How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci Book Summary (English)

How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci Book Summary – Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most celebrated and controversial thinkers in history. In this book summary, you will get a peek into his mind. What are the principles that Da Vinci held in his life? What did he truly believe in? this book will teach you how you can imitate his extraordinary genius.

Who will learn from this summary?

  • Aspiring artists
  • Scientists
  • Young adults


Michael J. Gelb is an executive coach and management consultant. He teaches creativity, innovation, and leadership to organizations and individuals. He is also the author of 17 non-fiction books. Michael also motivates people through his keynote speeches and seminars.

How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci Book Summary


Who is Leonardo da Vinci? He is the master painter behind Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. He is a Renaissance Man, a polymath, who is not only an art expert, but also in anatomy, botany, and military engineering, among others. His other masterpieces include St. John the Baptist, Madonna of the Rocks, and Salvator Mundi. Da Vinci’s works are highly acclaimed and controversial. The sketches in his notebooks are valued as much as his paintings. He made accurate and life-like studies of horses, flowers, faces, hair, muscles, and even a child inside the womb. Da Vinci also drew sketches of his inventions like the flying machine, parachute, helicopter, machine gun, and armored tank.

But did you know that Da Vinci was an illegitimate son? His father was an accountant. His mother was a peasant from a small village. Da Vinci did not follow in the footsteps of his father because children born out of wedlock were not allowed to pursue a professional career. Thus, Da Vinci became one of the greatest artists and thinkers of all time. In this book, you will learn six principles that will help you develop multiple intelligences as Da Vinci did. You will learn how to be a Renaissance Man who doesn’t limit his knowledge to one field, who enriches his body and his mind, and who seeks to attain more knowledge and wisdom. The six principles are expressed in Da Vinci’s native Italian. They are Curiosità or curiosity, Dimostrazione or learning from experience, Sensazione or enriching the five senses, Sfumato or embracing uncertainty, Arte/Scienza or balance between art and logic, and Corporalita or physical fitness. We will discuss them one by one.


The word “sfumato” means going up in smoke or turning to mist. It refers to the unique painting style of Leonardo da Vinci. if you google the Mona Lisa, you will see that it has this hazy, blurry, soft finish that adds up to its sense of mystery. Do you know why Mona Lisa’s smile is enigmatic? You cannot know what is the real emotion of the Mona Lisa in the portrait. It gives the impression of good and evil, seduction and innocence, compassion and cruelty in that slight smile. What do you think is the message that Da Vinci wants to give in Mona Lisa’s smile? Here is an interesting fact. If you take a closer look, you will see that the corner of the eyes and corner of the mouth of the Mona Lisa is covered in a soft shadow. This is what makes her smile mysterious. The wrinkle of their eyes and the edges of her lips would have told us what Mona Lisa is feeling in that portrait.

But that is the intention of Da Vinci. he wants to leave a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty to the viewers. This is the principle of sfumato which is being comfortable with the unknown and being open to many interpretations. Over the years, art experts and psychologists have asked, “Who is the model for Mona Lisa? Is she a real person?” no one ever really knew. Some say that she is Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. Some say that she is a representation of all the women that Da Vinci knew in his life, his mother, the mistresses of noblemen, and the women he saw walking by the street. But Dr. Lillian Schwartz from Bell Labs had a more intriguing assumption. Mona Lisa could be a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci himself.

Da Vinci had only one known self-portrait which he drew with red chalk. There is his long wavy hair and beard, his bushy eyebrows, and the wrinkles around his eyes that comes with age. Dr. Schwartz used computer modeling with precise measurements to observe the Mona Lisa and the red chalk self-portrait side by side. You will see how Mona Lisa and Da Vinci’s forehead, eyes, nose, lips, and chin are symmetrically aligned. They are like two sides of one picture. Sfumato also means being inclined to paradox, opposites, and contrasts.

Unlike Michelangelo and Bernini, Da Vinci is not a favorite artist commissioned by the Catholic Church. It is because he adds his interpretation of the biblical scene. The paintings Madonna of the Rocks and Virgin and Child with St. Anne have two versions. One is a little shocking and the other is more mellow. A master painter like Da Vinci doesn’t do things unintentionally or coincidentally. The hand gestures, body positions, and facial expressions. are exactly intended to be that way. We would never really know what is the meaning of Da Vinci in The Last Supper or St. John the Baptist. It is up to us to marvel at the beauty and mystery of his artworks.


