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Leonardo As Artist, Scientist, Engineer

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Rethinking Culture and Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.810.1 - 7.810.11



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Paper Authors

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Diana Dabby

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Main Menu Session 1656

Leonardo as Artist, Scientist, Engineer

Diana Dabby Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering


Students find Leonardo’s complex persona and the richness of his artistic and scientific inquiry vital for understanding Leonardo, ingegnere (the engineer). Taking his life and work as its domain, Leonardo as Artist, Scientist, Engineer develops the following skills in its range: discovery, discussion, identifying a monograph’s major points, building a scaffold of knowledge, individual research, and creative conveyance of information. It further addresses the time- honored trio of reading, writing, and arithmetic (or Italian high finance: how many silverpoint pencils can you buy for 120 soldi? and why should you care!).

I. Introduction

Starting with four seminal figures—Giorgio Vasari,1 Goethe, Freud, and Kenneth Clark 2—and a factual chronology of Leonardo’s life, the seminar examined LdV from five perspectives ranging from generally agreed-upon facts to a provocative “inside his head” approach. Subsequent comparisons with passages in da Vinci’s Notebooks, the Florentine State Archives, contemporaneous letters, and eyewitness accounts helped shed light not only on the five slants provided above, but also on his creative process.

A figure such as Leonardo can inspire students to view engineering as an expansive, imaginative art. As such, he joins a pantheon of “heroes” whose inventiveness proves motivating both inside and outside the classroom. In contemplating da Vinci’s creative process, it can be helpful to bring in others, such as Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, 3 whose mental processes have been admirably discussed and contrasted. 4 In a future iteration of the seminar, such context will be feasible since the time allowed for the class will nearly triple. During the Fall 2001 term, the seminar ran for five weeks.

Roughly four and a half two-hour classes (nine class hours out of 20 total) dealt with Leonardo’s life and ways of working within the context of his time. His Notebooks, paintings, anatomical studies, military engineering, and inventions comprised the remaining classes. I turned the paintings over to the students. Each claimed one or two. Encouraged to convey their research to the class in any way that got the material across, they showed great energy and creative flair with their Slide Show. They then voted on what topics to cover next, choosing to focus the remaining classes on Leonardo’s anatomical studies, LdV as military engineer, and his inventions. Based on their enthusiasm for individual research, as displayed in the Slide Show, I then turned the inventions over to them. Each claimed one and we declared our last class “Invention Day”, featuring the student’s presentations on Leonardo’s machines.

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Dabby, D. (2002, June), Leonardo As Artist, Scientist, Engineer Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10435

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