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19 Interesting Facts about Leonardo da Vinci You Might Not Know

Even today, Leonardo da Vinci, the iconic Italian polymath of the Renaissance era, is widely regarded as an unparalleled genius. His name is most commonly associated with masterworks like the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, considered priceless art achievements. 

But da Vinci’s multifaceted talents spanned numerous disciplines, leaving an indelible mark on history. Perhaps even more remarkably, he achieved greatness despite a less-than-ideal start to life. 

As we delve into the life of this enigma, we can discover a collection of intriguing facts that shed light on his brilliance and insatiable curiosity. Here are some interesting facts about Leonardo da Vinci.

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Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Interesting Facts About Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo’s love for the world went hand in hand with his artistry and relentless pursuit of knowledge. These aspects of his life shed light on that world.

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Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia

1. Leonardo Da Vinci Was An Illegitimate Child

On April 15, 1452, Leonardo, the son of a wealthy Florentine notary named Ser Piero and a young peasant woman named Caterina, entered the world. He was born in a humble farmhouse near the village of Anchinao in Tuscany — a rather unremarkable birthplace considering Da Vinci’s eventual success.

Leonardo’s mother eventually married an artisan, and he was raised as Ser Piero’s legitimate son on the family estate. Leonardo’s childhood was unique, as he had 12 half-siblings from his father’s other relationships. He had limited interaction with them due to their significant age difference. 

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Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia

2. The Name Leonardo da Vinci Is Partly Inaccurate

Leonardo’s last name, da Vinci, is iconic but not quite accurate. The truth is that Leonardo did not possess a conventional last name as we understand it today. Instead, “da Vinci” translates to “of Vinci,” denoting his connection to his birthplace, not far from Anchiano. 

This naming convention was prevalent during his era. Although hereditary surnames gained popularity among the upper class during Leonardo’s lifetime, it wasn’t until the mid-16th century that they became commonplace. 

Consequently, most museums and scholarly publications refer to him as Leonardo. Though born as Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci, his contemporaries knew him by Leonardo or “Il Florentine,” owing to his proximity to Florence.

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Public Domain via Wikimedia

3. Leonardo Lacked Formal Education

It’s hard to believe, but Leonardo, renowned for his groundbreaking inventions and revolutionary ideas, never attended school. Instead, the young Leonardo received reading, writing, and basic math instruction while enjoying the freedom to explore the picturesque Tuscan countryside.

It was during these outdoor escapades that Leonardo’s curiosity ignited, particularly in his observations of the natural world. His meticulous journals reveal a keen interest in the properties of water and the hunting techniques of birds of prey.

His exceptional artistic talent was also apparent from a young age. Leonardo commenced an apprenticeship at age 14 under the esteemed sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio of Florence.

You might enjoy reading our article on Interesting Facts about Michelangelo.

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Image by Vicki Hamilton from Pixabay

4. Leonardo’s True Genius Emerged in Later Life

Leonardo’s brilliance emerged despite his limited formal education. While he acquired the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy, his true depth of knowledge unfolded later in life. 

He embarked on self-teaching ventures, such as mastering Latin, the scholarly language of the time. It wasn’t until his thirties that he became interested in advanced mathematics, a subject he passionately embraced.

5. Leonardo Dissected Bodies to Uncover The Human Body’s Secrets

Leonardo held a unique fascination with unraveling the mysteries of the human body. It’s unsurprising to learn that he was reported to routinely dissect corpses and animal carcasses for study.

His unparalleled expertise in anatomy, illustrated through his meticulous drawings, showcased his deep understanding of our intricate systems. Delving into the realms of dissection, Leonardo explored the inner workings of both animals and humans.

During the 1480s, Leonardo produced a collection of anatomical drawings that astounded the world. These illustrations depicted ligaments, muscles, and vascular systems in unprecedented detail and accuracy. Notably, many of these drawings marked the first of their kind to be widely published. 

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Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

6. Was Leonardo a Passionate Vegetarian?

It’s unclear whether this is connected to the above fact, but Leonardo questioned the ethics of consuming animals, expressing his thoughts in his writings. 

