoothly through the air. It took 400 years for the Wright brothers to be able to surpass his inventions.

4. THE WORLD WONDER OF ANATOMY
Leonardo da Vinci carried out dozens of autopsies. Highly illegal, just one of these experiments could have landed him in front of the Inquisition. But it was only through them that he gained knowledge of the human body, an insight that no other doctor at the time had. Leonardo had an understanding that modern science only achieved many centuries later.

5. THE WORLD WONDER OF THINKING
Leonardo worked on The Last Supper for more than two years. The fresco united religion and science in a single picture. Leonardo’s exceptional use of perspective guides the viewer’s eye towards the dead centre of the painting: Jesus’ right temple, which stands for the seat of rationality. And each group of three Apostles symbolises a character type from antiquity and thereby pagan temperaments…

6. THE WORLD WONDER OF ARCHITECTURE
In 1502-03 Leonardo created this sketch for a bridge that would lead from Europe to Asia over the Bosphorus. Nobody believed that this construction idea would work. But it was built in Norway, to his original design, and opened in 2001.

7. THE WORLD WONDER OF MOBILITY
The sketch below held its secrets for more than 500 years. Only in 2009 did researchers succeed in decoding Leonardo’s invention. What emerged was the first ‘automobile’ in the world. It was powered by coiled springs and also featured programmable steering and brakes.

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