Society - People
By: - at October 11, 2013

15 Interesting Facts about Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

Despite gaining worldwide popularity nearly 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci's paintings, inventions and documents are still scientifically relevant, even in today's digitized age. Leonardo's ability to understand light and form is demonstrated in his prototypes - some of which include one of the earliest computer designs in history as well as some of the first plans for flying machines.

The painter and polymath was also an engineer, conceptualizing such ideas as the tank, solar power, the helicopter, and the calculator. While most of the ideas were merely sketches of ideas during da Vinci's time, some inventions, such as a tensile strength machine and a bobbin winder, were actually incorporated into manufacturing and industrial environments. Da Vinci's scientific ability also extended to such fields as hydronomics, anatomy, optics and civil engineering.

Design for a Flying Machine - Codex Alanticus Drawing by da Vinci:
Design for a Flying Machine - Codex Alanticus Drawing by da Vinci

Being a polymath caused da Vinci to dabble in a variety of disciplines, all which were central to the period of the High Renaissance. All in all, da Vinci accomplished himself as a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, anatomist, cartographer, geologist, botanist, and writer.

Indeed, da Vinci made his mark in Renaissance history as the feudalistic populace before that time sought guidance, intellectually and spiritually, from their queens and kings. Basic questions regarding man's anatomy were considered taboo, even when da Vinci's now world-famous illustration, the Vitruvian Man, was sketched and introduced in 1487. The sketch of the naked man was made to show the beauty of the human form.

Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man - 1492:
Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man - 1492

Although the over 13,000 sketches and notes that da Vinci made during his life are considered crude by today's standards, they were really state-of-the-art concepts during Renaissance times. During the Renaissance,it was necessary for artists to pick up the skills of an anatomist as dissection was a restricted practice. In order to draw, paint or sculpt lifelike images of the human form, a knowledge of the anatomy was essential. Therefore, during the time period, or from 1500 to 1510, investigations by artists often surpassed the anatomical education of university students.

Studies of Embryos - Leonardo da Vinci (1510-1513):
Studies of Embryos - Leonardo da Vinci (1510-1513)

In response, artists often hid cadavers in catacombs of medieval villages for the purposes of dissection, lest they be accused, according to the law, of necromancy. This attitude prevented any advancements being made in medicine for several hundred years. However, da Vinci broke through the barrier by obtaining approval from Italian jurisdictions to dissect cadavers for sketching the heart, the fetus in utero, and the muscular and vascular systems.

Studies of the Arm Showing the Movements Made by Biceps - Leonardo da Vinci 1510:
Studies of the Arm Showing the Movements Made by Biceps - Leonardo da Vinci 1510

Because of da Vinci's writings and concepts, the scientist and painter was considered eras ahead of his time. His paintings, notes, concepts and philosophies have forever influenced intellectuals throughout history. The following 15 facts then will showcase the artist and inventor's achievements as well as introduce you to this Renaissance man.

15)  The Town of Vinci, Italy Gave da Vinci His Surname
Born in Archiano, Tuscany, near the town of Vinci, Leonardo da Vinci came into the world as Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci. His father was a prominent attorney and notary and his mother Caterina was a peasant woman. The future famous artist had 17 half-siblings. Leonardo da Vinci's full name, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, translates to Leonardo, the son of Messer Piero of Vinci.

While the Italian word ‘Messere’ can be translated to "Sir," it does not have the same connotation as it would in medieval English. In the English version, the title refers to a nobleman or knight. During his lifetime, Leonardo was often simply referred to as Leonardo or II Florentine because of his close proximity to the town of Florence.

da Vinci is a place not Leonardo's last name
By Shadowxfox, via Wikimedia Commons

14)  Leonardo was a Self-educated
With so many fields of study, it’s easy to believe that Leonardo went through several years of schooling at various universities or studied under the tutelage of multiple teachers. However, the polymath was mainly self-educated.

Leonardo's schooling in geometry, mathematics and the scholarly language of Latin is considered to be informal. He also received no schooling in Greek, another scholarly language that was taught during the Renaissance period.

Leonardo became an apprentice at the age of 14, working for the artist, Verrocchio, where he honed his artistic skills in such subjects as leather making, carpentry, metalworking, drawing, carpentry, and sculpting.

Being forever curious, Leonardo da Vinci is considered the epitome of the self-educated man.

