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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Throwback Fact: Leonardo Da Vinci

Da Vinci self portrait
Choosing just one topic for a throwback was difficult this week. On this day in 1705, Isaac Newton was knighted by Queen Anne at Trinity College. If you'd like to read a little more on Newton, a past intern did a throwback fact on him here. And Wednesday, April 15th marked two anniversaries- the birth of our Math Madness Champion Leonhard Euler in 1707, and the birth of Leonardo Da Vinci in 1452. 

While he is definitely not a mathematician, Leonardo Da Vinci was a polymath, and contributed many quality works in his lifetime that interest mathematicians today. The original renaissance man, Da Vinci was a master in many areas. His paintings are likely to remain famous for all of human history, and his notebooks fascinate scientists to this day- he worked with codes, he fantasized about flying machines, sketched human anatomy, and much more.

We have evidence that Da Vinci liked the study of mathematics. According to this website, he even scribbled across one of his notebooks "Let no one read me who is not a mathematician." (Sound familiar? Plato's famous inscription over the academy was "Let none ignorant of geometry enter here.") Da Vinci also left behind hundreds of geometrical sketches and diagrams, a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem , and left behind mathematical inventions like one similar to a compass.

Within Da Vinci's paintings can be found a wide array of mathematical concepts. The Mona Lisa's possible construction on the Golden Ratio has been the subject of debate for decades. Above weretwo images of the Mona Lisa- the entire portrait, and a zoomed in image of her face, with a golden ratio projected on top. Another of Da Vinci's most famous pieces, the Vitruvian Man, allows viewers to see the artist's obsession with geometry, and his attempts to solve the "squaring the circle" puzzle.

Da Vinci may not have gone down in history as a mathematician, but he was certainly mathematically gifted. And today, the day after what would have been his 563rd birthday, is as good a day as any to remember his abilities beyond the paintbrush.

And a quick PSA- for anyone in the Boston area, the MFA has just opened up a Da Vinci exhibition (closing on June 14th)! Our math intern will be visiting as soon as possible.

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