Inventive Facts About Leonardo da Vinci

April 16, 2018 | Stephanie Kelsey

Inventive Facts About Leonardo da Vinci

When you think of da Vinci, you probably think of his artwork – like, oh, say, a little painting called the “Mona Lisa.” For most of us, that's enough to cement his reputation: he was a genius. We get it.

But Leonardo da Vinci wasn't just an incredible painter. He was an incredible everything. During his lifetime, Leonardo pushed the boundaries of engineering, botany, music, sculpture, architecture, physics, and engineering. Like the kid you went to high school with who captained both the basketball AND football teams, it's hard not to be a bit jealous.

All that accomplishment, though, can almost make it difficult to imagine him as a real person. He was a real, living, breathing person, like anybody else. And while his many accomplishments are fascinating in their own right, so too are the details of his lived experience. So with that in mind, here are 42 inventive facts about Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci Facts

42. All in the Family

Da Vinci’s family was pretty big—all thanks to his father. He was married four times (though never to Leonardo’s mother) and had 17 other children. Leonardo’s father was also pretty wealthy, so when he died, there were issues splitting up the inheritance among all of the children. Unfortunately, when the elder da Vinci died, Leonardo received nothing.

Caravaggio FactsWikimedia Commons

 41. Split the Parents

Despite living with his mother until he was five, da Vinci eventually went to live with his father and the two became very close.

da Vinci still wrote letters to his mother, though, and the pair rekindled their relationship during her final years.

Leonardo da Vinci facts The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci (1971), RAI

40. Hands-On Learning

When da Vinci was just 15 years old, he was sent to Florence and began his apprenticeship under the artist Andrea Verrocchio. Verrocchio was considered perhaps the greatest artist living in Florence, and to this day is remembered as one of the leading painters from the early Renaissance.

Which, I think you'll agree, is a pretty good place to start for any aspiring artist.

Anyway, while there, the young da Vinci learned crafts like leatherworking, metalworking, chemistry, carpentry, and sculpting, among others. It's entirely possible that this early education in a myriad of fields helped to inspire the young Leonardo, who would go on to spend his life pursuing many different paths.

It was like a crash course in becoming the prototypical Renaissance Man.

Leonardo da Vinci facts The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci (1971), RAI

39. One Degree of Separation

The year that da Vinci became an apprentice with Verrocchio was actually the same year that Verrocchio’s own master died.

Who was that, you may wonder? One of the great sculptors of the time—Donatello.

For those keeping score at home, the answer is yes: that means two of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles worked in the same shop in Renaissance Florence, just a few years apart.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikimedia Commons

38. He Probably Could Have Taught the Classes Anyway

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but da Vinci wasn’t taught the same subjects that other boys his age who were born into rich families were learning.

Subjects like Greek, Latin, and even higher mathematics (which were typical for a young man's education at the time) just weren’t on Leo's radar. Despite all that, as we now know, he still went on to accomplish great things.

Turns out you can make a mark on the world without learning Latin. Who knew?

Leonardo da Vinci facts Leonardo: The Man Who Saved Science (2017), GA&A Productions

37. Memories, Times Two

Later in his life, da Vinci recorded two incidents from his childhood that give us a very small glimpse into his younger self. The first memory was of a kite that had fallen from the sky, with its feathers touching his face. The other was when he came across a cave and had the conflicting feelings of being scared at what could be inside, but curious nonetheless.

Leonardo da Vinci facts The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci (1971), RAI

36. His Loyalty Was Strong

A young da Vinci was accepted to the painter’s guild of Florence in 1471... but chose to stay with his teacher, Antonio Pollaiuolo, at his workshop instead. He stayed at that workshop for an additional five years before venturing out on his own.

