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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index D > Leonardo da Vinci Quotes

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Leonardo da Vinci
(15 Apr 1452 - 2 May 1519)

Italian painter, draftsman and physicist.

Science Quotes by Leonardo da Vinci (27 quotes)

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La neciessità è maestra e tutrice della natura; La neciessità è tema e inventrice della natura e freno e regola eterna.
Necessity is the mistress and guide of nature. Necessity is the theme and the inventress, the eternal curb and law of nature.
— Leonardo da Vinci
S. K. M. III. 49a. As translated by Jean Paul Richter, in 'Philosophical Maxims', The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci: Compiled and Edited from the Original Manuscripts (1883), Vol. 2, 285, Maxim 1135.
Science quotes on:  |  Eternal (43)  |  Guide (46)  |  Inventor (49)  |  Law Of Nature (52)  |  Mistress (6)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Necessity (125)  |  Theme (8)

La verità fu sola figliola del tenpo.
Truth was the only daughter of Time.
— Leonardo da Vinci
From manuscript original “Moto, colpo,” 58b, editted and translated by Jean Paul Richter (ed.) compiled in 'Philosphical Maxims, Morals, Polemics and Speculations' The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci (1883), Vol. 2, 288, Maxim No. 1152.
Science quotes on:  |  Daughter (11)  |  Time (439)  |  Truth (750)

Ogni nostra cognitione prīcipia da sentimēti.
All our knowledge has its origin in our preceptions.
— Leonardo da Vinci
Tr. 45. As translated by Jean Paul Richter, in 'Philosophical Maxims', The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci: Compiled and Edited from the Original Manuscripts (1883), Vol. 2, 288, Maxim 1147.
Science quotes on:  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Origin (77)

Quelli che s'innamorano della pratica senza la diligenza, ovvero scienza, per dir meglio,sono come i nocchieri, che entrano in mare sopra nave senza timone o bussola, che mai hanno certezza dove si vadano.
Those who are enamoured of practice without science, are like the pilot who embarks in a ship without rudder or compass and who is never certain where he is going.
— Leonardo da Vinci
Original Italian in Trattato Della Pittura (Treatise on Painting) (1817), Part 2, 69. Translated in Anthony Lejeune, The Concise Dictionary of Foreign Quotations (2001), 234.
Science quotes on:  |  Certain (84)  |  Compass (19)  |  Embark (4)  |  Love (164)  |  Pilot (10)  |  Practice (67)  |  Rudder (3)  |  Sail (9)  |  Science (1699)  |  Ship (33)

A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical law, which instrument it is within the capacity of man to reproduce with all its movements, but not with a corresponding degree of strength, though it is deficient only in the power of maintaining equilibrium. We may therefore say that such an instrument constructed by man is lacking in nothing except the life of the bird, and this life must needs be supplied from that of man.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Of the Bird's Movement' from Codice Atlantico 161 r.a., in Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks, trans. E. MacCurdy (1906), Vol. 1, 153.
Science quotes on:  |  Airplane (32)  |  Bird (96)  |  Construction (69)  |  Flight (45)  |  Instrument (73)  |  Law (418)  |  Life (917)  |  Mechanism (41)

A bird maintains itself in the air by imperceptible balancing, when near to the mountains or lofty ocean crags; it does this by means of the curves of the winds which as they strike against these projections, being forced to preserve their first impetus bend their straight course towards the sky with divers revolutions, at the beginning of which the birds come to a stop with their wings open, receiving underneath themselves the continual buffetings of the reflex courses of the winds.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Flight', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1, 471.
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Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence as I said before with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Movement and Weight', from The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1, 546.
Science quotes on:  |  Experience (268)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Reason (330)

And ye who wish to represent by words the form of man and all the aspects of his membrification, get away from that idea. For the more minutely you describe, the more you will confuse the mind of the reader and the more you will prevent him from a knowledge of the thing described. And so it is necessary to draw and describe.
— Leonardo da Vinci
From Notebooks (AnA, 14v; Cf. QII, 1), as translated by J. Playfair McMurrich, in Leonardo da Vinci the Anatomist (1930), 76, (Institution Publication 411, Carnegie Institution of Washington).
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Experience is never at fault; it is only your judgment that is in error in promising itself such results from experience as are not caused by our experiments. For having given a beginning, what follows from it must necessarily be a natural development of such a beginning, unless it has been subject to a contrary influence, while, if it is affected by any contrary influence, the result which ought to follow from the aforesaid beginning will be found to partake of this contrary influence in a greater or less degree in proportion as the said influence is more or less powerful than the aforesaid beginning.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Philosophy', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1, 70.
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If a man has a tent made of linen of which the apertures have all been stopped up, and be it twelve bracchia across (over twenty-five feet) and twelve in depth, he will be able to throw himself down from any height without sustaining injury. [His concept of the parachute.]
— Leonardo da Vinci
In Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman, Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 3-4, which notes twelve bracchia is over 25 feet. There are other translations with different units. Da Vinci’s illustration in his notebook showed a pyramid-shaped parachute below which hung a man suspended by a few short cords.
Science quotes on:  |  Aeronautics (12)  |  Aperture (4)  |  Injury (14)  |  Linen (4)  |  Sustain (13)  |  Tent (4)

