10 facts you (may) not know about Leonardo

Some interesting facts about the Genius of Vinci

engraving with annotation of the words of Leonardo da Vinci's grandfather, Ser Antonio da Vinci, relating to the birth and baptism of his nephew LeonardoMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is undoubtedly one of the best-known historical figures of all time. 500 years after his death, his artistic works have become true icons, his brilliant insights never cease to fascinate, and his biographical story itself has fueled a huge production of novels, movies and TV series. But are you sure that you know everything - but really everything - about the great Leonardo? Here are some interesting facts about the Genius of Vinci that you may have missed!

Leonardo's birth house Leonardo's birth houseMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

1) Illegitimate son in his father's house.

Leonardo was born in Vinci, April 15, 1452, the son of the notary Ser Piero da Vinci and a young woman named Caterina, who shortly after Leonardo's birth went to marry a guy named "Accattabriga". Ser Piero, on the other hand, married his betrothed, Albiera Amadori, and devoted himself to his career as a notary in the bustling city of Florence.

Leonardo's birth house Leonardo's birth house - View from outsideMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

Leonardo spent his childhood in his father's home, in the care of his grandparents Antonio and Lucia and his young uncle Francesco.

View from Leonardo's birth houseMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci, Royal Library Windsor, f. 12660 vMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

2) He was left-handed, but also used his right hand

Many have wondered about Leonardo's unusual handwriting: a difficult-to-read graphic sign traced from right to left by reversing the letters, which becomes comprehensible only when reflected in a mirror. For a long time it was thought that Leonardo wrote this way to hide his plans and thoughts. In reality, Leonardo was left-handed and backwards writing was a natural inclination for him (and it is the same for every left-handed person, try it to believe!). Moreover, by writing from right to left, he did not run the risk of covering or erasing with his hand the letters he had just traced with his nib.

Leonardo da Vinci, Codice sul volo degli uccelli, f.8 rMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

Studying the thousands of pages written by him and looking in detail at his paintings and drawings, it is clear that Leonardo could, however, also write with his right hand. For example, on his earliest known drawing, Landscape 8 P in the Uffizi Galleries, we find a reverse writing on the front and a writing instead traced from left to right on the verso.

Da Vinci's ManMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

3) He was not exactly "Omo sanza lettere"

It is well known, Leonardo, perhaps precisely because he was an illegitimate son, did not follow a complete course of study. He did, however, attend the school of abacus, where calculus, arithmetic and mathematics were learned, and, as Giorgio Vasari writes in his Lives of the Artists, "in erudition and principles of literatures he would have made great profit, if he were not so odd and unstable. Hence he set himself to learn many things, and, having begun them, then he abandoned them". A challenging pupil then for any master!

Leonardian Library Leonardian LibraryMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

Leonardo himself, in f. 327 v of the Codex Atlanticus, describes himself as an "omo sanza lettere," aware that he did not master Greek and Latin, languages fundamental to studies at the time. However, he never let this limitation of his restrain his curiosity and his desire to learn: indeed, in his manuscripts we find some lists of books from his 'library' and it is surprising to find numerous classical texts, from Aristotle to Archimedes to medieval authors such as Dante Alighieri and Ristoro d'Arezzo.

Leonardo da Vinci, Codice Atlantico, f. 166 rMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

Not only that, in addition to reading these texts, he commented on their contents and, in some cases, found in them theories to be subjected to the inescapable test of experience.

Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, VinciMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

4) He suffered an infamous accusation

During his youth and formative years spent in Florence, Leonardo was faced with an accusation that was truly infamous for the time and, if confirmed, of potentially lethal consequences. In 1476 in an anonymous complaint he was listed as one of the acquaintances of a boy engaged in male prostitution. Although homosexual relations were more or less tolerated in Florence at the time, the charge of sodomy was defamatory and could in extreme cases lead to the death penalty. Perhaps due in part to his father's important connections at the Palazzo del Podestà, Leonardo never faced a trial as a result of that accusation. However, the episode certainly fueled the theory that Leonardo was homosexual.

