Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci (15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519) was an Italian painter, sculptor, architect, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, botanist, musician, fabulist and writer, and perhaps the most famous figure of The Renaissance.
Born in the little village of Vinci (hence "da Vinci", i.e. "from Vinci"), Tuscany, Leonardo apprenticed at the art workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence at age 14. According to legend, when Leonardo and Verrocchio collaborated on a painting, Verrocchio found himself so outclassed by his apprentice that he abandoned art altogether. It's almost certainly not true - the story comes from Vasari's 1550 Lives of the Artistsnote , the first work of art history and full of gossip, legends and apocryphal anecdotes - but it does reflect just how famous he was. Barely thirty years after his death, he was already the stuff of legend.
Leonardo spent time in Florence, Milan and Rome, working for various wealthy patrons. He produced some of the most famous paintings history: The Last Supper, Virgin Of The Rocks, and, most famous of all, The Mona "what-is-she-smiling-at" Lisa, considered to be either the most beautiful or the most kitschy work of art in history and the most famous, period.
Besides above-ground art, Leonardo also trafficked in the shady world of anatomy, secretly procuring corpses and dissecting them (an act that could get you killed at the time) to study the human body.
Leonardo always considered himself foremost a scientist. The areas of his interest include: aeronautics, anatomy, astronomy, botany, civil engineering, chemistry, geology, geometry, hydrodynamics, mathematics, mechanical engineering, optics, physics, pyrotechnics and zoology (allowing him to put pretty much every Omnidisciplinary Scientist in fiction to shame). His inventions range from the mundane (strut bridges, automated thread-winder, pulley systems) to the height of—for the times—science fiction, including tanks, airplanes, helicopters, and a mechanism for walking on water. Leonardo's awesomeness is such that he even gets his own genre of science fiction—Clock Punk.
In fact, it is his interest and expertise in so many areas which inspired the term "Renaissance Man". Unfortunately, though, he was interested in so many things that he couldn't settle down to work on anything. Many of his artworks and engineering projects never got off the drawing board, or, in the artwork's case, the doodlepad.
Leo was probably what we would call homosexual today (as such a word didn’t exist until the 1860s) but due to the passage of time, it’s difficult to say such definitively. When he was 23, he was arrested on a sodomy charge after reportedly hiring a male prostitute. He never wrote much about his personal life but in one of his journals wrote about how disgusting he found procreation. That may be due to him being gay but can also be interpreted as him being (again to use a modern term) asexual. Some believe that after he was arrested for sodomy, he became celibate while others argue that he was actively having relations with men (including a long term relationship with one of his students)but just got better about hiding it after the arrest. Some biographers like Walter Isaacson will outright say he was gay.
Leo died in 1519. He was famous across Europe, as famous as any king, priest or soldier, and celebrated for his art, his intelligence and his good looks. He was subject to gossip and myth in his own lifetime. You can well imagine how things get out of hand after his death. He's part of the trinity of Julius Beethoven da Vinci and his life often serves as Biography à Clef. He probably was not an immortal alien... or friends with a Time Lord... or a sacred feminine worshiping cryptologist... or an ally of an order of assassins. And he was definitely not a ninja turtle. Or an ancestor of Stewie Griffin. He also did not return in a female body that looked like the Mona Lisa to help with saving the world. And we're decently sure he never traveled to South America in search of a magical book of knowledge.
Also note, again, that "da Vinci" indicates where he was from. Surnames in their modern form did not exist in Italy at the time and people called him Leonardo, not "da Vinci". Da Vinci simply means "of Vinci", so it would be somewhat like saying "What would Of Nazareth do?" This is still the case among historians and people who know what they're talking about - any proper book will call him Leonardo not just out of familiarity, but because it was his only name. (So yes, the book should be called The Leonardo Code, but we didn't name a trope after Dan Brown for nothing.)
Tropes in his other works
- Crucial Cross: The Madonna of the Yarnwinder shows the infant Jesus holding cruciform yarn and smiling, holding onto it even as Mary seems concerned about his interest. Mary reminds the audience that the death of such a boy is a tragedy, but the infant's divine happiness is in response to the same gruesome, torturous, and sacred instrument.
- Contrapposto Pose: Leonardo’s second stab at Leda and the Swan◊ (now known only from copies) demonstrates the Renaissance rediscovery of this trope.
- Heaven Above: The title character of St. John the Baptist is coyly pointing a finger upwards towards God just as the Baptist by his life pointed towards the descent of God to Bethlehem.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Ambiguously Gay: He or characters based on him are sometimes portrayed this way, due to a long-standing rumor that he had relations with one of his male models, and a court case where he was charged with sodomy (which was dismissed on a technicality, as many such cases were, since the Florentine government didn't actually care).