Leonardo da Vinci facts The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci (1971), RAI

35. What’s in a Name?

Vinci is a city within a city, of sorts. It’s a community within Florence, which is in Tuscany, so da Vinci just means “of Vinci”. His full name was Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, so he really didn’t have a proper last name. Oddly enough, he never liked being called Leonardo.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikimedia Commons

34. A True Renaissance Man

Most known for his paintings, da Vinci was also skilled in quite a number of other fields. They include, but aren’t limited to: math, sculpture, anatomy, botany, architecture, invention, engineering, astronomy, science, writing, music and so much more! How did he have time for all of that?

Leonardo da Vinci facts Da Vinci

33. Let’s Get Personal

Well, maybe he had so much time for his hobbies and interests because he didn’t have relationships with women, never married, and never had children. In fact, the idea of male-female intercourse disgusted him, as he wrote in his notebooks. When he was 24, though, he and some others were arrested on charges of sodomy. There weren’t enough witnesses to prove the charge, which may have kept him from facing certain death.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Da Vinci

32. He Wasn’t Horsing Around

He left Florence after that, heading to Milan and getting on the good side of the Duke, Ludovico Sforza. While there, he was hired to build a very large statue of a horse made entirely of bronze. He was unable to finish the horse for reasons out of his control: Italy was invaded by France. The metal intended for use for the horse was used to make the likes of cannons instead.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikimedia Commons

31. Accessory for War

A bronze horse wasn’t the only thing da Vinci was set to create for Sforza. He had much darker ideas in the works, namely, weapons to be used in war. There were sketches for things like cannons and smoke machines and even armored vehicles (!) found in his notebooks. No proof was ever found that any of these ideas actually came to fruition, though.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Flickr, Brian Shamblen

30. Musically Inclined

Surprisingly, when he did arrive in Milan and was presented at court, it wasn’t as a painter or even an inventor, two things we all think of him for these days. No, he was introduced as a musician! He had become very adept at playing the lyre, an instrument similar to a harp.

Leonardo da Vinci factsShutterstock

29. Going Against Scripture

Da Vinci set to prove that a couple of ideas from the Bible were wrong. He believed that earth is much older than what the Bible implies. According to him, the reason why marine fossils could be found on mountains was a combination of river erosion and falling sea levels, not Noah’s flood.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikipedia

28. Well, He Tried

When it came time to create “The Last Supper," Da Vinci didn't exactly have it easy. Not only was he facing the pressure of painting one of the most famous scenes in the Bible... he also had to come up with an entirely new way to paint.

The most common technique at the time was fresco, which called for applying the paint of a mural onto wet plaster. It was an incredibly effective technique which resulted in long-lasting, durable pieces of art... but Leonardo felt it also produced paintings which were dull and not too colorful. For his Last Supper, Leonardo declared, the colors would have to be absolutely stunning, and the details incredibly clean. Fresco wouldn't do.

So he decided to try it dry. And in terms of color, light, and composition, the result was magnificent...

But the long-term effects were disastrous. The paint and dry plaster didn’t bond well, which meant that the quality of the painting degraded more quickly over time. It’s been restored over time, but it’s not getting any better—only 25 people are allowed to see it at a time, and have only 15 minutes to do so, all in a temperature-controlled room.

Medieval Beliefs factsWikimedia Commons

27. What Couldn’t He Do?

Have you ever met anyone who’s ambidextrous? Well, you’re currently reading about someone who was. Not to mention that Leonardo was also dyslexic.

Famous Last Words FactsShutterstock

26. Pass Me a Mirror!

If you’ve ever seen any of his writing, you’ll notice that it’s quite different. That’s because he generally wrote from right to left, making it a mirror script. He was known to be secretive, so this technique may have helped to keep his work private, but he was also left-handed, so he just may have found it to be easier to write that way and not smudge his work.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikipedia

25. The Private Work

“The Vitruvian Man” is likely the most famous of the sketches he did of the human body, and it wasn’t even supposed to be released to the public. Vitruvius was an ancient Roman architect, and da Vinci set out to try and encapsulate what the perfect human’s body would look like based on his ideas. There are many recreations of the drawing, but, due to its delicate state, the original is kept hidden away at Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia. When it was on display last in 2013, it had been 30 years since anyone of the public had seen it.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikimedia Commons

