Leonardo da Vinci Created the Ultimate ‘To Do’ List

December 25, 2016 5:00 am
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci - Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, writer, scientist, architect and engineer. Venetian engraving of 16th century.1452-1519 (Culture Club/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leonardo da Vinci - Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, writer, scientist, architect and engineer. Venetian engraving of 16th century.1452-1519 (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
Venetian engraving of Leonardo da Vinci, 16th century. (Culture Club/Getty Images)
Getty Images


Leonardo da Vinci is unquestionably one of the world’s great artists, with works including the Mona Lisa. He is also one of the world’s great inventors, seemingly able to envision at will devices often hundreds of years ahead of their time. (Born in 1452, he died in 1519.) Obviously, a human being doesn’t achieve all of this by being disorganized and wasting time. That’s why it should come as no shock that Leonardo da Vinci had a to-do list to put ours to shame.

Leonardo was known to carry around notebooks, to ensure that whatever ideas he generated would not be lost. These notebooks are remarkable, sometimes confusing documents—he was occasionally known to write right to left. (They’re also extraordinarily valuable, with Bill Gates paying $30.8 million for the Codex Leicester in 1994.)

They didn’t just contain things he had done, though: They included things he wanted to do. Were these tasks ambitious? You can judge for yourself. Here’s a direct translation arranged by NPR’s Robert Krulwich, with his explanation of some of the tasks:

[Calculate] the measurement of Milan and Suburbs

[Find] a book that treats of Milan and its churches, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cordusio

[Discover] the measurement of Corte Vecchio (the courtyard in the duke’s palace)

[Discover] the measurement of the castello (the duke’s palace itself)

Get the master of arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle

Get Messer Fazio (a professor of medicine and law in Pavia) to show you about proportion

Get the Brera Friar (at the Benedictine Monastery to Milan) to show you De Ponderibus (a medieval text on mechanics)

[Talk to] Giannino, the Bombardier, re. the means by which the tower of Ferrara is walled without loopholes (no one really knows what Da Vinci meant by this)

Ask Benedetto Potinari (A Florentine Merchant) by what means they go on ice in Flanders

Draw Milan

Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night.

[Examine] the Crossbow of Mastro Giannetto

Find a master of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner

[Ask about] the measurement of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni Francese

Try to get Vitolone (the medieval author of a text on optics), which is in the Library at Pavia, which deals with the mathematic.

And if that doesn’t humble you enough, keep in mind that da Vinci is likely still out-earning you as well. (Just this month, a drawing of his turned up worth $16 million.) To read more, click here. And if your mind isn’t already blown by da Vinci, watch a modern test of his tank design below.


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