- Attention Deficit Creator Disorder: Given that he seemed to have a problem finishing his creations on time (if at all), he seemed to have this problem.
- Biography à Clef: His paintings, his codes, his scientific research, those war machine blueprints, his great genius and who was "the Mona Lisa" anyway, have supplied speculation and fodder for multiple fictional representations over time.
- Clock Punk: The inventions he designed in his drawings tend to show up in Clock Punk fictions, and tend to be fully functional.
- Military Mashup Machine: The scythed chariots, primitive tanks and gliders he thought up are often seen in fiction, though they tend towards Awesome, but Impractical.
- Mona Lisa Smile: Trope Namer. The way he painted the mysterious smile of the Mona Lisa has intrigued countless people over the centuries.
- Renaissance Man: He practiced many arts, from painting, to sketching, to engineering ideas.
- Small Reference Pools:
- The Mona Lisa is our standard idea of a painting or a valuable painting for that matter. Countless stories about art theft will have a thief break in the Louvre and try to steal the Mona Lisa.
- A lot of art critics and theorists note that Leonardo tends to get named more often as a painter/inventor/scholar than other great painters, inventors and scientists of the Renaissance. It's often pointed out by more than a few that Leonardo was actually incredibly lazy and procrastinated on his commissions and the reason being less on his brilliance and more because he decided to dabble and try his hand at anything he set his mind to. In other words, Leonardo is not really a successful Renaissance Man but someone who tried to be one. Compare that to Michelangelo Buonarroti, a poet, a sculptor and a painter. Michelangelo actually left complete works in multiple fields. As a painter, Leonardo was not so prolific with only a few major complete works (admittedly this includes The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper so yes, Leonardo does have permission to rest on his laurels).
Appears in the following works:
- Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto:
- Leonardo and Cesare Borgia meet in 1491, almost ten years earlier than they did in real life (as far as is known) when Cesare, age 16, visits Lorenzo de'Medici in Florence. Lorenzo offers to introduce a certain genius in his employ to Cesare, and goes to find Leonardo, but Cesare wanders off and finds Leonardo's studio on his own. He sees a notebook with curious writing on it, looks at it for a bit, and realizes on his own that he should hold it up to a mirror to read it, just before Leonardo walks in. The two of them bond over a variety of things, like their intellectual interests, and the fact that they're both illegitimate. A few of Leonardo's comments hint at his sexuality.
- In 2013, a gaiden was released, about the time in 1504 when Leonardo and Michelangelo were hired by the city of Florence to paint murals of famous battles on facing walls, essentially in a competition. Cesare and his two friends, Miguel and Angelo, appear on the cover, but not in the story, as it takes place during Cesare's downfall, which both artists regret.
- In Lupin III: The Italian Adventure, Leonardo is resurrected by the MI6, to have access to his genius. They can't hold him back, and he, knowing that his new body was about to give out, tried to copy his mind in every single Italian.
- An alternate verison of the Doctor in the Big Finish Doctor Who Unbound series takes Leonardo as a companion. On returning to his own time, his newfound knowledge led to humanity having spaceflight by the 16th century.
- Léonard le Génie is a Franco-Belgian comic clearly inspired by Leonardo da Vinci.
- In the absurdist French comic The Adventures of Jérôme Moucherot, Leonardo Da Vinci is a neighbor of the main character residing in the uppermost apartment of his building. He's an eccentric inventor married to a guy who behaves like a woman.
- Leonardo a major character in S.H.I.E.L.D. (2010), one of the members of the Renaissance incarnation of the Brotherhood of the Shield, who time travels to the 1950s to stop their evil new leader, Isaac Newton.
- In the DC Comics universe, Leonardo appears in several stories:
- Leonardo is the ancestor of Cagliostro, Zatara and Zatanna.
- In Final Night, Vandal Savage reveals that he blackmailed Leonardo into painting the Mona Lisa, and blackmailed her into sitting for it!
- In a Batman Elseworld. it's revealed that one of his assistants became a Renaissance Batman (after his parents were killed in the Pazzi Conspiracy, said Batman was painted into the Mona Lisa (but hidden using pentimento), and Leonardo fathered a child with Mona. Oddly, the story also featured the current Batman, so it could potentially be considered canon.
- In Safe Havens a child Leonardo is a recurring character. He's a time traveler alongside his mother Maria, and it's hinted there's a very good reason Maria and Leonardo are interested in Samantha and her friends. As it turns out, Maria is Samantha and Dave's Kid from the Future, meaning Leonardo is their grandson. Incidentally, quite a few things about Leonardo's work are explained: the reason so many of his ideas were ahead of their time were because his formative years were spent in the 21st century...and the reason most of them didn't work was because Leonardo designed it that way because humanity was not ready for the technology back then. It's also been hinted that his friend Candide is the true identity of the Mona Lisa, the painting "The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne" is a portrait of himself, Maria, and his stepmother Bambi, and that many more of Leonardo's works exist than historians think, it's just that, thanks to his time travel abilities, many of them were released under assumed names, including Andy Warhol. After the Mars mission, Leonardo returns to the past to resume his life with his mother's past self.
