Similarities between the travels of Marco Polo and the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo Da Vinci and Marco Polo are both world famous Italians. But do their similarities stop there? In Marco Polo’s Travels, the in depth descriptions of plants, animals, and people reminded me of a literary version of Leonardo’s Notebooks (a text I have recently reviewed for my colloquium). Both are captivating, detailed, and offer a glimpse into an individual’s mind and perspective. The similarities between Leonardo and Marco Polo are not limited to the shared characteristics of these two texts.
Leonardo Da Vinci—the great Renaissance man—was passionately curious, artistically masterful, and technologically ingenious. As an artist, he used the power of observation and empirical evidence to precisely capture nature in its scientific forms. Similarly, Marco Polo used the power of observation in order to precisely capture an objective truth: “we will set down things seen as seen, things heard as heard, so that our book may be an accurate record, free from any sort of fabrication” (33).
Whether or not Marco Polo exaggerated his claims, his proclamations make clear that he intended, above all, to provide accurate descriptions and representations. This quest for accuracy and precision mirrors the intentions behind Da Vinci’s artwork—during the Renaissance, a good artist was defined a master of representation capable of imitating the exact forms produced in nature.
Furthermore, as historical figures, Leonardo and Marco Polo both owe their fame to the documents they left behind. In some 13000 pages of notes, Leonardo documented his thoughts, ideas, observations and inventions. Our awareness of Da Vinci’s scientific studies and artistic innovations would not exist today had Leonardo not used lifelong notebooks to document his ideas. Today, Da Vinci’s notebooks are amongst his most famous works; they have undeniably influenced his fame as a historical figure.
In the case of Marco Polo’s fame, documentation has played an equally significant role. As demonstrated by the following quote, it was not important whether or not Marco Polo was the first to travel extensively. What was important, however, was that he was the first to record
his travels: “The claim put forward in the prologue, that its author had travelled more extensively than any man since the Creation, is a plain statement of fact, so far at least as it relates to anyone who has left a record of his travels” (7).
In my opinion, the recipe for Polo’s success= recorded travels+Gutenberg’s printing press. If Polo had not recorded his travels, would we even recognize his name today? Both Marco Polo’s Travels and the Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci confirm the significance of documentary media. Documentations across all mediums preserve the lives, thoughts, and ideas of individuals, effectively capturing historical and cultural moments. They are of great educational value, allowing a glimpse into a foreign mind, culture, and perspective.