Leonardo Da Vinci was Home Schooled

Verrocchio taught Leonardo da Vinci
By sailko, via Wikimedia Commons

13)  Leonardo was a Notorious Procrastinator
It is said that Leonardo lamented, “Tell me if anything ever got done”, before his death in Ambrose, France on May 2, 1519. This remark certainly says quite a lot about Leonardo's tendency to become easily distracted. Because his interests were so widespread, a simple stray thought could tear the artist away from a commissioned project. As a result, da Vinci only finished some of his works because his commissioners were sick and tired of waiting for their artwork.

In fact, the artist's tardy delivery of commissioned paintings often overshadowed his talents. For example, it took the artist years to complete the painting, "Virgin on the Rocks," and the great painting, "Mona Lisa," was considered a "work-in-progress" until the artist died. Although Leonardo lived 67 years, he only completed 15 paintings and a handful of architectural designs.

World famous art, such as the "Last Supper," was only completed when Leonardo was in danger of losing funds for the project. Besides being distracted, the artist was also a perfectionist. That's why he considered the painting, "Mona Lisa," to be a work-in-progress. Although he officially completed the painting between 1505 and 1507, he really never considered the artwork complete as he kept the piece of art with him all of his life. The painting, which now hangs in the Louvre in Paris behind a wood bar and bullet-proof glass, has been examined with infrared technology.

Indeed, Leonardo kept perfecting the artwork as infrared rays showed a change was made in the positioning of the middle finger and left index finger of the hand and that a landscape was initially painted before transparency techniques were introduced to paint Mona Lisa's veil. The picture depicts Lisa Giocanda, the wife of an Italian merchant.

The Last Supper
Leonardo Da Vinci procrastinated on The Last Supper

The Mona Lisa
Leonardo Da Vinci Spent 10 Years on the Mona Lisa

12)  Leonardo Was Ambidextrous
While left-handed people know that writing, eating, or drawing with one's left hand can present some difficulties in society, Leonardo adjusted to writing and drawing with his left hand by doing the same activity with his right hand as well. In fact, it's said that the artist and writer could write with both hands simultaneously. Some accounts reveal that Leonardo could draw with one hand while writing a mirrored script at the same time. Maybe that's the reason the artist wrote so many volumes of notes.

Leonardo Da Vinci was Ambidextrous

11)  Leonardo Was a Musician of Sorts

Giovanni Maria Pala
Giovanni Maria Pala has discovered what seems to be a 40 second composition in the Last Supper

While Leonardo da Vinci was the first conceptual designer of the submarine and helicopter, he also had a flair for music. One of his fifteenth century sketches reveals an instrument that looks like it's part cello and harpsichord. Horsehair is used for the strings for the unique instrument, which was named a viola organista by the artist.

Also, in 1482, Lorenzo de Medici commissioned da Vinci to create a silver lyre for him. The musical instrument was presented at the court of Ludovico Sforza in Milan. Shaped like a horse's head, the lyre was played by da Vinci to an audience. The artist learned to play the stringed instrument as a child, which was a common practice of children who had wealthy and influential fathers. Da Vinci could play other stringed instruments as well.

Ludovico Sforza
Leonardo da Vinci made a Lyre for Ludovico Sforza


Lorenzo di Medici
Lorenzo de Medici requested Leonardo da Vinci make a Lyre for Ludovico Sforza

10)  Da Vinci Loved Puzzles and Wordplays
The Earl of Arundel bought a particular collection of Leonardo’s notes in 1630, which is now called the Codex of Arundel. The papers in the codex were written in Leonardo's mirrored, left-handed writing, or from right to left, and is a compilation of brief texts, drawings, and diagrams on science and art. Included in the Codex is Folio 44, which essentially is a listing of synonyms for the word, "penis." Notes also contained rebuses,or puzzle pictures, where a single word or sentence can be derived from picture clues.

Folio 24v from the Codex of Arundel
The Codex of Arundel were Leonardo Da Vinci's notes

9)  Da Vinci Really Didn’t Like Michelangelo
It's really not a big surprise that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo made each other's acquaintance, especially since they both were artists and Florentine citizens. Plus, both the renowned painters were favored at the Milanese court by Lorenzo de Medici.

Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci Disliked Each Other

However, both artists had contrasting personalities, which made them professional rivals. While Michelangelo, also known formally as Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, was characterized as a young man that was often quick to anger or impatient, Leonardo was just the opposite, given his proclivity to procrastinate. Some believe that the older artist was jealous of the younger painter and, thus, began a rivalry with thinly veiled insults.

Leonardo once said that sculptors were very much like a baker, all which would have easily angered the younger artist, who considered himself to be a premier sculptor of art. Other observers believe that the younger artist could have been jealous of Leonardo's genius. Vasari, a biographer who chronicled both men's lives in the 16th century, confirmed that Leonardo and Michelangelo were not very good friends.

Vasar Wrote Biographies of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo

The Codice Magliabecchiano, an anonymous manuscript, refers to an incident when the two artists met near the Santa Trinità church in Florence. After the meeting, Michelangelo was heard calling after Leonardo that he was a "horse modeler" who had no sculpting skills. The reference was associated with a bronze horse statue project that Leonardo had undertaken in Milan. However, the sculpture only got to the stage of a clay model because of a siege by French soldiers in the city.

Santa Trinità church
Santa Trinita Church is Where Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Fought
By unknown, via Wikimedia Commons

8)  Da Vinci's Thoughts were Based on Empiracal Evidence
During his life, Leonardo did not accept opinions or actions unless they could be verified, and therefore based any observation on experience or verification rather than religious reasoning. In fact, according to a biography penned by Marco Rosci, Leonardo believed that "Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence. [Rather,] he is using his memory [instead]."

Because of Leonardo's interest in science, the majority of the artist's and polymath's writings concern observation. Therefore, da Vinci sought to gain as much knowledge about the world as he could. As a result, Leonardo did not hold to the dictates and rituals of the Catholic Church, which, at the time, was held in high regard.

Although he painted the "Last Supper" and believed in God, Leonardo still liked to challenge established beliefs by critically questioning the literature that he studied and read. Leonardo, who was a writer of short stories, critiqued the practices of the Roman Catholic church in one of his writings. For example, he addressed the blessing of items with holy water.

One of his writings relates the story of a priest who sprinkles holy water on some paintings, after which he declares them as good, adding that he would be rewarded a hundredfold by the heavens. In response to the damage caused by the ritual, the painter dumps a bucket of water onto the priest's head when he passes beneath a window.

Leonardo also suggested that the earth was older than what the Catholic Church advocated as true - all which put him into direct opposition with the Church.

Roman Catholic Church

7)  Da Vinci Introduced the Chiaroscuro Method to the Art World
While da Vinci was primarily attracted to science, his popularity and fame resulted from his work as a painter. Although he finished only a limited number of paintings, his most famous works are considered masterpieces. Paintings, such as "Mona Lisa" and the "Last Supper," have been reviewed by art students as well as art aficiandos and critics. Highlighted in da Vinci's work is the way he lays on paint and his precise detailing of tone.

The artist was also one of the first painters to use the medium of oil during the High Renaissance period. Subtle lighting techniques were employed as the artist generally liked to paint in the evening just before the sun went down. Noted as the first artist to utilize consistent coloration, da Vinci was able to achieve both intensity of depth in color and transparency. For example, in the painting, Portrait of a Lady from the Court of Milan, Da Vinci painted the picture with a wider range of luminescence than what could be seen in reality.

The above-mentioned painting style, which makes skillful use of dark and light paints, is referred to as chiaroscuro, a kind of shading that emphasizes brightness more than color.

Old oil painting by Leonardo Da Vinci

6)  Da Vinci Was Obsessed with the Anatomy
Da Vinci's sketch of the Vitruvian Man is probably one of the artist's most popular drawings. In turn, his observations and study of the human anatomy are not only of interest to students studying medicine but also to artists who want to better capture the details of the human form.

Leonardo makes several observations on the proportions of an average man in the Vitruvian Man and the text accompanying it. According to his writing, “[T}he length of the ear is one third of the length of the face." The observations he made in association with the Vitruvian Man were not only helpful in his artwork but also in his studies of architecture. Because of his notations, he was inspired to study the life of the Roman Marcus Vitruvius Pollio.

Vitruvius wrote the Ten Books on Architecture, more commonly known as De Architectura, where he declared architecture to be an imitation of nature. He defined the Vitruvian Man to cement his arguments on the value of proportion.

Leonardo’s work on documenting the human anatomy was furthered through his dissections on corpses, which he conducted in Florence, Milan, and Rome - a major undertaking at the time as the Roman Catholic Church did not normally permit dissection, viewing it as a form of desecration.

In turn, the artist was able to create over 240 drawings on the anatomy. He produced some of the first drawings of specific organs on record. Sketches include drawings of the fetus in utero, the heart and vascular system, bones and muscles, and the sexual organs.

Because of his sketches, Leonardo is considered to be an early pioneer in the field of biomechanics.

Vitruvian man
Leonardo Da Vinci Studied Anatomy and Created the Vitruvian Man

Fetus in a woman’s womb
Fetus in a woman’s womb

5)  Evidence Suggests That da Vinci Was a Vegetarian And Animal Rights Activist
Leonardo da Vinci asserted that "[humans] . . . do not have any God-given right to eat our fellow creatures," thereby contradicting the belief prevalent at the time that eating meat was alright. Because the artist had a great affinity for nature, he did not advocate any cruelty toward or confinement of animals. The polymath even bought caged birds in markets just to set them free.

4)  Questions about da Vinci's Sexuality Still Exist Today
According to historical court documents in Florence, da Vinci was charged with sodomy when he was 22. However, he was eventually acquitted of the crime. At the time, the young man was serving as an apprentice under the artist, Verrochio. Still, people continued to speculate about the artist's sexual preferences. Da Vinci, who never married, left his estate to his assistant Francesco Melzi, who was also believed, by some, to be da Vinci's lover as well.

Da Vinci also had a long-term companion before he met Melzi by the name of Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno. The boy was brought into the da Vinci household when he was 10 and maintained a 25-year relationship with the artist. Nicknamed Salai or "little devil," Giacomo was stole money and clothing from da Vinci in his youth.

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud Made a Comment About Leonard Da Vinci's Sexuality

3)  Da Vinci Conceptualized Inventions Long Before their Time
Though Sebastian Lenormand took credit for inventing the parachute, actually Leonardo da Vinci conceived the concept hundreds of years earlier. In fact, most of the concepts that da Vinci introduced in sketches and notes took hold long after he was gone.

Da Vinci was the first person to conceive the design of the helicopter and also sketched models of early flying machines, all which were based on the aerodynamics of a bat in flight. The inventor, artist and scientist also came up with such innovations as the anemometer (used to measure wind speed), the armored car, scuba gear, a revolving bridge, and the giant crossbow.

The flying screw, Leonardo's Helicopter
The flying screw, Leonardo's Helicopter

Giant Crossbow
Leonardo Da Vinci Drew Plans for a Giant Crossbow

Leonardo Da Vinci Created Ribauldequins

2)  Leonardo Was an Engineer
Leonardo extended his interest in the workings of things and science through ideas for weaponry and bridges. His skills were noted in his role as military architect and engineer to Cesare Borgia, who was the son of Rodrigo Borgio, elected as Pope Alexander VI. Da Vinci's revolving bridge idea made it possible to form a temporary bridge across a waterway so soldiers could pass over to the other side.

The bridge was designed with ropes and pulleys and wheels for a quick deployment. A counterweight tank was included to balance the connection as well. A fast-construction bridge was also engineered by da Vinci, which enabled soldiers to cross more than one stream at a time.

Pope Alexander VI
Pope Alexander VI

Sulton Bayezid II
Leonaredo Da Vinci Worked for Sulton Bayezid II

Golden Horn Bridge Notes
Leonardo Da Vinci Created the Golden Horn Bridge Notes

Norway bridge created from Golden Horn bridge notes
Norway bridge created from Leonardo Da Vinci's notes
By Åsmund Ødegård from Norway, via Wikimedia Commons

1)  Leonardo Was the Archetypal Depiction of the Renaissance Man
Because da Vinci showed his skills in one of a variety of scientific and artistic areas, he can only be described as the archetypal Renaissance man. His notes, drawings, and paintings have all contributed to the worlds of art, science, engineering, geology, math, and cartography.

Leonardo Da Vinci Created and Invented Many Things

Final Words
A futuristic thinker and creative genius, Leonardo da Vinci continues to impress and influence people in the modern age. His contributed works have set him apart as one of the greatest minds in history.





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