24. Nitty Gritty

One place where you can really see where da Vinci’s interest in the human body is in “St. Jerome in the Wilderness.” This painting, like so many others, was never finished. However, there’s so much attention to detail in places like St. Jerome’s neck and shoulder muscles, that it is quite clear that da Vinci truly was one of the forefathers in the study of human anatomy.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikimedia Commons

23. An Angel So Nice

Rumor has it that da Vinci painted an angel so well that it caused his painting teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio, to quit painting altogether. This hasn’t properly been proven, but it would be quite the story if it turns out to be true. The angel was part of a painting that del Verrocchio had been creating called “Baptism of Christ,” where da Vinci had been working as del Verrocchio’s assistant, helping to paint the background.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikimedia Commons

22. One is Blue and Two is Green

When da Vinci was teaching, he often taught by a technique much like paint-by-numbers. His apprentices would use canvases that had sections sorted into numbered categories, much like the pastime we’re familiar with now. A paint company employee made this discovery and created his own mass-market version.

Leonardo da Vinci facts The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci (1971), RAI

21. Slow and Steady Win the Race

Though he was a perfectionist, he was also a procrastinator. da Vinci took his time with his pieces, to the point that there were still a number of things left unfinished after his death. Some of the designs for his inventions were used to bring his ideas to life, but unfortunately, many never came to be.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Da Vinci

20. Short Attention Span

Sometimes he even left pieces unfinished as he moved on to other projects. One case of this being “The Adoration of the Magi,” his first commissioned painting for a monastery. He left Florence for Milan before it was finished to work for the Sforza dynasty, where his focus was architecture, engineering, sculpting, and painting.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikimedia Commons

19. Maybe He Just Walked Away

After he died, da Vinci was buried in the palace church of Saint-Florentin in France. During the French Revolution, the church was essentially destroyed and was eventually completely demolished in the early 19th century. His grave was never found again, however, there were bones found in 1863 that might belong to the artist. Additionally, there were stones that had the markings “EO [...] DUS VINC,” which led to the assumption that the bones belong to him. DNA testing on the remains was announced in 2016, but the results aren’t expected until 2019.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Pexels

18. Comradery With a King

Speaking of France, da Vinci came to be under the service of King Francis I, with the king even giving da Vinci use of a manor house near his own home. There’s even a story, which is likely to be untrue (yet it is favored by the French) that Francis held da Vinci as he died. Two decades later, Francis said of da Vinci, “there had never been another man born in the world who knew as much as Leonardo, not so much about painting, sculpture, and architecture, as that he was a very great philosopher.”

Catherine De Medici factsWikimedia Commons

17. Well This Doesn’t Make a Lick of Sense

If you ever did manage to get a hold of his notes, you may have struggled a bit making his inventions. Da Vinci himself purposely made errors in his designs.

Toys Of The Rich And Famous factsWikipedia

16. See For Yourself!

There’s actually a museum in Milan dedicated to da Vinci and his works, with creations made directly from his notes. The National Science and Technology Museum Leonardo da Vinci (that’s a mouthful) also has interactive displays for visitors along with 130 models of his designs and creations.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikimedia Commons

15.The Books of da Vinci

Much of his observations and notes were made into collections, called codexes or codices. The largest, the Codex Atlanticus, comes in at over 1,100 pages and has much of his early mechanical drawings. The Codex Windsor features his studies on anatomy and is actually owned by the British royal family. In 1991, Bill Gates bought the Codex Leicester for $31 million from the estate of a businessman. This codex features da Vinci’s work on water.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikimedia Commons

14. Most Expensive Ever

If you think $31 million is a lot to pay for one of Da Vinci’s codexes, then this will blow your mind. One of his paintings was sold at auction in 2017 and garnered the most money ever paid for a painting. Salvator Mundi was sold in New York City at Christie’s for over $450 million.