5) Perhaps he was a vegetarian, however, he bought meat

In the more than 6,000 pages that make up the corpus of Leonardo's manuscripts that have come down to us, we find very little information that can help us learn more about the daily life and habits of the artist-scientist.

Leonardo's birth house - Hall of the fireplace Leonardo's birth house - Hall of the fireplaceMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

Leonardo, however, was a tireless writer and, in his notebooks, he jotted down everything--sometimes even commonplace shopping lists, such as the one we find on f. 148 r of the Arundel Codex where among the foodstuffs is meat. A fact that seems to contradict one of the most widespread clichés, namely that Leonardo was a vegetarian.

Leonardo's birth house Leonardo's birth house - View from outsideMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

6) He had a special uncle

Born only 16 years apart, Leonardo and Francesco, his father Ser Piero's younger brother, had to share a lot during their years together in Vinci. Leonardo does not tell much about himself and his family, but it is not hard to imagine that it was his young uncle who accompanied him in his childhood discoveries and, perhaps, supported him in his early studies.

Place where was located the mill called "Mulino della Doccia" in VinciMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

What is certain is that, thanks to his uncle's intercession, in 1478, Leonardo was included among the possible heirs to the lease of the town's mill in Vinci.

Montalbano MontalbanoMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

Then in 1504, a month after the death of his brother Ser Piero, Francesco made a will deciding to leave all his possessions in Vinci precisely to his beloved nephew Leonardo, who had recently returned to Florence after his long period in Milan.

To obtain that inheritance Leonardo waged a full-fledged legal battle with his half-brothers, who tried to challenge his uncle's legacy.

The bicycleMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

7) He had nothing to do with the invention of the bicycle and the car

Among the inventions most commonly attributed to Leonardo are the bicycle and the car. But these are two more or less historicized mistakes. In fact, the only drawing depicting a bicycle appears only in a sheet of the Codex Atlanticus discovered in 1965 during restoration work, and the design, in addition to not being able to be functional, does not appear to be of Leonardo's hand.

The bicycle and the self-moving carriageMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

The self-propelled chariot, on the other hand, is indeed from a design by Leonardo, but it was not intended as a modern automobile, but rather as a stage machine capable of moving on its own for short distances. Enough to fascinate the audience at the Milanese court of Ludovico The Moor!

Textile machinery sectionMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

8) He designed highly modern solutions to automate weaving

Among Leonardo's most innovative and fascinating projects, though unknown to most, are those dedicated to automating the process of weaving.

Four spindle spinning machineMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

From spinning to topping, weaving to gauzing, Leonardo carefully studied each of the complicated steps of textile manufacturing, an extremely profitable industry at the time.

Automatic weaving roomMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

His intent was to make processing less tiring for humans while at the same time implementing production.

9) He first sensed the true nature of fossils

The geological landscape of Tuscany, which Leonardo had known since his childhood spent in Vinci, was in his mature years the subject of acute observations collected in the Codex Leicester. Through real stratigraphic investigations Leonardo, for the first time, understood the real origin of fossils and tried to explain their presence in places far from the sea, on hills and mountaintops. By distancing himself from the dominant theory of the Universal Flood, he was able to grasp that the Earth's body, just like man's, is subject to continuous transformation.

RefractionMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

10) Moon's ashen light

Not everyone knows that Leonardo also tackled during his lifetime the study of optics and phenomena such as reflection and refraction.

​The intensity and size of shadowsMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

By observing such behaviors of light and shadows, the scientist came to intuit the nature of the so-called "ashen light" of the Moon.

Simple and composite shadowsMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

This is what we now know to be the light of the Sun reflected from our planet on the shadowed surface of the Moon during the first and last phases.

Multiple reflectionsMuseo Leonardiano di Vinci

An exceptional discovery for a time when it was still believed that the Earth was at the center of the Universe.

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