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An Early Vegetarian: Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519)

By Jo /

Leonardo da Vinci

A sketch of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was a remarkable man. He is considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time, yet he was also a highly talented sculptor, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, botanist and writer. He was an undisputed genius, and one of the most widely talented people to ever have lived. He was also a vegetarian.

Leonardo’s vegetarianism didn’t result from health concerns or a distaste of meat. His notebooks and other sources reveal that he had a respect for animals, and recognised the pain they experienced at the hands of people. He objected to violence of all kinds.

In The Mind of Leonardo da Vinci (1928), Edward MacCurdy wrote:"…The mere idea of permitting the existence of unnecessary suffering, still more that of taking life, was abhorrent to him. Vasari tells, as an instance of his love of animals, how when in Florence he passed places where birds were sold he would frequently take them from their cages with his own hand, and having paid the sellers the price that was asked would let them fly away in the air, thus giving them back their liberty.”

The proportions of man

He clearly felt empathy for animals, and understood their ability to suffer. In one passage (perhaps to justify to others his consumption of vegetables but not meat) he describes why animals feel pain and plants do not:

“Though nature has given sensibility to pain to such living organisms as have the power of movement, – in order thereby to preserve the members which in this movement are liable to diminish and be destroyed, – the living organisms which have no power of movement do not have to encounter opposing objects, and plants consequently do not need to have a sensibility to pain, and so it comes about that if you break them they do not feel anguish in their members as do the animals.”

David Hurwitz, writing in 2002 on the International Vegan Union website summarises : “Given the greater variety of “simple” and “compound” foods available today, together with the health and environmental advantages, and the horrible nature of factory farming and the slaughterhouse, we can imagine what da Vinci would write of us when we consider how relatively few members of affluent societies have embraced an animal-free diet.” He is right that there are now many more convincing arguments for rejecting meat, and embracing vegetarian foods. Leonardo da Vinci was ahead of his time in many fields, including vegetarianism.