People | Leonardo da Vinci

Audio Episode


What is this episode about?

Learn about Leonardo da Vinci, how he was good at everything, his most famous paintings and his drawings and notebooks, in addition to some key words along the way in this new People episode from English Plus Podcast.

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Leonardo da Vinci excelled as a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, and scientist. He had endless curiosity. Leonardo wanted to understand how things worked. He wanted to put down on paper what he saw. He left thousands of pages of drawings and notes that recorded his thoughts.


Leonardo was born in 1452 in the small town of Vinci, near Florence, Italy. He had little schooling and was largely self-taught.

Leonardo seemed to be good at everything he tried. He was handsome, a good speaker, and a fine musician. He trained as a painter with Andrea del Verrocchio, a leading artist in Florence. Leonardo later worked for dukes and kings.


Leonardo produced a relatively small number of paintings, and he left some of them unfinished. But he had original ideas that influenced Italian artists long after his death. Leonardo believed painting was a science. He applied scientific thinking in his art so that his paintings looked more like the real world. One of his most important painting techniques was sfumato, a blending of one area of color into another so there are no sharp outlines.

Leonardo used sfumato in one of his most famous paintings, the Mona Lisa. When you look at this portrait, notice how colors shade into each other on her face and hands. See how Leonardo has blurred the edges of her mouth to give her the hint of a smile. This mysterious smile has fascinated people for centuries. It looks as if Mona Lisa’s expression might change at any moment because of the way Leonardo has softened the edges of the mouth, eyes, and cheeks. She seems almost alive.

Many people consider a mural by Leonardo known as The Last Supper to be his masterpiece. Christ, seated in the middle of The Last Supper, has just announced that one of his 12 apostles will betray him. Leonardo places the figures in this painting in a way that increases the drama of the announcement. Christ is the calm center. His body, which is set slightly apart from the others, forms a stable triangle. The apostles are arranged in four groups, some leaning toward Christ and some leaning away. Their gestures and the expressions on their faces reveal their reactions to Christ’s words.


Drawing was Leonardo’s favorite tool. He said that drawing was a better way of communicating ideas than words were. He drew catapults and war machines. He drew the muscles and skeletons of human beings and other animals. He drew clouds, swirling water, and storms. He designed churches that were never built.

Leonardo’s drawings and theories are contained in numerous notebooks. His ideas were far in advance of what other people were thinking at the time. But the notebooks were not published during his lifetime. Had his notebooks been published, they might have revolutionized scientific thinking in the 1500s. Leonardo’s deep love of research was the key to both his artistic and scientific endeavors. Leonardo died in 1519.


If someone excels in something or excels at it, they are very good at doing it.

to be superior to (another or others); surpass

to be outstandingly good or proficient


curiosity is a desire to know about something.

A curiosity is something that is unusual, interesting, and fairly rare.

You say ‘curiosity killed the cat’ in order to tell someone that they should not try to find out about something which does not concern them.


When a thing blurs or when something blurs it, you cannot see it clearly because its edges are no longer distinct.

If something blurs an idea or a distinction between things, that idea or distinction no longer seems clear.

If your vision blurs, or if something blurs it, you cannot see things clearly.


Someone or something that is mysterious is strange and is not known about or understood.

If someone is mysterious about something, they deliberately do not talk much about it, sometimes because they want to make people more interested in it.

puzzling, curious, or enigmatic


A mural is a picture painted on a wall.

a large painting or picture on a wall

of, on, in, or for a wall


If you announce something, you tell people about it publicly or officially.

If you announce a piece of news or an intention, especially something that people may not like, you say it loudly and clearly, so that everyone you are with can hear it.

If an airport or railway employee announces something, they tell the public about it by means of a loudspeaker system.


The apostles were the followers of Jesus Christ who went from place to place telling people about him and trying to persuade them to become Christians.

An apostle of a particular philosophy, policy, or cause is someone who strongly believes in it and works hard to promote it.

one of the 12 disciples chosen by Christ to preach his gospel


If you betray someone who loves or trusts you, your actions hurt and disappoint them.

If someone betrays their country or their friends, they give information to an enemy, putting their country’s security or their friends’ safety at risk.

If you betray an ideal or your principles, you say or do something which goes against those beliefs.


A gesture is a movement that you make with a part of your body, especially your hands, to express emotion or information.

A gesture is something that you say or do in order to express your attitude or intentions, often something that you know will not have much effect.

If you gesture, you use movements of your hands or head in order to tell someone something or draw their attention to something.


To reveal something means to make people aware of it.

If you reveal something that has been out of sight, you uncover it so that people can see it.

to make known (something hidden or kept secret); disclose; divulge


A catapult is a device for shooting small stones. It is made of a Y-shaped stick with a piece of elastic tied between the two top parts.

A catapult is a device that is used to send aircraft into the air from an aircraft carrier.

If someone or something catapults or is catapulted through the air, they are thrown very suddenly, quickly, and violently through it.


If you swirl something liquid or flowing, or if it swirls, it moves round and round quickly.

to turn or cause to turn in a twisting spinning

to move with a twisting, whirling motion; eddy


When something revolutionizes an activity, it causes great changes in the way that it is done.

A revolution is a successful attempt by a large group of people to change the political system of their country by force.

A revolution in a particular area of human activity is an important change in that area.


An endeavor is an attempt to do something, especially something new or original.

If you endeavor to do something, you try very hard to do it.

an earnest attempt or effort

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