Leonardo da Vinci at Thirty
I’m currently reading Charles Nicholl’s wonderful biography Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind which I’m thoroughly enjoying. I’m up to the section of the book that discusses Leonardo’s move from Florence to Milan, which took place when he was roughly thirty. What I find interesting about this part of his life is how relatively undistinguished Leonardo is and how full of self doubt he must have been. While he had already started to make his mark as a painter (and a musician, of all things), he also had a lot of baggage - among other things many unfinished paintings and a somewhat sullied reputation for cavorting with young men. At this time he penned a letter to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, describing all the wonderful services and devices he could provide specifically in the field of engineering and warfare. However, there is very little evidence to suggest he could actually provide these things or had been working on them at this time of his life. The letter seems more to outline what Leonardo wishes to learn and do going forward, having spent much of his time to date with a focus on mastering the arts.
Of course, as we know Leonardo went on to make major contributions in engineering and many other fields as well. He is well regarded today as a polymath.
While Leonardo was unique in his own way, overall this part of his life speaks to me about the capacity all people have to reinvent themselves and to strike out in a new different direction, no matter how old. On this topic, one of my favorite comics I return to every now and then is from SMBC (below). It’s never too late, no matter where you come from and what baggage you bring with you, to strike out in a new direction and do something amazing.