The great Leonardo da Vinci; if you know anything about art then this is a name you have probably heard quite often. Recognized as one of the integral pillars of the Italian Renaissance, but who was the man behind the memorable name? What is Leonardo da Vinci famous for? There are so many questions, and we have the answers! In this article, we will be exploring who this remarkable artist was. If you want to find out more about the man behind the Mona Lisa, keep reading, we have some cool Leonardo da Vinci facts to share!
Table of Contents
- 1 20 Fascinating Leonardo da Vinci Facts
- 1.1 Da Vinci Was Not His Surname
- 1.2 He Barely Painted
- 1.3 Da Vinci Began His Artistic Training at 14
- 1.4 He Had No Formal Education
- 1.5 He Was Ambidextrous
- 1.6 War Ruined Da Vinci’s Greatest Artwork
- 1.7 He Was an Accomplished Musician
- 1.8 Da Vinci Was Born out of Wedlock
- 1.9 The Human Body Fascinated Him
- 1.10 He Worked as an Engineer and Military Architect
- 1.11 Bill Gates Is the Proud Owner of Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebook
- 1.12 Da Vinci Argued Against the Biblical Timetable
- 1.13 It Was a Miracle That Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper Survived
- 1.14 Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa Was Never Finished
- 1.15 Birds and Bats Inspired His Designs of a Flying Machine
- 1.16 He Left Behind a Single Self-Portrait
- 1.17 Da Vinci Never Married
- 1.18 He Was Incredibly Innovative
- 1.19 Leonardo da Vinci Figured Out What Makes the Sky Blue
- 1.20 He Left Italy for France and Never Looked Back
- 2 Frequently Asked Questions
20 Fascinating Leonardo da Vinci Facts
We know it is important to cover the basics when it comes to breaking down an artist’s career, tackling questions such as “When was Leonardo da Vinci born?” or simply “Who was Leonardo da Vinci?” These questions are all important! But da Vinci lived a life littered with accomplishments, not only was he an incredible artist, but he was also a mathematician, engineer, musician, and scientist!
So, to do his life justice, we have put together a list of fascinating Leonardo da Vinci facts that will satisfy your curiosity regarding the famed artist!
Da Vinci Was Not His Surname
Who was Leonardo da Vinci? Technically, his name indicates that he was Leonardo of Vinci since Da Vinci actually means “of Vinci”. Where was Leonardo da Vinci born? As his name suggests, he was from Vinci, a Tuscan village close to Florence in Italy. According to the modern way we think of surnames today, Leonardo did not have a surname.
Map of the municipality (comune) of Vinci (province of Florence, region Tuscany, Italy); Vonvikken, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
During his lifetime the hereditary surname was more popular amongst the upper class, and it only became common practice around the mid-16th century. Technically it does not make much sense to simply refer to him as da Vinci, which is why many academic books and museums refer to him as Leonardo. That being said, Leonardo is often referred to as da Vinci, so it seems to come down to personal preference.
He Barely Painted
This may be surprising, but he did not actually paint that much. Even though he is notably one of the greatest artists of all time, the amount of artwork he created is relatively small. There are only around 17 artworks that can be attributed to him that have survived over the centuries. This was in part because of his busy mind.
Da Vinci was a polymath, which meant he had vast knowledge and he was incredibly multi-faceted.
He kept himself occupied with engineering matters and his own scientific research, which meant there were long periods where he was not able to accept painting commissions or commit to his art. This speaks to his sheer talent and influence as an artist, even with such a limited number of artworks he shaped artists that followed and impacted generations to come.
It is important to note that some Leonardo da Vinci artworks did not survive. Several of his famous artworks such as Leda and the Swan (c. 1503 – 1510) and The Battle of Anghiari (1505) are only known because of his preparatory sketches or from the copies other painters made of them, as they were either lost, deteriorated, or destroyed.
A sketch of Leda and the Swan by Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1504-1506; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Da Vinci Began His Artistic Training at 14
Leonardo da Vinci became an apprentice at the age of 14, which was typical for the time. Due to the reputation of his father, he started as an apprentice to the admired artist Andrea del Verrocchio. This was where he first learned the basics of drawing, sculpture, painting, technical arts, and engineering.
Not only this, but also metalworking, metallurgy, chemistry, drafting, and chemistry.
During this time, he also followed the work of Antonio del Pollauiolo, attending his workshops which were just next door to Verrocchio. At the age of 20, da Vinci was accepted into the Florence painter’s guild, but he continued learning under Verrocchio for the next five years before he branched out on his own.