Ever since he was a little boy, Da Vinci was curious about the world around him. He often brings sheets of paper and pencil as he wanders off to the woods. Da Vinci spent hours just sketching the trees, rocks, flowers, leaves, and anything which captures his curiosity. He wrote all of his thoughts in his notebook. He would ask, “Have you ever wondered just how many kinds of animals, trees, plants, and flowers are there? why are there hills, rivers, springs, and cities? How does a bird fly? Why do circles form from the spot where the stone hits the water? These questions about strange phenomena occupy my mind throughout my life.”When Da Vinci draws a flower, he does so from three different angles. He is captivated by its natural beauty. The flight of birds is also a common subject in his drawings. Da Vinci sketched how a bird flaps its wings in the air.

Four hundred years before Charles Darwin, Da Vinci observed how seashells and fossils of corals and seaweeds end up high in the mountains. He held the fossils with his own hands as he wandered along the hills of Lombardy. Here is an important factor to the curiosity and brilliant mind of Da Vinci. Unlike other art masters, he had no passion for a woman. He had no bias toward the Church or any monarchy. Da Vinci accepted commissions from the Medici family of Florence, the Borgia family of Spain, and the Sforza family of Milan. He did projects for the popes as well as their enemies. Thus, Da Vinci’s loyalty and devotion were all directed to nature, beauty, and truth.

He wrote these tips in his Treatise on Paintings. It is easier for us to see the mistakes in the artworks of other people. thus, to be able to see what needs improvement in your painting, you should study it through a reflection in the mirror. In this way, you can judge your painting as if it were not your own. Da Vinci also said that it is important to take short breaks. An artist should go out for a while and relax. being away from the painting gives him a fresh perspective on what parts still need to be worked on. Another technique is to observe the painting from a distance.

You can study better the proportion, harmony, and colors of the subject if you are far away from the painting. Da Vinci often takes leisure walks around the streets of Florence to observe, see nature and study the faces of people. sometimes, he would see merchants who sell caged birds. Da Vinci stops for a while, he pays for the price of the birds and then opens the door of the cage. He watches with admiration how the birds fly freely to the endless blue sky. He is happy to see the birds flap their wings towards the soft-blowing wind and the rays of the sun.


Leonardo da Vinci did not have a formal education. He became an apprentice of the master painter and sculptor Andrea del Verrochio. In the studio, Da Vinci learned how to mix paints and prepare canvases. He learned about the important concept of perspective. Verrochio believed in learning by experience. He taught Da Vinci about bronze casting, goldsmithing, and the basics of sculpture. He also trained Da Vinci to study the structure of plants and the anatomy of humans and animals. This hands-on education is what shaped Da Vinci in his youthful years. His first known painting is a small portion of Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ. It is said that Da Vinci painted the angel in the bottom left corner. Art experts once observed the painting through X-ray.

They saw that their brushstrokes of Verrochio showed on the X-ray. meanwhile, Da Vinci’s brushstrokes were so fine and smooth that the X-rays just passed through them. his application of paint is very thin and fluid. Thus, under the X-ray, the angel’s face is completely blank. It is as if Da Vinci created an angel. After training with Verrochio, Da Vinci became a master and joined a guild. It is the Guild of St. Luke, a group of doctors and artists. To study anatomy, Da Vinci dissected more than thirty human corpses as well as countless animals. He drew their body parts and cross-sections in his notebook. This is the reason why Da Vinci’s paintings and sketches are anatomically accurate. He called himself a man without letters. Da Vinci valued first-hand experience, originality, and independent thinking. he wrote that one must go straight to nature to truly learn.

Another amazing fact about Da Vinci is that he taught himself Latin at the age of 42 so that he will have a better understanding of the classics. he maintained a library of books on medicine, anatomy, mathematics, and warfare. He read the Bible, Dante, and the Greek philosophers.“Experience never errs. It is only when you expect immediate results from experiments that you fail.” Da Vinci also wrote “Obstacles do not bend me. Every obstacle is destroyed by persistence.”Da Vinci liked to experiment. Many of them turned into disasters. But failures did not stop him from trying once again. This can be seen in his inventions and the engineering projects that he designed for his patrons.


Da Vinci valued Dimostrazione or learning by experience. Thus, he deeply appreciated the abilities of the five senses, sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. He wrote that it is through the eyes that a person may fully understand the works of nature. Da Vinci enriched his senses as much as he can. He always observed his surroundings, the mountains, trees, animals, and the faces of the people he sees. He wore the best silks and velvets he could afford. He filled his studio with the scent of flowers and perfumes. Da Vinci wanted food in small, healthy, well-plated portions. Did you know that Da Vinci was also a musician? He can play the lyre, flute, and other instruments. He was known to have a beautiful voice. When he was employed by Ludovico Sforza of Milan, Da Vinci created a silver-handled lyre-shaped like a horse’s head. He gave it as a gift to his new patron.

Yet, Da Vinci reflected that sadly, most people look without seeing, hear without listening, touch without feeling, eat without tasting, and talk without thinking. When was the last time you looked at the clear night sky to appreciate the beauty of the moon and stars? When was the last time you listened to music without doing anything else? When was the last time you ate without rushing? You are blessed to have all your senses. Try to be more sensitive with each of them. see, listen, touch, smell, and taste more out of life every single day.


