The Art of an Engineer

Leonardo da Vinci was a great artist. Of that, there has never been any doubt. He was also an engineer, who designed machines that would not be realized for hundred of years, such as a glider, and a helicopter. Leonardo da Vinci’s designs were not only purely theoretical though. He designed a number of different machines that were actually used in his time, including a device that could lift heavy objects without the possibility of sudden failure, and a device that could easily move water uphill. But what seemed to set Leonardo da Vinci apart from the rest of the artists and engineers of his time however, was his eye for detail and proportion in relation to his works. Take the Vitruvian Man for example:

The original Vitruvian man was actually drawn by a natural philosopher from ancient Greece named Vitruvius , but it was Leonardo da Vinci who perfect the design so that the body was proportionally correct.

The final, and arguably most well known aspect of Leonardo da Vinci’s work, is his art, or more specifically, his paintings.

See this painting? Examine it closely. See how detailed EVERYTHING is? The cloth’s various textures, the shadowing on the man’s face? It is the small details that separates a da Vinci painting from the rest.

At the core, it seems that da Vinci was a natural philosopher in the vein of the thinkers from the golden age of Greece, attempting to  understand how our world and how it fit together better, not just trying to chisel a better sculpture. As a result of his interest in proportion, we now have a large amount of information on drawing the human form that is still taught to art students today. It seems that awesomeness through analyses is an actual thing. That is awesome.



  1. mralexacademic2014

    Hey Matt,
    I really enjoyed your post. While I have always heard da Vinci referred to as one of the greatest artists/engineers of all time, I had never understood why until now. As you point out, da Vinci’s work tends to be very detailed, especially in respect to the human body. Your post kind of made me wonder: how did da Vinci’s work and attention to detail influence future artists’ works? Thanks again, I was quite fun to read.

  2. hiawatha123

    Before reading this post, i had no idea how spectacular Leonardo Divnci actually was, i now realize what all the fuss is about. I have a question, if he had drawn a picture of a helicopter, how come he never attempted to make it?and so would he be considered the first person to invent something that could fly, instead of the Wright brothers?

    • matthewthemadscientist

      He did not have the technology to build an actual flying machine. The internal combustion engine had yet to be developed, and a steam engine would have been far to heavy.

  3. katiereindeer

    Thanks for the post. I was wondering, was Leonardo da Vinci formally trained as an engineer, an artist, or both? You talk a little bit about how his art was influenced by his engineering mind, but do you thing his designs and machines, were influence by his artistic mind?


  4. avaz121

    Nice posting, Matt!
    Although I am not a big fan of Da Vinci, I should still admit that the engineering perception does increase the quality of a painting in every way. It was also a bliss that Leonardo Da Vinci was born in the Renaissance period when the society was aggressive in different aspects, so that his talent was recognized. I would like to hear more about your personal understanding of Da Vinci as a phenomena (has talents on all subject including anatomy, painting, engineering, math, etc.)

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