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Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci - Self portrait made with red chalk, ca. 1512-1515.
It came to Leonardo's attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them.

Here are over fifty-five sayings. Most of them are quotations of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), some are abstracts, some are paraphrases, and then some more sayings are added for the fun of it. The type of rendition is shown too. Where nothing is added, Leonardo is the purported author.

The quotations are largely from the English Leonardo translation by Jean Paul Richter of 1888. However, some sayings are unsourced.

Leonardo was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer.

Renowned most of all as a painter, he is increasingly admired for his technological ingenuity and findings also.


A good memory, which nature has endowed us with, causes things long past to seem present. [Leonardo da Vinci]

A life well used procures a happy death. [Leonardo da Vinci]

A man was desired to rise from bed because the sun was already up. He replied: "If I had as far to go and as much to do as he has, I should be up by now; but having but a little way to go, I shall not get up yet." [Leonardo da Vinci]

Depth and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Der Augenblick ist zeitlos (The moment is time-less). [Leonardo da Vinci]

Especially learn how to see. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature. [Leonardo da Vinci]

If you call painting dumb poetry, the painter may call poetry blind painting. Now which is the worse defect? [Leonardo da Vinci]

It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. [Leonardo da Vinci]

It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end. [Leonardo da Vinci]

It vexes me greatly that having to earn my living has forced me to interrupt the work and to attend to small matters. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Let not your rage or malice destroy a life. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Man's external form, marvellously constructed, is not much as compared with the divine soul that dwells inside that structure. [Abr. Leonardo da Vinci]

Many will there be who will give up work and labour and poverty of life and goods, and will go to live among wealth in splendid buildings. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Many will think they may reasonably blame me by alleging that my proofs are opposed to the authority of certain men held in the highest reverence by their inexperienced judgments; not considering that my works are the issue of pure and simple experience. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel. [Leonardo da Vinci, at least attributed]

Men of lofty genius when they are doing the least work are most active. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Men such as I look on the murder of animals as most people now look on the murder of men. [Cf. Leonardo da Vinci]

Men will hear every kind of animals speak in human language. O! marvel of the human race! You will speak with animals of every species. You will see yourself fall from great heights without any harm. [Abridged from Leonardo's Of dreams]

Much sound knowledge has its origin in perceptions. [Leonardo da Vinci]

People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Some promises and time disappoint us - [Leonardo da Vinci]

Tell me if anything was ever done. [Leonardo da Vinci, in despair]

The average human looks without seeing, . . . inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking. [Leonardo da Vinci]

The knowledge of past times and of the places on the earth is both an ornament and nutriment to the human mind. [Leonardo da Vinci]

The painter will produce pictures of little merit if he takes the works of others as his standard. [Leonardo da Vinci]

The smallest feline is a masterpiece. [Leonardo da Vinci]

The truth of things is the chief nutriment of superior intellects, though not of wandering wits. [Leonardo da Vinci]

The unicorn . . . will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Though I may not . . . be able to quote other authors, I shall rely on that which is much greater and more worthy on experience. [Leonardo da Vinci]

While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die. [Leonardo da Vinci]

Who in discussion relies upon authority does not use his understanding, but rather his memory. [Leonardo da Vinci]


A man of supreme folly: his life flies away while he is merely hoping to enjoy it. [Cf. Leonardo da Vinci]

Being engulfed in practice without delicate knowledge related to it, is in many ways like entering a ship without knowing where it is headed. [Cf. Leonardo da Vinci]

Necessity is a guardian in Nature. [Cf. Leonardo da Vinci]

Who sows virtue ought to reap honour. [Cf. Leonardo da Vinci]

To lie is vile, to tell truth is excellent, if not noble. [Cf. Leonardo da Vinci]

To speak ill of a good person is not truly good, all in all. [Cf. Leonardo da Vinci]

Related, but safer to say

A deaf and dumb person who sees two men in conversation may nevertheless understand from the attitudes and gestures of the speakers, how well their discussion is getting along. [With Leonardo da Vinci]

Art is the queen, and communicating much knowledge to all the generations of the world. [With Leonardo da Vinci]

If you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. Let us hope that. [Cf. Leonardo da Vinci]

I will rather praise a good disposition without culture, than good and stiff culture without such a disposition. [Mod Leonardo da Vinci]

If we make mistakes in our first compositions and do not know them, we may not amend them. [With Leonardo da Vinci]

O Time with your teethy years! You swallow up all things little by little in a slow-motion, wrinkling process of dying. [Mod. Leonardo da Vinci]

Old age takes in part savoury wisdom for its food see to that your old age will not lack in nourishment. [With Leonardo da Vinci]

Simplicity can be the ultimate sophistication. [With Leonardo da Vinci]

The joy of understanding is a noble pleasure indeed. [With Leonardo da Vinci]

We may call painting the grandchild of nature. [With Leonardo da Vinci]

Wisdom is a daughter of experience. [With Leonardo da Vinci]

You do ill if you praise what you don't understand, but may do a lot worse if you censure it. [With Leonardo da Vinci]


Even rabbits avoid bargains with loopholes in them.*

Common Sense should rest on keen and effective judgment first. *

Maddening is the pupil who surpasses his master - perhaps. *

Nasty weapons, the things most people fear the most, may be triggered by accident where feelings run high. Otherwise, nasty weapons may also be lost. *

O Time! consumer of all things! Largely unnoticed, yet fearsome and often tormenting, are the effects of Time on a lying, deceiving tongue. *

Praise or reproval of a person or thing you do not know very well if at all, might be terribly flawed for all you know. *

Studying without a liking for it spoils; memory suffers - what is learnt is often surprisingly fast and easily discarded. *

The mind that engages in many sick subjects gradually becomes less sturdy. *


Leonardo da Vinci quotations, citations, Leonardo quotes and extracts, Literature  

da Vinci, Leonardo. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, Complete. Vol 1. (Originally published as The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci). Tr. Jean Paul Richter (1883). Gutenberg edition (Urbana IL: 2004) online.

da Vinci, Leonardo. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, Complete. Vol 2. Tr. Jean Paul Richter (1883). Gutenberg edition (Urbana IL: 2004) is online.

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