This week celebrates the birthday of Leonardo da Vinci, widely regarded as one of the most talented individuals to have ever lived. Born in the mid-1400s, da Vinci found fame as a painter but is also remembered for his notes on science and inventions in a range of fields from astronomy to botany to paleontology. As he grew older da Vinci also discovered his gift for mathematics, his new passion inspired several mathematical notebooks and became woven into his other works - most notably his art.
Despite being far from today's maths posters, linear perspective is a principle that features frequently in his work. Parallel lines, horizontal lines and vanishing points alone can create the impression of objects being further away from the viewer and also the illusion of depth on a flat painting. Here’s how three of the most famous paintings ever were influenced by da Vinci’s mathematics!
1.The Mona Lisa
For some the beauty of this classical artwork is thanks to its use of the famous mathematical concept, the golden ratio. For example, by bounding her face with a rectangle and then splitting this in two with a line through her eyes leaves another perfect golden rectangle. Hence the ratio of the length of her head to her eyes also demonstrates the golden ratio. The same pattern appears when drawing rectangles over her clothes, the original maths apparel.
2. The Vitruvian Man
‘Ideal Human Proportions’, a problematic idea in today's world - but in da Vinci's time the belief that man was God's perfect creation was held by many. Hence due to this perfection it was felt that the mathematical laws should describe the human form. Da Vinci created a number of illustrations of people and their proportions, and then imposed mathematical shapes upon them to demonstrate this link. Most famously his ‘Vitruvian Man’, an ink drawing that shows a man with arms and legs outstretched placed precisely within a circle and square. The image has several other lines and ratios marked out such as the golden rectangles that appear all over the body.
3. The Last Supper
Ratios and perspective are present throughout the famous image of the Last Supper. Thanks to this mathematical influence da Vinci was able to bring together in harmony various elements, accurately placing each person at the table in a way that fit the proportions of the walls and windows in the background.
Like da Vinci, why not fill a Beautiful Equations notebook with your own mathematical artwork, the perfect gift for the maths teacher or science student in your life!