Dog paws by Leonardo da Vinci
He ate no animals – instead he bought them to set them free. He deplored vivisection. And while other scientists were experimenting on live animals, cutting them up to see how they “worked”, he was drawing their anatomy in greater precision than anyone had ever done before.
He was the great artist, scientist and Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci, and some of those drawings are on display in a new exhibition at the National Gallery in London.
Art expert Jonathan Jones writes:
Yet Leonardo was not just a wondrous artist. He was also a wonderful man. … Long before such ideas were widespread, let alone fashionable, he defended the rights of animals. Giorgio Vasari says the genius so loved animals that he bought caged birds – sold in Italy at that time as food, as well as pets – simply to let them go.
Whether or not Leonardo really set birds free, he definitely did question the superiority of humans to the rest of the animal kingdom. It is a repeated theme in his notebooks. He writes in them that humanity is not “king of the animals” … and he goes on to rage that we use our power to raise animals for slaughter.
Leonardo da Vinci’s assertion that we are animals, and do not have any God-given right to eat our fellow creatures, was totally at odds with the culture of his age.
We are dazed by the paintings. If we explore his notes and the early stories of his life, we are equally amazed by the man.