An organ of the American Institute of International Studies (AIIS), Fremont, CA

Current_Issue_Nregular_1_1 Archives
Your_comments Legal

Your donation
is tax deductable.

Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

Senior Editor:
Arthur Scott

Syed Mahmood book
Front page title small

Journal of America encourages independent
thinking and honest discussions on national & global issues


Disclaimer and Fair Use Notice: Many articles on this web site are written by independent individuals or organizations. Their opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Journal of America and its affiliates. They are put here for interest and reference only. More details

Leonardo may have influenced Silicon Valley

By Mertze Dahlin

Leonardo da Vinci and the Sienese Engineers of the Renaissance period gave us all a reminder of their creative genius by being the highlight of the new, limited time, display at the “Tech Museum of Innovation” in San Jose. This was due to the tireless efforts of the CEO and President of  “The Tech Museum”, Peter Freiss. He came to an agreement with the curator of the “Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza” in Florence, Italy and the “Polo Museale Fierentino” produced by “Opera Laboratori Fiorentini”, Professor Paolo Galluzzi. I’m sure it took some skilled negotiating to gather these priceless models and paintings to be put on display in this “hands-on” type of museum attended by thousands of children. This is a display consisting of over two hundred artifacts. It is the only time it will come to the United States and San Jose is the only host. Many of the drawings, paintings, sculptures, models and mechanisms have never left Italy before. 

Many people would like to “rub elbows” with famous Engineers. Try as I might, the only way I could attempt to connect with this artist-engineer, who lived so far ahead of his time, was to say that I am precisely four hundred and eighty years younger than Leonardo da Vinci. He was born on April 15th, 1452. This unusual fellow actually had no last name. The da Vinci part only means that he was from the city of Vinci in that ageless country of Italy. He was the illegitimate son of a scientist and craftsman, Piero da Vinci. His Mother was a Middle Eastern slave called Caterena. She was likely an Arab taken from Turkey as was common at that time and as determined by a study of his fingerprints at Naples University in 2006. This study disclosed that he had the typical type of fingerprint as is normal for sixty percent of the Arab population. Rossella Lorenzi of the Discovery News Channel reported this.

Times were tough then if you didn’t have a conventional family. Since there were no public schools, he also was denied entry into any of the many private schools. Again, since he was such an unusual man, he knew what he needed and proceeded to educate himself. As a necessity of his time, and perhaps by the influence of the Catholic Church, he also taught himself Latin. His interests seemed to have no limit. His studies encompassed all aspects of Art, Technology and Science far beyond what was known during his time.

His mastery of the art of painting was in large part due to his inquisitive nature of Anatomy, how he studied the human body by being the first to perform autopsies on bodies in France and in hospitals in Milan and Rome after they died and by his experimenting with the nature of shadows and light as experienced by the lens of the eye. He knew about the composition of atmosphere, the air we breathe and how it affects distant landscapes, as they grow dimmer and fuzzier as we look at them farther and farther away. With such understanding, how else could a masterpiece such as the “Mona Lisa” be created by him? We normally just look at her smile and try to find some hidden meaning while so much more is in this painting. I have learned to also take notice of the bridge and water lagoon behind her as it fades off in the distance as well as the road on her other side.

He continued to paint multitudes of Saints and Angels of unfailing sweetness and innocence. It was said that at the age of fourteen, Leonardo had painted the “Baptism of Christ” in a manner so superior to his master Verrocchio in his workshop, that Verrocchio put down his brush and never painted again. However, it has been fairly well concluded that this, however, was an exaggeration despite the magnificence of his work.

His painting of the “Last Supper” is recognized throughout the world. The expressions of each person’s face are portrayed in response to Jesus’ proclamation that “one of you shall betray me”. Emotions such as we see in this painting have never before been expressed on canvas such as Leonardo did. He had studied the muscles required to display the various emotions and depicted them in such a way that we all knew what was in each of their minds after such a declaration by Jesus. Few of Leonardo’s paintings are with us today. In reality, many of his paintings were unfinished. Also, as a matter of interest, something was normally left out from each painting.  It was said that this was his way of early patent or copy-write protection.

