Leonardo da Vinci’s Ethical Vegetarianism

Leonardo da Vinci was not only a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, urban planner, scientist, draftsman, portraitist, scenographer, writer, anatomist, musician, mathematician, geologist, and founder of paleontology, but he also was an advocate of animal rights. He found animals worthy of respect and didn’t eat them for ethical reasons. He left behind masterpieces of the art of incomparable value and important studies on human anatomy, as well as valuable thoughts on the ethics of treating animals.

From his writings that were deciphered in the 19th century and what his bibliographers wrote about him, we can learn that he was a sensitive soul who was not immune to the suffering and killing of animals. Leonardo Da Vinci did not refuse meat for medical reasons or intellectual speculations related to health, but out of full respect for animals.

Leonardo da Vinci lived in a time when eating meat was related to the economic status of people, therefore, the poor ate less meat than the rich. Leonardo lived a fairly comfortable life, therefore, his avoidance of meat and fish could not have anything to do with economic reasons.

Leonardo da Vinci

Quotes about Leonardo da Vinci and vegetarianism:

Seventy biographies have been written about Leonardo da Vinci, but only a few of them mentioned his diet and attitude towards eating animals. Leonardo wrote little about himself because he put his inventions first.

In his essay on the ethical vegetarianism of Leonardo da Vinci, David Hurwitz (2002) cites a number of sources that support the thesis that Leonardo da Vinci did not eat meat for moral reasons.

In the book Discovering the Life of Leonardo da Vinci (1991), Serge Bramly wrote: “Leonardo loved animals so much, it seems, that he became a vegetarian.”

Jean-Paul Richter was the first person in history to decipher Leonardo’s notebooks. In his epochal book The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci (1970), he wrote that we are led to believe that Leonardo was a vegetarian from the following interesting passage in the first of Andrea Corsali’s letters to Giuliano de’ Medici:

Certain infidels called Guzzarati [Hindus] do not eat anything containing blood, nor do they allow any injury to be done among them to any living being, like our Leonardo da Vinci.

In the book Leonardo da Vinci Artist, Thinker, and Man of Science (1898), Eugene Muntz wrote:

It appears from Corsali’s letter that Leonardo did not eat meat, but lived entirely on vegetables, thereby predating modern vegetarians by several centuries.

Leonardo da Vinci studied and drew animals, but he loved and respected them. In the book The Mind of Leonardo da Vinci (1928), Edward MacCurdy wrote:

The very idea of allowing unnecessary suffering, even more of taking life, was repulsive to him. Vasari says, as an example of his love for animals, that when he passed by a place where Florence birds were sold, he would often take them out of the cage with his own hand, and after paying the sellers the asking price, he would release them into the air and thus restore their freedom.

Leonardo da Vinci

The immorality of eating animals and health advice

There are a number of sentences and paragraphs in the Codice Atlantico in which Leonardo da Vinci seems to condemn eating meat, drinking milk, or even gathering honey from the comb. In Codice Atlantico, Leonardo da Vinci deals with the issue of the immorality of eating animals:

Man and the animals are merely a passage and channel for food, a tomb for other animals, a haven for the dead, giving life by the death of others, and a coffer full of corruption.

Finally, in Codice Atlantico Leonardo Da Vinci gives advice for a healthy and peaceful life which can be applied today:

If you would keep healthy, follow this regimen: do not eat unless you feel inclined, and sup lightly: chew well, and let what you take be well cooked and simple. He who takes medicine does himself harm; do not give way to anger and avoid close air; hold yourself upright when you rise from table and do not let yourself sleep at midday (..) When you take exercise let it be moderate. Do not remain with the belly recumbent and the head lowered, and see that you are well covered at night. Rest your head and keep your mind cheerful; shun wantonness, and pay attention to diet. – Codex Atlantico

A vegan picture book with Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the characters in the vegan picture book, “The Turtle Who Fights for Animal Rights”, together with Tolstoy, Nikola Tesla, Kafka, Pythagoras, Einstein, G. Bernard Show, and others who use their reputation to speak about the bad treatment of animals and ethical nutrition. This book promotes vegan values in an imaginative but also factual way referring to authorities from the world of literature, science, and art who did not eat meat for ethical reasons.

Vegan picture book