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Leonardo da Vinci, human superhero

Posted by Marcello Bertinetti on
Leonardo da Vinci, supereroe umano

Leonardo da Vinci: painter, inventor, anatomical scholar, philosopher, joke writer, botanist, paleontologist, engineer. A superman, no doubt about it. Is there anything else to add? Yes: despite the incredible breadth of his interests, although he was two centuries ahead of his contemporaries in many fields of his research, he was a normal man, with passions and daily stories of failure. A little Clark Kent and Superman, a little Bruce Wayne and Batman. For the type of attraction towards applied experimental science and internal torments, perhaps more Tony Stark and Iron Man. Like the superheroes of the Marvel and DC sagas, Leonardo - an all-round genius - had to deal with weaknesses and mistakes which, instead subtract something, they added new dimensions, showing its more human side.

Let's take the war devices proposed to Ludovico il Moro and the other Italian lords: new types of gunpowder, flying machines, submarines, transportable bombards, parachutes... all stuff that da Vinci experimented with firsthand, making scale models and organizing very successful performances. Most of these projects were so innovative that they were not feasible with the tools of the time but would later inspire the technology of subsequent centuries. Some, however, contained conceptual errors: his tank, for example, had wheels locked two by two to the same driveshaft and it would never work.

An inventor outside the norm, without a doubt, but also a man capable of sensational blunders. Like the one he committed in the service of the gonfalonier Soderlini, in 1503, when he was entrusted with the diversion works of the Arno (for military purposes, during the war between Florence and Pisa): the project, which cost thousands of florins, failed miserably due to of wrong calculations (and a certain impatience on the part of the Florentines).

Even Leonardo, a scholar of the human body, had extraordinary intuitions and surprising oversights. Like the time he understood that the heart was a muscle, "very powerful above other muscles". But he did not have the ability to go further and understand the true function of the organ: thus, he continued to believe - like most of his contemporaries - that the heart served to give heat to the body: "Heat is generated by the motion of the core... when the heart moves faster, the heat multiplies more”…

There is nothing to add about Leonardo, the great painter, that hasn't been said: the Mona Lisa, the Virgin of the Rocks, the Lady with an Ermine and the dozens of enigmatic and original works scattered in museums around the world speak for him. However, it is worth stopping for a moment on the Last Supper: it is one of his most famous paintings, but it is also the meeting point of the superhero and the normal man. As an innovative scientist, Leonardo tried to improve the old fresco, using a mixed technique of tempera and oil on two layers of plaster: the method slowed down drying and allowed him to play with colors and transparencies exactly as on wood. But as a common man he did not understand that the humid environment of the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie did not lend itself to the experiment. Thus, just a few years later, the masterpiece was compromised and Leonardo himself had to admit, with his tail between his legs, that he had made a mistake. But since he was also human in persevering, a few years later he made the same mistake in the Salone dei Cinquecento of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence: he used the wrong technique and so the Battle of Anghieri, instead of shining on the wall, is today visible only thanks to the copies made by Later artists - such as Rubens - based on the original proof cartoon.

For the series: even superheroes make mistakes.

The drawings that accompany this article are by Tamypu and are taken from the book I am Leonardo da Vinci by Enrico Lavagno, in which the great genius talks about himself in the first person with the simple language of children and reveals all his humanity. Atthis address it is possible to see the interview that Diana Bertinetti did with Enrico Lavagno.

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