Leonardo has long been associated with a deep love for animals and nature. Multiple historical sources, including his notebooks and the writings of his contemporaries, provide evidence of his strong affinity for wildlife. 

According to Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari, the young artist would purchase caged birds to set them free, demonstrating his commitment to animal welfare.

Considering all this information collectively, it becomes increasingly apparent that Leonardo da Vinci may have been a vegetarian. His passion for animals, his moral stance on animal rights and animal consumption, and his actions to protect and liberate them indicate a deep empathy for the well-being of living creatures. 

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Image: http://art-leonardo.ru via Wikimedia

7. Leonardo Displayed Mirror Writing

Leonardo had a fascinating quirk when it came to writing. Being a left-hander, he filled his notebooks with mirror writing, a curious technique where the text appeared as a mirror image of normal writing. This unusual style allowed him to write from right to left, which some speculate was quicker for him.

One theory suggests that it not only enabled faster writing but also served as a clever way to conceal the content of his notes. To add another layer of complexity, he incorporated various symbols within his writing, further obscuring the meaning at first glance.

8. Leonardo Suffered a Stroke That Partly Paralyzed Him

Another event complicated things for da Vinci: Unfortunately, Leonardo’s later artistic career was cut short by a stroke that paralyzed his right hand. This setback (thought to happen sometime between 1515 and 1517) prevented him from completing iconic works like the enigmatic Mona Lisa. 

As a result, only 15 paintings can definitively be attributed to him, either in their entirety or in significant parts. Leonardo’s mirror writing remains a testament to his unique and innovative mind.

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Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

9. Only Limited Artistic Output Attributed to da Vinci Remains

It might seem bizarre to note that Leonardo da Vinci, hailed as one of history’s greatest artists, left behind a relatively small body of work. Only 15-17 surviving pieces can be confidently attributed to him, a testament to his selective output.

This scarcity was partly due to the busy nature of his mind. Engrossed in scientific research and engineering pursuits, Leonardo frequently went through extended periods without accepting commissions or producing much artwork.

Several renowned creations, such as The Battle of Anghiari and Leda, are known solely through preliminary sketches or copies crafted by other painters after the originals were lost, destroyed, or deteriorated over time. 

Nevertheless, Leonardo’s unmatched reputation attests to the profound impact of his artistic prowess. Despite the scarcity of completed paintings, his influence resonates across his contemporaries and future generations of artists, an enduring testament to his genius.

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Image by Dorothe from Pixabay

10. Leonardo Abandoned His Works and Moved to Milan

In 1478, Leonardo received his first independent assignment, painting an altarpiece for the Chapel of St. Bernard in Florence’s prestigious Palazzo Vecchio. The opportunity showcased his emerging talent and marked his entry into the art scene.

However, fate intervened as Leonardo’s creative path took an unexpected turn. In 1481, he was commissioned to create ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ for the esteemed San Donato monastery. 

Regrettably, both projects were left unfinished when an enticing opportunity arose. Leonardo relocated to Milan, responding to an invitation from the influential Sforza family.

Under the patronage of the Sforzas, Leonardo thrived creatively and produced his masterpiece, ‘The Last Supper.’ This captivating mural adorned the refectory of the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, showcasing his unrivaled skill in capturing human emotions. 

Milan became his home for the next 17 years until political circumstances compelled his departure following Duke Ludovico Sforza’s fall from power in 1499.

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Image by Livioandronico2013 via Wikimedia

11. Leonardo Had Surprising Musical Talent

Less known about Leonardo is that he was a somewhat accomplished and keen musician. His musical prowess came as no surprise at the time, considering his remarkable achievements in various fields. It was evident that Leonardo possessed a natural gift for music.

Testimonies from Leonardo’s contemporaries further confirmed his musical brilliance. Georgio Vasari, an observer of Leonardo’s artistry, attested that the genius painter possessed an angelic voice that effortlessly captivated listeners. Astonishingly, Leonardo’s vocal talents seemed to flow effortlessly, even without any prior preparation.

