By now we all know that Leonardo da Vinci followed a vegetarian diet. Edward MacCurdy, most noted da Vinci biographer, is our greatest resource and includes references to Leonardo’s vegetarian food plan in his work.
What we don’t know for sure is whether Leonardo da Vinci was vegan. Keep in mind that in the 15th century the term vegan hadn’t even been coined yet. That came in 1944 with Donald Watson’s creation of The Vegan Society, a history of which you can read here: What does vegan mean, anyway?
Reading between the lines of MacCurdy’s work, you can make a strong case for a vegan Leonardo da Vinci:
If you are as you have described yourself the king of the animals — it would be better for you to call yourself king of the beasts since you are the greatest of them all! — why do you not help them so that they may presently be able to give you their young in order to gratify your palate, for the sake of which you have tried to make yourself a tomb for all the animals? Even more I might say if to speak the entire truth were permitted me.
…The mere idea of permitting the existence of unnecessary suffering, still more that of taking life, was abhorrent to [da Vinci]. 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.
That this horror of inflicting pain was such as to lead him to be a vegetarian is to be inferred from a reference which occurs in a letter sent by Andrea Corsali to Giuliano de’Medici, in which, after telling him of an Indian race called Gujerats, who neither eat anything that contains blood nor permit any injury to any living creature, he adds ‘like our Leonardo da Vinci.’
— In The Mind of Leonardo da Vinci (1928), Edward MacCurdy
From Leonardo da Vinci himself, via his notebooks reported upon by Edward MacCurdy in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Note-Books: Arranged And Rendered Into English With Introductions.
“Endless numbers of these animals shall have their little children taken from them, ripped open, and barbarously slaughtered.”
“Living as they do in communities, whole populations are destroyed so that we can have their honey. Thus will many great nations be destroyed…and multitudes deprived of their food and stores; and they will be most cruelly submerged, swept under, drowned by invading armies, out of their minds. Oh, Justice of God! Why dost Thou not awake and protect Thy misused creatures?”
“How cruel for one whose natural habitat is water to be made to die in boiling water.”
“Oh, how many chicks will never come to birth!
“Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds them. We live by the death of others. We are burial places! I have since an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men will look upon the murder of animals as they look upon the murder of man.”
—Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci was inargueably a great mind. He is recognized universally as a brilliant, forward-thinking Renaissance man. Obviously being vegetarian/vegan was a core part of who he was. He saw the way humans treated other creatures as an indicator of our moral character. As we have adopted and benefited from many of his other inventions, might we also learn from this great thinker in the domain of compassionate living?
Your thoughts on Leonardo’s veganism? Please share them in comments.
Lani Muelrath, M.A. is Vegan Mainstream’s Health & Fitness Expert. Watch for regular articles from Lani on how to be a strong, healthy, fit vegan. Articles, videos, and more from Lani at www.lanimuelrath.com.
Lani is also “The Plant-Strong Fitness Expert” of www.lanimuelrath.com and creator of Fit Quickies™., The Body Transformation Formula, and Boot Camp Mind. She has a Master’s Degree in Physical Education and over 30 years of experience as a teacher, coach, and trainer. She has received awards for her instruction, created and starred in her own CBS TV Show, and her expertise in the area of health and fitness is called upon by examiner.com, Dr. John McDougall’s Health and Medical Center, Dr. Neal Barnard’s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program, the CHIP Program, and Engine 2 Diet.com. She is Certified in Plant-Based Nutrition Certification through Cornell University.