In the mountains of Parma and Piacenza, multitudes of shells and corals filled with worm-holes may be seen still adhering to the rocks, and when I was making the great horse at Milan a large sack of those which had been found in these parts was brought to my workshop by some peasants... The red stone of the mountains of Verona is found with shells all intermingled, which have become part of this stone... And if you should say that these shells have been and still constantly are being created in such places as these by the nature of the locality or by potency of the heavens in these spots, such an opinion cannot exist in brains possessed of any extensive powers of reasoning because the years of their growth are numbered upon the outer coverings of their shells; and both small and large ones may be seen; and these would not have grown without feeding, or fed without movement, and here [embedded in rock] they would not have been able to move... The peaks of the Apennines once stood up in a sea, in the form of islands surrounded by salt water... and above the plains of Italy where flocks of birds are flying today, fishes were once moving in large shoals.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Physical Geography', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1, 355-6, 359.
Science quotes on:  |  Coral (9)  |  Fish (85)  |  Fossil (107)  |  Island (17)  |  Italy (4)  |  Mountain (111)  |  Opinion (146)  |  Peak (15)  |  Plain (24)  |  Sea (143)  |  Shell (35)

Nature being capricious and taking pleasure in creating and producing a continuous sucession of lives and forms because she knows that they serve to increase her terrestrial substance, is more ready and swift in her creating than time is in destroying, and therefore she has ordained that many animals shall serve as food one for the other; and as this does not satisfy her desire she sends forth frequently certain noisome and pestilential vapours and continual plagues upon the vast accumulations and herds of animals and especially upon human beings who increase very rapidly because other animals do not feed upon them.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Philosophy', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1 80.
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Nature is a source of truth. Experience does not ever err, it is only your judgment that errs in promising itself results which are not caused by your experiments.
— Leonardo da Vinci
The Notebook. As cited in Edward Schwartz, One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward (2003), 38, with caption “examining objects in all their diversity.” Also quoted in Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers (1983), 350.
Science quotes on:  |  Cause (231)  |  Err (4)  |  Error (230)  |  Experience (268)  |  Experiment (543)  |  Judgment (72)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Promise (27)  |  Result (250)  |  Source (71)  |  Truth (750)

Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, there you long return.
— Leonardo da Vinci
Science quotes on:  |  Earth (487)  |  Eye (159)  |  Fly (65)  |  Long (95)  |  Return (35)  |  Skyward (2)  |  Turn (72)  |  Walk (56)

Perspective is a most subtle discovery in mathematical studies, for by means of lines it causes to appear distant that which is near, and large that which is small.
— Leonardo da Vinci
Science quotes on:  |  Discovery (591)  |  Line (44)  |  Mathematics (587)  |  Perspective (15)

Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Aphorisms', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938 ), Vol. 1, 98.
Science quotes on:  |  Pupil (16)  |  Student (131)  |  Teacher (90)

Sufficient for us is the testimony of things produced in the salt waters and now found again in the high mountains, sometimes far from the sea.
— Leonardo da Vinci
Manuscript held by the Earl of Leicester, 31 a [R984]. In Edward McCurdy (ed.), Leonardo da Vinci's note-books: arranged and rendered into English with introductions (1908), 109.
Science quotes on:  |  Far (77)  |  Find (248)  |  High (78)  |  Mountain (111)  |  Salt (23)  |  Sea (143)  |  Sufficient (24)  |  Testimony (10)  |  Water (244)

The body of the earth is of the nature of a fish... because it draws water as its breath instead of air.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Philosophy', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1 70.
Science quotes on:  |  Air (151)  |  Breath (24)  |  Earth (487)  |  Fish (85)  |  Water (244)

The eye, the window of the soul, is the chief means whereby the understanding can most fully and abundantly appreciate the infinite works of Nature; and the ear is second.
— Leonardo da Vinci
As quoted in Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers (1983), 350.
Science quotes on:  |  Appreciation (19)  |  Ear (21)  |  Eye (159)  |  Infinite (88)  |  Means (109)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Second (33)  |  Soul (139)  |  Understanding (317)  |  Window (25)  |  Work (457)

The [mechanical] bird I have described ought to be able by the help of the wind to rise to a great height, and this will prove to be its safety; since even if… revolutions [of the winds] were to befall it, it would still have time to regain a condition of equilibrium; provided that its various parts have a great power of resistance, so that they can safely withstand the fury and violence of the descent, by the aid of the defenses which I have mentioned; and its joints should be made of strong tanned hide, and sewn with cords of strong raw silk. And let no one encumber himself with iron bands, for these are very soon broken at the joints or else they become worn out, and consequently it is well not to encumber oneself with them.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Of the Bird’s Movement' from Sul Voio degli Uccelli, 8 [7] r. in Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks, trans. E. MacCurdy (1906), 153-4.
Science quotes on:  |  Bird (96)  |  Equilibrium (16)  |  Flight (45)  |  Iron (53)  |  Mechanism (41)  |  Resistance (23)  |  Wind (52)

