August 03, 2021 4 min read

Widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time, Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) was a sculptor, painter, geologist, botanist, architect, writer, among other things – an embodiment of the Renaissance man. From the Vitruvian Man to the Last Supper to Mona Lisa, many of Da Vinci’s artworks have become iconic, and his paintings are indelible in art history.

Leonardo Da Vinci is widely considered one of the strongest pillars of the Italian Renaissance Era. Together with Raphael and Michaelangelo, Da Vinci’s art career coincided with — and defined — this great period. So what fun facts do we know about this great artist? Where did his great skill and thirst for knowledge come from?

In this post, we take a look at 7 of the most interesting facts about Leonardo Da Vinci. Here are 7 surprising facts you (probably) didn’t know about him.

FACT #1: He Had No Real Last Name

In the contemporary sense of the word, Leonardo Da Vinci did not have a real surname. Though he is often referred to as ‘da Vinci’, his birth name was Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci,which translates to ‘Leonardo the son of ser Piero from Vinci’. Being a native of Vinci, ‘da Vinci’, meaning ‘of Vinci’, was frequently used to address him in public spaces. His contemporaries also identified him as “Il Florentine”, since he lived near present-day Florence.

Da Vinci’s lack of a real surname was down to the fact that hereditary surnames were not as popular until the mid-16th century (shortly after his death). And that’s why many museums and academic books and journals simply refer to him as Leonardo.

FACT #2: He was an illegitimate child

Da Vinci was born out of wedlock in a farmhouse just outside Anchiano, Tuscany on the 15th of April, 1452. He was the son of Ser Piero, a Florentine notary, and Caterina, an unmarried peasant. Although Ser Piero would go on to have 12 other children with other partners, Leonardo was the only child the pair would have together.

Although he was treated as San Piero’s son and grew up around Piero’s wealth, Leonardo’s illegitimacy meant that he could follow a different career path from his father. Given this freedom, he decided to pursue his interest in creative arts.

His illegitimacy meant he was not expected to follow his father’s profession and become a notary. Instead, he was free to pursue his own interests and go into the creative arts.

FACT #3: He Received Very Little Formal Education

Another interesting fact about Leonardo Da Vinci was that a lot of what he knew was self-taught. He did not receive formal education beyond basic mathematics, reading, and writing. For instance, Latin, which was the language of instruction at that time, was something he learned entirely by himself.  Advanced mathematics, which he was passionate about, was something he learned in his 30s when he began devoting his time to it.

His artistic talents were honed in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, a painter and sculptor in Florence. In Verrocchio’s workshop, he became exposed to a wide range of skills including carpentry, drawing, and metalwork.

FACT #4: His First Commissions Were Never Completed

At 26, Da Vinci received his first commission as an independent artist. It was a commission to paint an altarpiece for St. Bernard’s Chapel in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. At 29, he received another commission to paint ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ for the San Donato monastery in Florence.

Unfortunately, he was forced to abandon both projects as he relocated to Milan to work for the Sforza family. While working for the Sforza family, Leonardo painted ‘The Last Supper’ in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie Monastery.

FACT #5: He was an accomplished musician

This is a predictable fact when you consider the fact that Leonardo Da Vinci was an excellent polymath. Leonardo was hugely talented and had a gift for music and, according to his own writings, he believed that music was closely related to visual arts as both are similarly dependent on one of the 5 senses. His Atlanticus Codex notes contain designs of a harpsichord-viola.

Da Vinci was also skilled with the instruments. He played the lyre and the flute with great skill, often performing at gatherings of the nobles and at his patrons’ houses. A contemporary of Leonardo’s, Georgio Vasari, once opined that “he sang divinely without any preparation.”

FACT #6: He was a chronic procrastinator

Leonardo Da Vinci’s greatness has helped to sweep his chronic procrastination under the carpet. He was not a prolific painter, and this was largely due to his failure to complete his commissions and projects because of his diverse interests. He would often delay his paintings, instead choosing to focus on nature, scientific experiments, theories, observations, and human and animal anatomy.

According to multiple academic books, it is thought that a stroke paralyzed Leonardo’s right hand, effectively truncating his painting career and leaving paintings such as Mona Lisaunfinished. As a result of this, only 15 paintings are attributed in whole or in large part to him.

FACT #7: He Was Charged With Sodomy

This may come as a bit of surprise, but Leonardo and three other young men faces charges for the crime of sodomy in a then-infamous incident involving a famous male prostitute. If convicted, the charges would have led to his execution. That was not to be, as the charges were dismissed for lack of concrete evidence. Afterwards, Leonardo Da Vinci reclined towards a more private life, reemerging only to take on a project at a chapel near Florence.

BONUS FACT #8: His Biggest Project Was Destroyed

The biggest project of Da Vinci’s painting career was supposed to be a statue of Francesco Sforza, the father of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro. It was called Gran Cavallo, and was commissioned in 1482. The proposed statue would have stood at 25 feet tall, making it the largest equestrian statue in the world.

However, it was not to be, as French forces invaded Milan in 1499 and — 17 years after Da Vinci began his planning for the statue.

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