12. Several Da Vinci Compositions Still Exist in Writing

Leonardo’s surviving works and notes include a collection of his compositions. Each piece offers a glimpse into the creative mind of the musical genius, capturing the essence of his era. Beyond his celebrated works as a painter, scientist, and inventor, Leonardo’s musical abilities added yet another layer to his extraordinary legacy.

In his writings, Leonardo also expressed his belief that music shared a close bond with the visual arts, as both relied on the stimulation of one of the five senses. He recognized the interplay between the auditory and visual realms, finding harmony in their interconnectedness.

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Image: Web Gallery of Art: via Wikimedia

13. He Was a Chronic Procrastinator With a Wealth of Interests

Leonardo had a penchant for procrastination. Rather than churning out many paintings, he was captivated by a vast array of interests, which hindered his ability to finish his artistic projects.

Lost in the allure of nature’s wonders, Leonardo spent hours exploring the great outdoors. Scientific experiments became his passion, and he eagerly dissected human and animal bodies to unravel their mysteries. 

While some may perceive his procrastination as a flaw, this very characteristic allowed him to make groundbreaking discoveries and leave an indelible mark on history.

Sforza-Sketch

Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York via Wikimedia

14. An Unfinished Da Vinci Masterpiece Was Ruined By War

Leonardo da Vinci had an unfinished masterpiece due to the impact of war. In 1482, he accepted a prestigious commission to create an enormous equestrian statue honoring Francesco Sforza. This colossal sculpture was set to stand over 16 feet tall.

Known as Gran Cavallo, the project consumed Leonardo’s efforts for an astounding 17 years. But in 1493, only a clay model of the statue was unveiled, as detailed plans for its bronze casting were underway. Tragically, the bronze to be used was diverted to forge cannons instead as the looming threat of a French invasion gripped the region.

The unfortunate events climaxed in 1499 when French troops invaded Milan, overthrowing the Duke and leaving the clay model in ruins.

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Image: The Yorck Project via Wikimedia

15. Leonardo Moved to France Out of Frustration

At 60, Leonardo da Vinci found himself seeking refuge in Rome. However, instead of finding meaningful work in the bustling city, Leonardo was left to his own devices, while fellow artists Raphael and Michelangelo enjoyed prestigious papal commissions.

Five years later, in 1516, Leonardo gladly accepted an offer from the King of France to work for him. Although painting took a backseat in France, Leonardo dedicated himself to his scientific endeavors.

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Image: Roland Arhelger via Wikimedia

16. Leonardo’s Death Was Somewhat Tragic

Leonardo passed away on May 2, 1519, at the age of 67, within the confines of Clos Lucé. It is believed that his demise was a result of a stroke.  

In his final moments, Leonardo expressed regret and remorse, acknowledging that he had not fully dedicated himself to his artistic pursuits, a failure he believed to have disappointed both God and his fellow men.

17. Leonardo’s Final Resting Place is Unclear

Just a few years after he arrived in France, Leonardo passed away. His final resting place was meant to be the Collegiate Church of Saint Florentin, located within the Château d’Amboise. 

Tragically, the church suffered damage during the French Revolution and was demolished in 1802. This has made it challenging for historians to pinpoint the exact location of Leonardo’s remains.

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Image: Kjetil Ree via Wikimedia

18. Bill Gates Now Owns Leonardo’s Notebook

Leonardo left behind numerous notebooks that hold his remarkable insights. Many of these are kept in safe institutions like the British Library and the Victoria & Albert Museum. 

But the notebook known as the Codex Hammer, or Codex Leicester, was acquired by Bill Gates in 1994. He reportedly paid a staggering $30.8 million for it. Leonardo penned this captivating work between 1506 and 1510.

19. Da Vinci’s Ideas Led to Several Modern Inventions 

Leonardo Da Vinci had lots of amazing ideas long before they became a reality. He outlined concepts for the first airplane, imagined a helicopter and a tank, and even came up with the notion of using sunlight to create power. 

He also had ideas for a calculator and a special kind of ship design called a double hull. Many of these only came to practical fruition centuries later.

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