Leonardo Da Vinci: The First Animal Rights Activist?

The Guardian recently published an interesting article covering the new exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at the National Gallery in London and discusses Da Vinci’s love and respect for animals. The article reveals that he defended the rights of animals long before such ideas had gained widespread acceptance.

It is believed that Da Vinci loved animals so much that he bought caged birds (sold in Italy at that time as food and as pets) simply to let them go.


Animal rights is also a theme that is repeated in his notebooks. He wrote “humanity is not “king of the animals” but merely “king of the beasts”, that is, a more powerful beast than the rest: and he goes on to rage that we use our power to raise animals for slaughter.

In Leonardo: Discovering the Life of Leonardo da Vinci, Serge Bramly wrote, “Leonardo loved animals so much, it seems, that he turned vegetarian.”

Sigmund Freud once said “Leonardo da Vinci was like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep,” which truly captures the essence of this brilliant man. While he is best known for his art, Da Vinci was also an architect, engineer, scientist, mathematician, musician and perhaps history’s first animal rights activist.