- Leo Da Vinci Mission Mona Lisa is an extremely fictionalised version of a teenaged Leonardo on a quest for lost treasure and to rescue his Love Interest, Mona Lisa.
- Mr. Peabody & Sherman: Thanks to his time machine, Mr Peabody is a close friend to Leonardo, stopping by with Sherman and Penny to ask for help to recharge the machine in the second act.
- In Ever After, Leonardo is a guest of the royal court of France. He befriends both Prince Henry and Danielle, gives them a lot of assistance and life lessons, and helps start their relationship.
- Leonardo appears at the start of Hudson Hawk, where he is painting the Mona Lisa and conducts a flying experiment.
- Leonardo DiCaprio, who was named after him, ambitions to play him in a biopic. Screenwriter John Logan was hired in early 2018.
- He gets mentioned a few times by his contemporaries Michelangelo and Raphael in Sin, though he's never seen. There's a live recreation of one of his painting, Lady with an Ermine, at one point.
- The Da Vinci Code has spread the idea that Da Vinci put some kind of hidden code about the Vatican in his paintings. Despite that it also made the man even more famous with the general public than he already was.
- Appears in a single paragraph in Good Omens, when he told Crowley that sure, the smile was a little off but it's not like anyone'll ever look at it, and what was that about helicopters?
- In the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, a recurring character is the befuddled genius inventor Leonard of Quirm, who is an obvious parody of him.
- Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
- He makes a cameo in the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Happy Endings, as the creator of Benny's elaborate wedding cake.
- The Torchwood short story "Cultural Firsts" has him caught up in the Rift, and able to deduce the mathematics of how it works from first principles.
- The series Leonardo is about his (fictional) teenage adventures.
- The titular character in Doctor Who visits his studio in the story "City of Death", but he's out. He's also namechecked as one of the Duke of San Martino's guests in "The Masque of Mandragora", but the Doctor doesn't get to meet him then either. Despite these misses, the Doctor frequently namedrops him (and seems to already know him in "City of Death"). In "The Time Meddler", the Meddling Monk claims to have encouraged his ideas on flying machines.
- Da Vinci's Demons is a fictionalized account of Leonardo's early life, with the addition of mystical elements.
- Shows up in Star Trek: Voyager as a holodeck character in Captain Janeway's Da Vinci's Workshop program, played by John Rhys-Davies. In "Concerning Flight", an alien named Tau steals his program and becomes his "patron" until Janeway gets him back—which naturally involves creating one of his gliders.
- NTSF:SD:SUV::: Leonardo Da Vinci appears as the arch-nemesis of the Time Angels, a trio of buxom agents who protect time spoofing Charlie's Angels. Leonardo invented time travel specifically so that he could steal inventions from other periods and claim them as his own. Why? He was broken up when his girlfriend left him because the Mona Lisa looked nothing like her.
- Blackadder Back And Forth: Blackadder tricks his friends into thinking he's invented a time machine based on designs by Leonardo. Naturally, since Baldrick built it it works in the most inconvenient manner possible.
- Warhammer Fantasy has a Leonardo da Miraglia, who lets you reroll bad artillery rolls and invented the steam tank.
- In Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto, Leonardo appears as one of a trio of "Renaissance minds seeking freedom", none of whom interact with the main cast. It's a nod to all three figures' appearances in vol. 2 of the manga that the musical is based on, where they discuss their work and their goals with the protagonists. Leonardo's costume and looks here are more in line with the wise old man the audience would expect, whereas the manga has him looking more like he would have in 1491, when it takes place.
- The Notebooks Of Leonardo Da Vinci is a production with dialogue composed entirely of passages from Leonardo's notebooks and various treatises, adapted to the stage by Mary Zimmerman. Throughout the show, multiple actors embody the role of Leonardo as they bring his words to life. Pages of the artist's personal memoirs and recollections are reenacted, as are poses and vignettes from some of his most famous works. These are sandwiched between sections of interpretive dance set to monologues taken from Leonardo's works and mechanical demonstrations of his observations on mathematics, anatomy, architecture and engineering, philosophy, sculpture, painting, color theory, and the solitary life of an artist.
- Assassin's Creed: Leonardo is a supporting character in the games set during the Italian Renaissance. Although he's a friend and ally to the Assassins, he never wanted to become one himself, being way too busy with his art and other stuff popping up in his curious mind, and most likely not being really keen on practicing Le Parkour and killing people.