World Records factsGetty Images

13. He Would Have Loved PETA

He didn’t eat meat and considered himself to be a strict vegetarian. He believed that animals should be free so much that he would buy caged animals just to let them go.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Da Vinci

12. At Least He Had a Sense of Humor

He wanted to freak people out so much that he took lizards and made them up to look like dragons. He would give them scales, bigger eyes, horns, beards, and even dipped the poor things in quicksilver so that they quivered.

Animal Romance factsFlickr, Tambako The Jaguar

11. Birds of a Feather

He had an interest in birds, specifically birds of prey. He wrote about his earliest memory, actually being a dream about a bird of prey that forced its tail feathers into his mouth after landing on his face. See, that would just make me scared of birds.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Da Vinci

10. Curiosity Kept Him Going

Why is the sky blue? Da Vinci asked the same thing. He discovered that it’s the way air scatters light. Did no one ever think to look into these things before him, or was he just the genius to figure it all out?

Leonardo da Vinci facts Da Vinci

9. Making Those Maps

For about 10 months in the early 16th century, da Vinci traveled across the lands owned by Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, and the papal army’s commander in chief. During this time, da Vinci strengthened his skills in cartography and sketched the cities and landscapes.

Lucrezia Borgia factsThe Borgias (2011–2013), Showtime Networks

8. Swimming With the Fishies

Let’s be honest here, da Vinci was highly interested in just about everything. Another thing that caught his attention: water. He had sketches for floating snowshoes, something to help one breathe while underwater (scuba diving anyone?), life preservers, and a diving bell that could be used to attach opposing ships from under the water.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Wikimedia Commons

7. The Man Behind the Term

The term “Renaissance man” actually came about because of da Vinci. Since he was into such a variety of topics, the term is based on him. A Renaissance man essentially dabbles in many things and is quite good at each.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Da Vinci

6. Bad Blood Between Them

Another notable artist of the time, Michelangelo, mocked da Vinci over his unfinished works. For his part, da Vinci also brought up Michelangelo’s tendency to accentuate the muscles on his sculptures. Historically speaking, the two were far from being friends. The best part? Da Vinci was already 23 years old when Michelangelo was born!

Michelangelo factsThe Agony and the Ecstasy, Twentieth Century Fox

5. Probably Wasn’t a Conversationalist, Though

Da Vinci created a robot. Yup, a fully functional robot. It could sit up, wave its arms and even move its head. The jaw could also move up and down! He was absolutely living in the wrong century—just imagine what he could think up if he lived in our era.

Robots factsFlickr, Krishna

4. Gravedigger

That interest in anatomy? Some would say he may have gone to the extreme since he went to cemeteries by night, and dug up and stole corpses to study them. No thanks!

Henry VI factsShutterstock

3. But How Did He Breathe?

He even admitted to dissecting over 30 bodies to help himself understand the human body. Though his detailed notes were never published, he drew more than 240 drawings and wrote more than 13,000 words on the topic. And think about this: they didn’t have the funerary practices, like embalming, that we do today. Those corpses would have smelled pretty foul.

Leonardo da Vinci facts Flickr, Internet Archive Book

2. Like a Puppet on a String

After dissecting the bodies, da Vinci did something even weirder and creepier—he replaced the corpse’s muscles with strings to see how the muscles worked. Sure, do that in 2018 and you’re a creep, but do it in the 15th century and you’re a genius!

Leonardo da Vinci facts Da Vinci

1. Secret Behind the Smile

There’s much speculation regarding the Mona Lisa. Who was she? What was she smiling at? Well, here’s a few of the theories floating around. The first, regarding her smile—some say that she was secretly pregnant. Okay, that could be plausible. The next being that, while da Vinci was painting her portrait, there were clowns and musicians in the room who were entertaining her. Smiling because she was enjoying herself? That seems likely too. The last theory, and this one is interesting—so make of it what you will—is that she’s actually meant to represent the painter himself, da Vinci. He just “disguised” himself as a woman. He never even got to finish the painting before his death in 1519. Some art historians suggest that he became paralyzed on the right side of his body, which led to some difficulty when it came to finishing his work.

Priceless Works Of Art factsGetty Images

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

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