Italian Renaissance figure Leonardo da Vinci was a man of staggering genius. An inventor, artist and sculptor, much of his more intricate work remains a puzzle to this day.
Leonardo da Vinci left a legacy of work, including such iconic pieces as “The Vitruvian Man,” “The Last Supper” and “Mona Lisa.”
Today, with Leonardo’s legacy as an artist having endured above all else, we have to remind ourselves of the two distinct lives that Leonardo da Vinci was leading: one as a master painter and sculptor, and one as a rationalist, paving the path for the development of material science, machinery and invention.
In celebration of the breadth of the Italian polymath’s knowledge, here are 12 unusual facts about Leonardo da Vinci:
1. He thought “outside the box”
Leonardo da Vinci sketched and developed some extraordinary inventions in the late 1400s and early 1500s. In fact, he was the man who sketched the first parachute, first aircraft and first helicopter.
He also designed the first tank, and the first rifle. Leonardo da Vinci was also the abstract thinker who designed the first swing bridge, four-wheeled train and motorcar.
2. He was a pioneer of modern day science
Perhaps not such a unknown fact, but still an impressive one: Leonardo da Vinci was the first person to explain that the sky is blue because of the way that air molecules scatter light.
He explained this some 500 years ago.
3. He invented the bicycle
Bicycles weren’t seen on the roads until 300 years later, but the first man-powered pedal bicycle was invented by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 1400s.
4. He was ambidextrous
Leonardo da Vinci was ambidextrous. To the delight of his friends and contemporaries, Leonardo could write forwards with one hand whilst writing backwards with the other.
Nobody ever complained that his handwriting was illegible, and many people could not distinguish the writing of the right hand from the left.
5. He was a “jack of all trades”
Today, we respect Leonardo da Vinci for having been a man of many, many talents. But in his time, Leonardo was far less revered and respected.
He often had to perform odd jobs to earn a living, like playing the lyre (a stringed instrument, like a small harp) in a Milanese court.
6. He was the creator of the map
Leonardo created a beautiful and detailed map of Europe. Today this may sound inconsequential, as we have been using and taking maps for granted for hundreds of years.
To put Leonardo’s feat into context, he was the person who drew the very first aerial map with amazingly precise details and dimensions.
Modern science has difficulty explaining his precision.
7. He produced dozens of inventions
Leonardo’s inventions were numerous and exemplified his broad vision. He once designed an armored car, a horse cart, a revolving crane, a pulley, a lagoon excavator, and even an aircraft.
And yes, these designs emerged in the 1400s. Where did Leonardo’s groundbreaking ideas come from
8. The “Mona Lisa” painting took much longer than expected
The painting of Mona Lisa is seemingly the artist’s most famous work, and it was no small undertaking.
The masterpiece took Leonardo 10 years to complete.
9. The “Mona Lisa” painting itself contains many mysteries
There have been many theories about who Mona Lisa was, and the reason behind her coy smile to the onlooker, or perhaps to the artist himself.
The most popular theory is that she represents a self-portrait of Leonardo, and thus reflects something about the mood of the artist himself.
Alternate theories suggest that maybe Mona Lisa was smiling because she was pregnant, or because she was watching clowns performing while sitting for Leonardo.
10. He was a pioneer of anatomical science
In order to improve his skill in the artistic rendering of the human body, Leonardo studied human anatomy, using cadavers.
It is likely that Leonardo also performed surgery on the corpses in order to better understand their composition.
11. He often drew animals
Leonardo’s animal drawings (Photo: Pinterest)
Leonardo was a vegetarian, which was very unusual in his era. He often drew animals, although he is more likely to be associated with his drawings of human subjects.
Try searching for the phrase “Leonardo da Vinci’s animal drawings” amongst the numerous records on the internet, and see for yourself!
12. He loved water
Leonardo da Vinci adored water. This theme is represented by several indicative items in his artwork: floating snow boots, an underwater exploration device, a life buoy, and a diving bell.
This revered Renaissance figure was a man of extraordinary depth. His mysterious legacy still fascinates fans of his many important contributions to art and science, to this day.