- In Assassin's Creed II, he's a friend of the Auditore family, and a Gadgeteer Genius that helps protagonist Ezio Auditore by creating Altaïr's lost Hidden Blade designs for him. While in Venice, Ezio famously gets to use Leonardo's glider to reach the Doge's Palace while avoiding an army of guards.
- In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Leonardo is forcibly working for the Borgias to create weapons that are quite advanced for their time. The effectiveness of the weapons, which are based on his notebook drawings, is exaggerated of course, but he did create prototypes for some of them. He's also once again a Gadgeteer Genius who helps fix and improve Ezio's Hidden Blades, and provides him with the famous pyramid-shaped parachutes from his notebooks. And Leonardo's intimate preferences are alluded to this time.Ezio: Do not let a beautiful girl distract you from constructing my designs.
Leonardo: Have no worries. Women provide little distraction.
Ezio: Wait, I don't get it...
[Leonardo stays silent, then looks away]
- In the DLC "The Da Vinci Disappearance", he is kidnapped by a mysterious cult of hooded cape-wearing men, the Hermeticists, who want to open an ancient crypt, and it's up to Ezio to save him, using secret codes hidden in his famous paintings (sounds familiar?) to locate him. Leonardo's apprentice and lover, Gian Giacomo Caprotti aka Salaì, also appears in the DLC.
- While Leonardo doesn't appear in Assassin's Creed: Revelations (as he never travelled to Constantinople in real life), Ezio still uses his pyramid-shaped parachutes.
- Fate/Grand Order:
- Leonardo is summoned as a Caster class servant, usually referred to as Da Vinci. Strangely, when he is summoned, his body becomes a woman who looks identical to the Mona Lisa, and he's thoroughly enjoying being a hot chick and flirting with men.
- Da Vinci is eventually killed, but uploaded her mind into a clone body that depicts the Mona Lisa as a little girl, becoming a Rider class Servant who drives tanks. This child Da Vinci later becomes a Ruler class Servant during the 6th Summer Event.
- In Grimms Notes Repage, he is a playable character.
- The Journeyman Project: In the second game, Buried In Time, Gage Blackwood is assigned to investigate the studio where Leonardo Da Vinci was working with the Duke of Milan during 1488. The authors actually did some pretty good research on this interpretation, given the amount of historical facts that Arthur can provide, the staggering amount of working prototypes of Leonardo's inventions that match his real-world schematics, and that you can read his notebooks up close, which you have to do anyway, because somebody tampered with one of them.
- Appears in Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader as the players mentor and recurring NPC.
- Leonardo is one of your opponents in the first Rock of Ages game. His intro references a meta moment from one of the Matrix movies where he informs Sisyphus that little he does will change his fate.
- Epic Rap Battles of History: Battled alongside Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo Buonarroti against the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- 101 Dalmatian Street: Da Vinci is a puppy character appearing in the series, she loves painting and has passion for art.
- Leonardo of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is named after him.
- Appears in the Futurama episode "The Duh Vinci Code", where he is revealed to have been an exterrestrial alien from a planet where everybody is such a genius that he was in fact considered to have been the dumbest one. Therefore he went to Earth because there he would have been considered the smartest. Nevertheless Fry keeps confusing him with Leonardo DiCaprio.
- Il était une fois... l'Homme has an episode about the Italian Renaissance and Leonardo in particular.
- In Family Guy, Stewie's evil(er) brother Bertram traveled through time to murder Stewie's ancestor (who turned out to be Leonardo) in a Terminator-style scheme. Unbeknownst to him, due to a Timey-Wimey Ball Stewie was accidentally responsible for the Big Bang and, thus, creating the universe, and thus his actions ended up destroying everything, except for Brian and Stewie who managed to survive by stepping outside of normal time and space. When they go back to stop him, they try to reason with him by telling him that he will destroy everything if he does this - Bertram thinks for a second, then declares "WORTH IT!" and tries to kill Leonardo anyway. He succeeds, but Stewie creates a Stable Time Loop by taking his place.
- In an episode of the Animated Adaptation of Dilbert titled "Art," Dilbert meets the man himself, who has lived 500 years past his alleged date of death thanks to one of his inventions being the Fountain of Youth.
- The title characters (and their female accomplice) of Mr. Peabody & Sherman visit Leonardo do have him do some repairs on their time machine. They also inadvertently inspire the Mona Lisa Smile by making Leonardo's disgruntled model laugh with their antics.
- In Time Squad, Leonardo had to be convinced to turn away from being a beatnik to being a true renaissance artist.
- He was featured in an episode of Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum.