Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is widely regarded as one of the most versatile geniuses to have ever walked the earth. He was an artist, inventor, architect and everything scientific. He was the quintessential ‘Renaissance man’ since his intellect and expertise cut across various disciplines. While the Leonardo da Vinci paintings are what he is best known for, the world has only recently begun to realize his scientific pursuits that were difficult to interpret in the 15th century. Many of his contemporaries failed to fully appreciate this genius. Most of the artwork has been found to be connected with nature and science and that makes the Leonardo da Vinci facts both interesting and astonishing.
Let’s take a look at some of the facts about Leonardo da Vinci and how the legendary artist was centuries ahead of his time.
Leonardo da Vinci was a love child of his parents. His father was a renowned lawyer and his mother was a peasant in the same town. But they were not officially married, the reasons for which are still unknown. The young Leonardo started to live with his father. He never received the formal education on Latin, Greek, and higher mathematics that was common among boys those days.
Leonardo showed artistic talent quite early. He was sent to Florence in his early teens to work as an apprentice to prominent painter Andrea del Verrocchio. The young boy soon surpassed his master. It’s believed that Verrocchio’s 1475 masterpiece, Baptism of Christ, was partly done by da Vinci. He is claimed to have painted the background and also the young angel who is holding Jesus’ robe.
Leonardo, under Verrocchio’s guidance for 11 years, groomed himself as a master artist. But his life was temporarily derailed when he, along with many other young men, were accused of sodomy. This was a serious allegation in the Middle Ages that could have led to his execution. The master artist, however, was acquitted of all charges. But he completely withdrew from all artistic activities for two years because of the shaming.
Leonardo developed a deep interest in replicating the musculature and the sinews of the human body. He started dissecting humans and animals in the 1480s to understand the body better. This is one of the most interesting Leonardo da Vinci facts. His depiction of the vascular system heart, genitals, and other organs are some of the best illustrations ever. He did all these when embalming was still a couple of centuries away.
This is probably one of the most interesting Leonardo da Vinci facts. The hundreds of pages in his notebook are all written in mirror script. He wrote in reverse handwriting so that the pages became readable only when viewed against a mirror. Conspiracy theorists believed that Leonardo was trying to be secretive. But the truth is, Leonardo was left-handed, and writing in a mirror script helped him avoid erasing or smearing the chalk.
One of da Vinci’s notebooks was put up for auction at Christie’s in 1994. It was titled ‘The Codex Hammer’, and was compiled during his stay in Milan and Florence from 1506 to 1510. It contains musings on art, theory on why the sky looks blue, and casual jottings on the invention of submarine. Microsoft founder Bill Gates won the bid to own the 72-page book at $30.8 million.
According to the Leonardo da Vinci biography compiled by his contemporary historians and later researchers, The Last Supper painter and legendary sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti were bitter rivals. Historical accounts describe them as always questioning each other’s works. Michelangelo poked Leonardo for his delay in completing his projects, while the latter took to him for the exaggerated musculature in his sculptures.
Leonardo was an extremely slow painter, and as a result, several of his works remain incomplete. ‘The Virgin and Child with St Anne’ is one such painting kept at the Louvre in Paris. It shows Mary, an infant Jesus, and Mary’s mother St Anne. Also, hanging in one of the museums in Vatican, is ‘St Jerome in the Wilderness’ which portrays the hermitic saint along with his pet lion. This one too is an unfinished painting by Leonardo.
Many art historians believe that Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, like many of his other works, was deemed incomplete or was abandoned. But this is one of the Leonardo da Vinci facts that have been highly debated. The artist is believed to have willed the unfinished painting, and several other possessions, to his close friend Salai. Some experts believe that da Vinci suffered from right-side paralysis in his later years which affected his work.
That ‘The Last Supper’ is still on display at Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie at Milan, is almost a miracle. Ling Louis, while invading Milan in 1499, wanted to cut down the painting to bring it back to France. Then in 1796, French soldiers again placed the painting under duress and hurled stones at it. In 1943, during Allied Bombing in World War II, the wall of the painting was reinforced to keep it safe. The entire church was destroyed but ‘The Last Supper’ survived.
The Italian Renaissance artist is widely considered to be the first ‘engineer’ who designed a man-powered flying machine. Leonardo seemed to have derived the thought from the dissections he carried out on bats and other birds. These are apparent from his illustrations of the Ornithopter, a device which can fly by flapping its winged appendages. His sketches and notes demonstrate an exhaustive knowledge of aerodynamics. The aeroplane finally became a reality four centuries later in the hands of the Wright brothers.
The invention of parachute is usually attributed to da Vinci. He, however, wasn’t the first person to come up with this concept. Leonardo sketched a wooden framed pyramid-type parachute in his famous Codex Atlanticus. But there’s an anonymous author’s manuscript that predates da Vinci. There’s also Chinese evidence of a parachute-type device used in the country in the 11th century. But da Vinci’’s parachute illustration was more sophisticated and British skydiver Adrian Nicholas proved it in 2000 by jumping of a device made according to the legendary artist’s illustration.
Some Leonardo da Vinci facts state that the Renaissance artist was dissatisfied with the inadequacies in contemporary warfare. He was particularly disgruntled with the time taken to fire a cannon, which required reloading every time it was fired. He designed a multi-barrel cannon that could fire in a series before another reloading. The design went on to become the first illustration of the modern-day automatic weapons.
One of the Leonardo da Vinci drawings resembled an armored car that had several light cannons arranged in a circular platform on wheels. It offered a 360-degree range. An oversized cover, much like a tortoise shell, protected the platform. The cover was reinforced with metal plates to shield against enemy fire. There’s also a sighting turret on the top to enable coordinated firing. But there was one major flaw in the design. The vehicle’s powering cranks went in opposite directions.
One of the most interesting Leonardo da Vinci facts that would surprise many, is that he designed a precursor to the modern-day helicopter. The design is also commonly known as the ‘aerial screw’. According to claims in the Leonardo da Vinci biography, the device could fly. But most experts stated that it won’t be possible to operate the device with only muscle power and keep it airborne. Nonetheless, da Vinci is widely credited for introducing the concept of vertical flight.
Well, according to popular Leonardo da Vinci facts, he didn’t build a proper robot per se. He designed a self-operating machine that could move sans human intervention. A renowned scientist designed the robot for Leonardo in the 1490s that looked like an armored mechanical knight. The humanoid automation could stand, sit, and move its arms independently. A few years later da Vinci designed a mechanical lion on the same lines.
Even the sea wasn’t out of bounds of da Vinci. He designed, what is often argued as the first diving suit. The design was conceived to be used as a sleuth-strike weapon against invading ships. The 15th century design consisted of leather and cane tubes that were attached to a face mask with steel rings. The illustrations have a striking resemblance to the modern scuba diving gear used today.
Surprising as it may sound, da Vinci made a new design for measuring the speed of wind, known as the anemometer. It was adapted from an earlier design by Italian architect and cryptographer Leon Battista Alberti. Leonardo added a number of new designs to make the device more accurate. The simplest practical-use anemometer was designed by John Thomas Robinson in 1845.
Leonardo understood the psychological effects of warfare much better than his contemporaries. He knew the importance of instilling fear in the enemy and designed a giant crossbow simply to intimidate the opponent in a war. His crossbow measured 27 yards. The device was supposed to have six wheels, three on each side, to ensure mobility. The crossbow was to be made from thin wood for flexibility and ease of use.
Leonardo designed a revolving bridge that could be packed and transported to be used by armies to pass over canals and water streams. In his notes, da Vinci said that the bridge was ‘light and rugged’. It was many of the bridges he designed for Duke Sforza. The artist also designed fast construction bridges that could be easily assembled and dismantled. The revolving bridge had a counterweight tank to forge proper balance.
The Leonardo da Vinci facts are as interesting as the man himself. He was a multi-talented person whose visionary illustrations were centuries ahead of its times. Experts have begun to realize the relevance of his drawings and sketches only recently.
Foodie, lazy, bookworm, and internet junkie. All in that order. Loves to floor the accelerator. Mad about the Himalayas and its trekking trails. Former life forester. Also an occasional writer and editor