He Had No Formal Education
This may be quite surprising, given Leonardo da Vinci’s mastery of so many subjects, but he did not actually receive much of a formal education. He did learn the basics of arithmetic, reading, and writing, but his deep learning only came later in his life. For example, Latin was the language used for academics during this time and da Vinci mostly taught it to himself. Also with advanced mathematics, he began his devotion to the subject when he was in his 30s.
He Was Ambidextrous
Leonardo da Vinci was able to draw forwards and backward with both of his hands at the same time. In fact, he wrote most of his learnings from right to left, which produced a mirror script that was not the easiest to read.
An example of Leonardo da Vinci’s mirror writing as seen on his Vitruvian Man (c. 1492); Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
It is speculated that his backward-writing was part of his efforts to encode his texts and ideas to prevent them from being stolen. Another theory is that since he wrote with his left hand, he reversed his writing in an attempt to avoid smearing the charcoal, chalk, or wet ink that he was using.
War Ruined Da Vinci’s Greatest Artwork
Almost everyone will be familiar with the iconic Leonardo da Vinci artworks such as The Last Supper (c. 1495 – 1498) and Mona Lisa (c. 1503 – 1506), but arguably his greatest artwork was destroyed by war. Da Vinci was supposedly lured to Milan in 1482 to complete a commission of an extensive equestrian statue in honor of Francesco Sforza.
On completion, the statue would have been significantly greater in size in comparison to the two existing equestrian statues of the Renaissance period that were made by Verrocchio, da Vinci’s mentor, and Donatello.
The statue was commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Sforza’s son, and it would have towered at over 16 feet tall! Leonardo da Vinci spent 17 years laboring over the project, which was referred to as Gran Cavallo, meaning “Great Horse”. To spend this much time on a single project was not out of the ordinary for da Vinci, given his tendency to go back and forth between various pursuits.
A modern version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Gran Cavallo, unveiled on September 10, 1999 at the Hippodrome de San Siro in Milan; Revol Web from Bologna, Italia, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Around 1493, da Vinci had planned to cast the clay model in bronze, but he eventually had to give up because the metal that was meant to be used for the sculpture had been designated for the cannons. This was due to the impending French invasion. As predicted, the French troops seized the city, and the Duke of Milan was overthrown.
With that, the clay model that would have become one of the greatest monuments of the Renaissance was destroyed.
He Was an Accomplished Musician
Da Vinci’s artistic genius stretched to music too. He played the flute and the lyre, in addition to singing when he frequented his patrons’ palaces and gatherings of the nobility. Some of the manuscripts that have survived the centuries hold his musical compositions as well. He routinely listened to music when he was painting. He documented how closely related he considered music and the visual arts to be, as they both depended on the input of the five senses, except the music was less enduring given that the sound would instantly fade away.
Portrait of a Musician (c. 1483-1487) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Da Vinci Was Born out of Wedlock
When was Leonardo da Vinci born? He was born in the year 1452, on the 15th of April. He was born out of wedlock to a peasant woman called Caterina di Meo Lippi and a respected lawyer called Ser Piero da Vinci. When he was born, until about age five, he lived with his mother, Caterina, in the town of Anchiano, Italy. Then he moved in with his father and they lived in the town of Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci was acknowledged as his father’s legitimate child, growing up on his family’s estate. He ended up having 12 half-siblings, but because of their drastic age differences, he had very little contact with them.
The Human Body Fascinated Him
Leonardo da Vinci’s vast range of interests and appetite for knowledge included the human body. He was not content with studying what was available, so he performed human dissections at hospitals in Rome, Florence, and Milan on as many as 30 cadavers. Human anatomy became a real passion of his, so much so that he treated it as its own area of study that was completely independent of the artistic work he did.
His interests inspired him to not only study the structure of anatomy but to carry out physiological research.
Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings that illustrate the body’s core as the heart, lungs, and brain and depict how they function are recognized as significant scientific achievements. Notably, they helped establish the groundwork for modern scientific illustrations.
The Vitruvian Man (c. 1492) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
He Worked as an Engineer and Military Architect
The son of Pope Alexander VI, Cesare Borgia, was the papal army’s commander in chief who was notorious for his ruthless methods to maintain control and his efforts to dominate various Italian states. Borgia’s unrelenting hunt for power was a major source of inspiration for Niccolò Machiavelli’s political treatise, The Prince, written in the 16th century.
Cesare Borgia arranged for Leonardo to become a general engineer and senior military architect.
This lasted for about 10 months. With these titles, Leonardo traveled to and surveyed various territories in Borgia. During this time, he produced many topographic maps and city plans, which would later significantly impact modern cartography.
A map by Leonardo da Vinci of the Arno west of Florence, 1504; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Bill Gates Is the Proud Owner of Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebook
What is Leonardo da Vinci famous for? Well, with his inquiring mind, da Vinci made several considerable contributions to the world of art, science, mathematics, and on top of that, he was a prolific writer. Many of his notebooks are housed by distinguished institutions such as the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Library, but a genius of a different generation was able to snag one of the esteemed notebooks.