To express himself by painting was a very valuable characteristic. In his comparison of Painting with Poetry, he said Poetic expression is limited to use of verbal language alone, the works of man, not nature. He reasoned that a Painting renders the whole of a scene immediately through a single image. Although he appreciated Music, he concluded in its assessment, that it has fundamental limits. He said it did not last. It was there for you only at the moment. It expires at the very moment it is created, “as quick to die as to be born”. When the music was completed, it was then only a memory. He referred to music as the “little Sister” of painting. In contrast, a painting was able to display emotions, as was music, but would continue to last.

Art and painting are enough to occupy an entire field of endeavor for a ‘normal’ person, but this was only one aspect of this remarkable man’s life. His interest was in what was then called “Natural Philosophy”. This would now be considered to be the forerunner of Modern Science. He had another anomaly, in which he wrote mirror image cursive with his left hand. He wrote from right to left. This was probably easier to do since he was left-handed and used a quill pen rather than a pencil or ballpoint pen. He could pull the pen rather than push it against the point. Perhaps having to dip his pen in the ink well so often was the impetus that caused him to invent a fountain pen.

Leonardo was very fortunate to have lived during the Renaissance Period. He could study the works of the Sienese Engineers who worked on such impressive architectural projects as the infamous dome atop the church of Santa Maria del Fiore, the three hundred foot high Florence Cathedral. Fortunately, at the age of seventeen, Leonardo was permitted to help in the workshop that was completing the lantern for the dome atop the Florence Cathedral. He was able to be with the artist-engineers to place the copper ball on the lantern on top of the Dome above the Cathedral.

The Sienese Engineers of that time developed innovative Machines and Mechanisms to do heavy work beyond the capabilities of using animals for heavy jobs. These included machines for raising columns used in building construction, catapults to be used during warfare, a hydraulic saw and construction of the Siena’s underground water supply system. He learned from these mechanical designs, recorded and drew their construction details and was able to improve on many mechanisms through his drawings.

He seldom built anything he designed. He was apparently satisfied that he simply put on paper, or parchment his many ideas that were harboring in his active brain. In all mechanical clocks that I know of, all use the ‘tick-tock’ escapement method Leonardo devised to establish a constant speed in the marking of time. On a larger scale, he designed several types of flying machines including a variation for a helicopter. In modern days, this would probably come closer to a ‘hang glider’. Closely related to that, although he perhaps didn’t realize it, was his invention of a parachute. He proclaimed that a man could use this device to leap from any great height while attached and traverse safely to the ground. This parachute was built according to Leonardo’s instructions and tested only recently and found to be workable. Among his architectural designs was that of a single span bridge for the Ottoman Sultan Bey Azid II of Istanbul. Remarkably, it took the Turkish Government until May 2006 to use his design to bridge the Bosporus.

He was truly a Universal Genius. The King of France said he had talent that “transcended nature”.  That king became truly aware of Leonardo’s talent when Leonardo presented him with a working robot of a lion that he created. It walked up to the king and rose up on his rear legs and then opened up his chest to present him with a bouquet of flowers. Why do we now tend to think that robots are only a “modern” day phenomenon? Although it was spring powered, this robot was obviously developed much earlier. Writer Liany Bortolow writings in 1967, which included with her other acclaims, are that “five centuries have passed, yet we still view Leonardo with awe”. Another writer, Vasari, said, “he was so brilliant that all problems that he studied he solved with ease”.

Only about one-third of his drawings and manuscripts have survived to this day, a remarkable feat in itself. It was finally grasped, after a couple of hundred years, by the engineering minds of the time, that they must recognize and appreciate the value of his accomplishments. He was truly far ahead of his time. Amazingly, it has been only during these recent years that many of his drawings have been put to the test. Modern-day craftsmen have transformed the drawings into reality and the explanations, written in Leonardo’s reverse handwriting have been interpreted and we now have scale size models constructed of many of his sketches. Since much of technology today uses many of Leonardo’s designs, the continuing thought in my mind is that had the remaining two-thirds of his manuscripts survived, how different could our lives be today. Perhaps Silicon Valley could have earned its name many years earlier.

Mertze Dahlin is a Member of the Board of Directors of the American Institute of International Studies.