Da Vinci was left-handed. It can be said that his right brain is more dominant. But as you already know, he is not only an artist. He is a scientist as well. One interesting fact you need to know about Da Vinci is that he practiced mirror writing. All his notebooks are written that way. Considering that you understand Italian, you need to reflect on Da Vinci’s writing in the mirror to be able to read it. some psychologists tried to put a deeper meaning on why Da Vinci wrote in reverse. But it could be that it is simply more convenient for him to write this way because he is left-handed. Another interesting fact is that Bill Gates bought 18 sheets of Da Vinci’s notebook for 30 million dollars in 1994.

It is now common knowledge that the left hemisphere of the brain deals with logic and reasoning while the right hemisphere is more involved with imagination and creativity. But Da Vinci believed that art and science go hand in hand. They are inseparable. He studied human anatomy, flowing water, rocks, plants, and the flight of birds to create beautiful and expressive works of art. He used mathematics and precise measurement to plan his paintings and sculptures. Thus, Da Vinci encourages us to practice whole-brain thinking. He wrote that those who create art without applying science to it are like mariners who travel the sea without a compass. They can never reach their destination.

He emphasized that the study of anatomy is required for the artist to express the beauty of the human form. Without the knowledge of bone and muscle structure, the painter will create graceless nudes that look more like a sack of nuts or bundle of radishes rather than a human being. Da Vinci encouraged his students to practice attention to detail, logic, and mathematics, as well as to unleash the power of their imagination. His ability to see the whole picture made it possible for Da Vinci to draw accurate maps even without the aid of modern technology.”Study the science of art and study the art of science.” Da Vinci is perhaps the only great master who left us several unforgettable artworks together with sketches, notes, unique inventions, and accurate studies of anatomy.


Aside from puzzles, riddles, and jokes, other fascinating ideas you can find in Da Vinci’s notebooks are his tips about good health and physical fitness. He is truly a Renaissance man who enriched not only his mind but also his body. Giorgio Vasari, the biographer of famous artists, wrote that Da Vinci walked with poise and grace in the streets of Florence. He was a skilled horseback rider. Da Vinci also exercised swimming and fencing. Vasari said that Da Vinci had great physical beauty and incredible strength. Here are some of the health tips that Da Vinci wrote in his notebook. Beware of anger and avoid sadness. Keep your mind cheerful. Exercise regularly. Pay attention to the food you eat. Chew slowly. Eat only when hungry and eat light. cover yourself well when sleeping at night. Go to the toilet regularly. Da Vinci was a vegetarian. He knows how to cook. He believed that early aging and arteriosclerosis or blockage of arteries are caused by lack of exercise.


Leonardo Da Vinci died at 67 years old while under the patronage of Francois 1. the French king provided him with a lovely chateau and a regular salary. Da Vinci was hired as the official painter, architect, and engineer but he was primarily there to converse and philosophize with the king. In his last days, Da Vinci wrote about the symptoms of his illness. His last words were “I shall continue. I never tire of being useful.” He left all his belongings under the care of his loyal student of many years, Francesco Melzi. It was said that Da Vinci died in the arms of the French king. Some people say that he was a homosexual. Others accuse him of being a heretic. But one thing is for sure. Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius. He was a great master, a well-rounded person who dedicated his life to art and science, to nature, truth, and beauty. In this book, you learned about six principles that will help you achieve the maximum potential of your body and mind, just as Da Vinci did.

To apply sfumato, do not be afraid of uncertainty. Open your mind to many possibilities. To apply curiosity, find the answers to the questions you had since you were a child. Why is the sky blue? How are mountains formed? How big is the universe? Maintain a notebook where you will record all your thoughts and ideas, your dreams and aspirations. To apply dimostrazione(demonstration), put theory into practice. Seek more experience. Get first-hand knowledge. Do not be afraid to commit mistakes. Take every failure as a learning opportunity. To apply sensazione(sensation), appreciate more your ability to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. See more of nature. Listen attentively to music. Savor the taste of your food and take time to eat. Be in the moment.

To apply art/Scienza, do not limit the capacity of your mind. Try to achieve a balance between logic and creativity. To apply corporality, take good care of your body. Eat healthy food, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. It is possible to hone both your body and mind. How is it possible for one person to be an expert in art, anatomy, botany, philosophy, engineering, and mathematics? If you aim to be productive every minute if you do not settle for mediocrity, if you seek to learn more and desire to be a better person every day, you can do it too. Remember about sfumato, curiosita, dimostrazione, sensazione, arte/scienza, and corporalita. You can become a Renaissance man or woman just like Da Vinci.

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