Bill Gates purchased da Vinci’s notebook in 1994.
The co-founder of Microsoft paid 30 million dollars for Leonardo’s Codex Hammer, also referred to as Codex Leicester, which was written somewhere between 1506 and 1510. This is the only copy that exists outside of Europe. The notebook is 72 pages long and it contains Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific musings, where he touches on everything from understanding the motion of water to the moon’s luminosity and the origin of fossils.
Pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester, 1510; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Da Vinci Argued Against the Biblical Timetable
According to da Vinci, the Biblical timeline could not account for the geological formations found on the earth’s surface that are caused by the motion of rivers and sea levels. On the contrary, according to his observations, he proposed that the age of the Earth was significantly greater than the Bible implied when taking the features of mountains and the movement of water into consideration. The existence of sea fossils on mountainsides was attributed to the receding sea levels as opposed to the Bible’s description of a great flood.
It Was a Miracle That Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper Survived
After the Mona Lisa (c. 1503 – 1506), The Last Supper (c. 1495 – 1498) might be Leonardo’s best-known artwork. The beauty of the mural painting was recognized at the time of its debut, with its fascinating composition. The fact that it remains intact at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, is somewhat of a miracle.
The Last Supper (1495-1498) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In 1499, the French invaded Milan and it was suggested that King Louis XII cut down the painting to take with to France, but thankfully this plan was never accomplished. Later in 1796, French soldiers hurled rocks at the painting, putting it under duress. Then in 1943, the caretakers of the church had to reinforce the wall that had the mural in an attempt to keep it safe from the bombing of the Allied forces.
Although the church faced serious damage, miraculously, “The Last Supper” was unharmed.
Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa Was Never Finished
With da Vinci’s countless pursuits, he was never in any rush to finish particular projects. Many of his works and paintings were abandoned and considered incomplete. Surprisingly this included his most famous painting, The Mona Lisa (c. 1503 – 1506), which remains the world’s most famous painting.
When he passed away in 1519, many of his works were given to his close friend and assistant, Salaì, and this included the Mona Lisa (c. 1503 – 1506). Art historians theorized that Leonardo suffered from a debilitating illness that could have paralyzed the right side of his face, which would have hindered his work in the later years of his life.
Portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo (between 1503 and 1506) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Birds and Bats Inspired His Designs of a Flying Machine
Leonardo da Vinci’s remarkable achievements as an engineer, scientist, and inventor have left a lasting legacy. According to da Vinci, art and science are deeply connected. His ability to use science to view the world in a naturalistic way, whilst maintaining his artistic eye, encouraged him to be more expansive with his approach to his observations and manner of thinking.
The combination of his imagination and intellect is what made his ideas possible, such as his designs of a flying machine that were based on his observations of the flying capability and physiology of birds and bats!
One of Leonardo da Vinci’s designs for a flying machine, c. 1488; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Although the machine was never built, even if it had been it is unlikely that it would have been able to fly, as da Vinci never designed an engine for it. But still, the world had to wait another 400 years for a machine that could fly!
In addition to a flying machine, Leonardo da Vinci designed one of the first parachutes that would have allowed someone to jump from any height and land without injury. It was nearly 300 years later that someone finally built a practical parachute. Amazingly, in the year 2000, da Vinci’s design was finally tested and it worked!
Although no evidence indicates any of his ideas or contraptions were built during his lifetime, his sketches demonstrate that many of his ideas were revolutionary.
He Left Behind a Single Self-Portrait
Countless of Leonardo da Vinci’s counterparts and other notable artists left behind many self-portraits, but he completed only one. Leonardo da Vinci artworks only include a single self-portrait, in which he is depicted at age 60, titled Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk (c. 1512). The painting now sits in the Royal Library in Turin, Italy.
The image has become quite an iconic representation of Leonardo– an integral pillar of the Italian Renaissance.
Leonardo da Vinci’s presumed self-portrait, c. 1512; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Da Vinci Never Married
Was Leonardo da Vinci married? The Renaissance man did not marry, although he did develop close relationships with other intellectuals and artists, including his various assistants. However, it is presumed that he died on his own. He did develop a special relationship with his assistant Francesco Melzi, who was described as his pupil and life companion.
Melzi went on to inherit Leonardo’s manuscripts, scientific and artistic works and became the executor of Leonardo’s estate.
He Was Incredibly Innovative
Leonardo da Vinci was a highly respected Renaissance man. He is credited for several discoveries and inventions in the field of science, many of his ideas and designs were far ahead of his time. In the field of art, Leonardo da Vinci artworks are some of the greatest works of art to this day, and he is considered as one of the greatest artists of all time. In the field of anatomy, his depictions of the human body were by far the most detailed to come out of the 20th century.
The superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck (c. 1510-1511) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Even his lesser-known innovative accomplishments still went on to become considerable contributions, later being put to general use. Thanks to his invention plans, we now have single-span bridges, a pulley, a crane, a pile driver, a life preserver, an underwater breathing apparatus, a diving bell, the armored car, water-powered engines and mills, and a process to concentrate solar power.
Leonardo da Vinci Figured Out What Makes the Sky Blue
Leonardo da Vinci’s keen interest in painting naturally made him inquire about the properties of illumination and light. With his eagerness to learn, he tasked his scientific mind with examining their properties to fully grasp their inner workings. This led him to accurately postulate the reasoning behind the sky’s blue hue. Another example of how he was far ahead of his time, surpassing his peers!
He wrote in one of the many notebooks he kept over his lifetime that the sky’s perceived blue color is from the way the sun illuminates tiny particles of moisture that are in the atmosphere.
He Left Italy for France and Never Looked Back
Due to the political upheaval in Milan, Leonardo da Vinci was forced to leave at the age of 60. The brother of the Pope, Giuliano de’Medici, hosted the artist in Rome where he hoped to find work. He received a stipend and was left to his own devices, while his peers which included artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael were completing commissions for the Pope. Da Vinci grew tired of his situation, but after five years he received an offer to work for the King of France, which he eagerly accepted. This meant that Leonardo da Vinci would relocate to France.
He left Italy in 1516 when he was 65 years old and never looked back.
Le château du Clos Luc in Amboise, the last home of Leonardo de Vinci; Thesupermat, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Although he did not spend a great deal of time on artistic pursuits, he continued working on scientific projects. When did da Vinci die? Sadly, his death followed shortly after his move, dying only a few years after moving to France in 1519. He passed away at his residence, the Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise, France. But how did Leonardo da Vinci die? Although not much is known about Leonardo’s death, he is presumed to have died of a probable stroke.
The Château d’Amboise’s Collegiate Church of Saint Florentin is where he was buried. Unfortunately, the current location of Leonardo’s remains is unclear given that the church was destroyed during the French Revolution, which led to its destruction in 1802.
Considering his countless achievements in various fields, from art and design to science, engineering, geology, mathematics, cartography, and his scientific research, to name a few– there are so many fascinating Leonardo da Vinci facts worth mentioning! Our list of Leonardo da Vinci facts gives you an idea of the scope of his brilliant mind, but it is certainly not exhaustive of his endless accomplishments! If you are not quite satisfied, there are more articles on our website that explore Leonardo da Vinci’s artworks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Was Leonardo da Vinci?
When was Leonardo da Vinci born? He was born in the year 1452, on the 15th of April. He was born out of wedlock to a peasant woman called Caterina di Meo Lippi and a respected lawyer called Ser Piero da Vinci. Where was Leonardo da Vinci born? As his name suggests, he was from Vinci, a Tuscan village close to Florence in Italy. Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath, which meant that he had a vast scope of knowledge. As an artist, engineer, architect, and inventor he epitomized the title of Renaissance man. Throughout his life he presented countless theories and observations that were far ahead of his time, many of his contemporaries were unable to comprehend his genius. The combination of his imagination and intellect is what made his ideas possible. Although no evidence indicates any of his ideas or contraptions were built during his lifetime, his sketches demonstrate that many of his ideas were revolutionary.
How Did Leonardo da Vinci Die?
Very little is known about his death, but the probable cause of his death was likely a stroke. When did Da Vinci die? He died on the 2nd of May in 1519 at the age of 67. He died at his residence, the Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise, France. Was Leonardo da Vinci married? He never married, although he did develop close relationships with other intellectuals and artists, including his various assistants, it is presumed that he died on his own. He did develop a special relationship with his assistant Francesco Melzi, who was described as his pupil and life companion. Melzi went on to inherit the artist’s manuscripts, scientific and artistic works and became the executor of da Vinci’s estate after his death.
What Is Leonardo da Vinci Famous For?
Well, there is no simple way of answering this question given his endless lists of pursuits and achievements. Generally, Leonardo da Vinci is referred to as nothing short of a genius and the title fits when you consider all of his accomplishments! These include his contributions to art, design, geology, mathematics, engineering, cartography, and his scientific research. Leonardo da Vinci artworks are still recognized as some of the most famous art pieces to ever exist, his Mona Lisa (c. 1503 – 1506) is recognized as the most famous painting in the world, and his The Last Supper (c. 1495 – 1498) is listed amongst the top 10 most famous paintings in the world.