There are many occasions when the muscles that form the lips of the mouth move the lateral muscles that are joined to them, and there are an equal number of occasions when these lateral muscles move the lips of this mouth, replacing it where it cannot return of itself, because the function of muscle is to pull and not to push except in the case of the genitals and the tongue.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Anatomy', in The Notebooks of Leonardoda Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1, 152.
Science quotes on:  |  Lip (3)  |  Mouth (16)  |  Muscle (32)  |  Occasion (12)  |  Tongue (16)

There is no result in nature without a cause; understand the cause and you will have no need of the experiment.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Philosophy', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy, (1938) Vol. 1, 70.
Science quotes on:  |  Experiment (543)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Result (250)  |  Understanding (317)

Therefore O students study mathematics and do not build without foundations.
— Leonardo da Vinci
Science quotes on:  |  Build (80)  |  Foundation (75)  |  Mathematics (587)  |  Student (131)  |  Study (331)

This work should commence with the conception of man, and should describe the nature of the womb, and how the child inhabits it, and in what stage it dwells there, and the manner of its quickening and feeding, and its growth, and what interval there is between one stage of growth and another, and what thing drives it forth from the body of the mother, and for what reason it sometimes emerges from the belly of its mother before the due time.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Anatomy', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1, 139.
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Though human ingenuity may make various inventions which, by the help of various machines answering the same end, it will never devise any inventions more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than Nature does; because in her inventions nothing is wanting, and nothing is superfluous, and she needs no counterpoise when she makes limbs proper for motion in the bodies of animals.
— Leonardo da Vinci
W. An. IV. 184a (7). Translated by Jean Paul Richter, in 'Physiology', The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci: Compiled and Edited from the Original Manuscripts (1883), Vol. 2, 126, selection 837.
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When you are identifying science of the motion of water, remember to include under each subject its application and use, so that the science will be useful.
— Leonardo da Vinci
Science quotes on:  |  Application (117)  |  Identify (6)  |  Include (27)  |  Motion (127)  |  Remember (53)  |  Science (1699)  |  Subject (129)  |  Useful (66)  |  Water (244)

Why are the bones of great fishes, and oysters and corals and various other shells and sea-snails, found on the high tops of mountains that border the sea, in the same way in which they are found in the depths of the sea?
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Physical Geography', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1, 361.
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Quotes by others about Leonardo da Vinci (7)

The modern version of Buridan’s ass [a figurative description of a man of indecision] has a Ph.D., but no time to grow up as he is undecided between making a Leonardo da Vinci in the test tube or planting a Coca Cola sign on Mars.
Voices in the Labyrinth: Nature, Man, and Science (1979), 3.
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The pre-Darwinian age had come to be regarded as a Dark Age in which men still believed that the book of Genesis was a standard scientific treatise, and that the only additions to it were Galileo's demonstration of Leonardo da Vinci’s simple remark that the earth is a moon of the sun, Newton’s theory of gravitation, Sir Humphry Davy's invention of the safety-lamp, the discovery of electricity, the application of steam to industrial purposes, and the penny post.
Back to Methuselah: a Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), viii.
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Thou, O God, dost sell unto us all good things at the price of labour.
Quotation credited to Leonardo da Vinci that she chose for her bookplate, and which reflects her outlook on her work.
In Philip D. McMaster and Michael Heidelberger, 'Florence Rena Sabin', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), Vol. 34, 272.
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Da Vinci was as great a mechanic and inventor as were Newton and his friends. Yet a glance at his notebooks shows us that what fascinated him about nature was its variety, its infinite adaptability, the fitness and the individuality of all its parts. By contrast what made astronomy a pleasure to Newton was its unity, its singleness, its model of a nature in which the diversified parts were mere disguises for the same blank atoms.
From The Common Sense of Science (1951), 25.
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When Da Vinci wanted an effect, he willed, he planned the means to make it happen: that was the purpose of his machines. But the machines of Newton … are means not for doing but for observing. He saw an effect, and he looked for its cause.
From The Common Sense of Science (1951), 25.
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I am a cross between Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci.
As quoted by Franz Lidz in 'Dr. NakaMats, the Man With 3300 Patents to His Name', Smithsonian Magazine (Dec 2012).
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My interest in Science had many roots. Some came from my mother … while I was in my early teens. She fell in love with science,… [from] classes on the Foundations of Physical Science. … I was infected by [her] professor second hand, through hundreds of hours of conversations at my mother’s knees. It was from my mother that I first learned of Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Darwin. We spent hours together collecting single-celled organisms from a local pond and watching them with a microscope.
From 'Richard E. Smalley: Biographical', collected in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel: The Nobel Prizes 1996 (1997).
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See also:
  • 15 Apr - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of da Vinci's birth.
  • The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance, by Fritjof Capra. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Leonardo da Vinci.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

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