Leonardo da Vinci: Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know

Who was this “universal genius” and what did he do? Find out more about the man who Sigmund Freud was quoted as saying “was like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep”.

Leonardo da Vinci was a scientist, painter, anatomist, architect, inventor, cartographer, mathematician, engineer and writer. Did I miss anything? Yes I did, he was also a musician, sculptor, botanist and geologist.

The knowledge of all things is possible.”

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452 in the town of Vinci, not far from Florence in Italy.

He was the love child of a notary by the name of Ser Piero da Vinci and Caterina, a woman from a peasant family who went on to marry someone else when Leonardo was still a boy. Leonardo’s father married a young girl of 16 years old who unfortunately died young, and then went on to marry a 20 year old when Leonardo was 16.  Due to his parents other partners, Leonardo was to have 17 half-siblings.

Poor is the pupil that does not surpass his master.”

Not much is known about his early life, but it is assumed that although he grew up mostly on his father’s estate, it is likely he was brought up by his uncle.

It was recognized early on that da Vinci had a talent for the arts and therefore at the age of 14 he was apprenticed to the well-known artist and sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio of Florence.

After collaborating with Leonardo da Vinci on The Baptism of Christ painting Verrocchio is said to have never painted again as da Vinci’s painting was thought to be more superior to that of his master.

Painting is poetry which is seen and not heard, and poetry is a painting which is heard but not seen.”


There is no doubt that Leonardo’s art work was ahead of his time. He managed to paint expressions and gestures that other artists had until now never been able to successfully portray.

Da Vinci’s most famous paintings were arguably the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper and even to this day mystery surrounds the Mona Lisa and theories abound with regard to the meanings behind some of his paintings.

Some believe that there are secret messages in some of his paintings. One only need read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code to bear testament to this.

The Mona Lisa is probably the most famous painting in the world, her elusive smile and the eyes that follow you, all add to the air of mystery about the painting.  There have been many theories as to the identity of Mona Lisa and the reason for her smile.

Some believe that her smile means she was secretly pregnant and another bizarre theory is that she was entertained by musicians and clowns while Leonardo painted her. Other theories suggest that it is a painting of Leonardo’s young lover Salai, or that it is in fact a self-portrait of Leonardo himself, disguised as a woman.

This theory gained popularity because Leonardo did not leave any definitive images of himself which was apparently unusual for a painter of the time.

Historical research suggests that the painting is in fact that of Lisa del Giocondo, wife of Florentine merchant Francisco del Giocondo.

The painter who draws merely by practice and by eye, without any reason, is like a mirror which copies every thing placed in front of it without being conscious of their existence.”

Leonardo had a keen interest in anatomy in both humans and animals.

The Vitruvian Man, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous drawings, is a study of the proportions of the human body. Nowadays it can be seen replicated in books and on tee shirts, but more notably on one side of the Italian euro coin.

To further his study of anatomy Leonardo was given permission to dissect human corpses at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence and at hospitals in Milan and Rome. From these studies he created over 200 pages of drawings.

It is even rumored that after dissecting cadavers, Leonardo replaced the muscles with strings to see how they worked.

Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.”

Leonardo da Vinci was a talented musician. He created a silver lyre in the shape of a horse’s head and gave it to Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan. He is reported to have been an excellent musician and also a composer but there is no evidence today to fully back this up. He certainly drew up designs for new musical instruments, which like many of his plans, were not realized.

My body will not be a tomb for other creatures.”


Leonardo was recorded as being a vegetarian for humanitarian purposes which was unusual for a man of his time. He would allegedly purchase caged birds and set them free. He also refrained from drinking cow’s milk, so one would assume he followed more of a vegan diet than that of a vegetarian. He certainly had modern views on some aspects of morality and the following advice he had on healthy living may be just as relevant today as it was back then:

If you would keep healthy, follow this regimen: do not eat unless you feel inclined, and sup lightly: chew well, and let what you take be well cooked and simple. He who takes medicine does himself harm; do not give way to anger and avoid close air; hold yourself upright when you rise from table and do not let yourself sleep at midday. Be temperate with wine, take a little frequently, but not at other than the proper meal-times, nor on an empty stomach; neither protract not delay the [visit to] the privy. When you take exercise let it be moderate. Do not remain with the belly recumbent and the head lowered, and see that you are well covered at night. Rest your head and keep your mind cheerful; shun wantonness, and pay attention to diet.” –– Codex Atlantico 78 v.b.

Leonardo would probably be great at Yoga if he were alive today.

Life without love, is no life at all.”

Leonardo never married or had any children and little is known about his personal life.

However when he was twenty-four years old, Leonardo was arrested on the charge of sodomy but the charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence. He never wrote anything about his personal life in his notebooks. However he did have a young student by the name of Salai who many believed was his male lover. Salai was not the best behaved of students and made off with money and valuables on many occasions.

Nevertheless Leonardo kept him in his household for 30 years. Another of Leonardo’s apprentices and friends was a man by the name of Melzi. Following Leonardo’s death, it was Melzi who inherited Leonardo’s manuscripts, and collections, as well as being responsible for administering his estate. Salai was to receive half of Leonardo’s vineyards.

Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward; for there you have been, there you long to return.”

As well as his art work, Leonardo is perhaps best known for the designs and inventions which were discovered in his notebooks many years after his death.

Leonardo had a strange way of writing his notes, apparently he could draw forward with one hand while writing backward with the other, and this produced a mirror-image script that others found difficult to read, unless they had a mirror.

Leonardo’s many inventions included scissors, a parachute, a form of machine gun and a diving suit. He also designed an armored car (basically a tank), a revolving crane, a pulley, a calculator, and a flying ship (helicopter) to name just a few.

Although many of his designs were not constructed or even feasible during his lifetime, his designs showed a remarkable insight and knowledge which was years ahead of his time.

Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

Leonardo often described himself as a ’man without letters’ which was in fact a bit of a myth. Perhaps what he meant with this statement is that he preferred to observe in real life rather than to learn from a book. He took nothing as read, until he had seen it or touched it or felt it himself.  He was a man who concerned himself with evidence which was tangible rather than abstract concepts.

Leonardo actually owned many volumes of books and had a vast library which, contrary to popular belief, was not just filled to the brim with scientific books but also with works of fiction.

While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.”

From the period September 1513 to 1516 Leonardo lived in the Belvedere in the Vatican in Rome until Francis I of France captured Milan. Leonardo was subsequently commissioned to make Francis a mechanical lion that was to open its chest to reveal a cluster of lilies.

In 1516, he was given the use of the manor house Clos Luce near the King’s residence at the royal Château D’ Amboise where he spent the last three years of his life, accompanied by his friend Melzi.

Leonardo died on May 2, 1519.

Legend has it that the king held Leonardo’s head in his arms as he died.

Source: Wikipedia.org

Cover photo: https://www.tumblr.com/

About the author

Eleanor Goold

As well as being an avid reader, Eleanor is also a big time animal lover; especially of dogs. If you have a tail, four legs and you bark…. you’re in! In her spare time she enjoys swimming, and vegetable gardening… but not at the same time (it can get a bit messy).

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