Discover the ten Leonardo Da Vinci facts that every fan should know. Truths, marvels and curiosities that show another side to the great man . Find out about his love life, why he wrote in reverse, and why he called himself “a man without letters”.

leonardo da vinci facts

Da Vinci facts you didn’t know

1. WRITING IN REVERSE

Nobody knows exactly why Leonardo used his famous mirror writing technique, writing from the right side of the page to the left. Some scholars argue that he did so in the name of secrecy, making his notes difficult to decipher. Others think that he had some kind of writing difficulties and that this was the best way to overcome it. He was definitely left handed which might have had something to do with it, as this writing style prevented him from smudging the ink.

2. “A MAN WITHOUT LETTERS”

We don’t have no detailed accounts on his early education, of the years before he started his apprentice in Verrocchio’s workshop in Florence in 1468 though we know he was 16 at the time. Throughout his life, Leonardo often complained about being a “man without letters”, with a mixture of pride and scorn. It is sure that he didn’t receive a formal education, and learned many subjects including Latin when he was older, filling his notes with grammar exercises and showing off all the pride of the self-taught genius.

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Codex Leicester, Leonardo da Vinci

3. A WANDERING MIND 

Leonardo started thousands of projects during his lifetime, and left the majority of them unfinished. Many remained only on paper, some were disastrous failures. Like the horse statue for the Duke of Milan and the famous lost ‘Battle of Anghiari’ fresco. His mind was constantly wandering from one ingenious idea to the next. If you’ve ever had a chance to see his manuscripts, there’re a jumble of notes, drawing and designs in all directions.

⇒ Learn about the “Adoration of the Magi”, one of Leonardo’s paintings left unfinished.

leonardo facts

Leonardo, Studies for the Sforza horse

4. A MUSICAL EAR 

Amongst his myriad skills, Leonardo was a talented musician. Lorenzo de’ Medici sent him to Milan to bring the duke a present, a lyre that Leonardo himself had designed and built. Vasari writes in his “Vite” that Leonardo won a musical competition playing his silver lyre, created in the shape of a horse’s head. He also designed a mechanical drum and called music the “sister of painting”, because they both create harmonic composition, adding that painting is superior because it doesn’t die after the execution. Shame he didn’t invent a way to record it.

5. AN IMPRESSIVE CV 

When he wrote to the Duke of Milan Il Moro asking for a job, he listed 36 abilities, ranging from sculptor to architecture to military engineer and painter. A long and impressive covering letter that got him the job.

6. EASY ON THE EYES 

We usually picture mad geniuses as badly dressed and a bit rough around the edges, but this was not the case here. Leonardo is described as having been very good looking, tall with a good physique. He was thought to be vain and kept his hair and his beard long even in old age (the trend at the time was to have it all cut short). He was always elegantly dressed, choosing creative clothing in vibrant colours. Whereas his contemporaries used to wear dark and sombre clothing he preferred a youthful short tunic.

You can see him in his short tunic in the statue outside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

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The statue of Leonardo da Vinci at the Uffizi Gallery

7. HE DIDN’T PUBLISH A SINGLE PAGE 

Of the thousands and thousands of pages filled with annotations, drawings of flowers, plants animals and people, anatomical drawings, inventive architectural projects, ideas for machineries, instruments, paintings, flying apparatus, jokes, caricatures, shopping lists and multidisciplinary studies not a single one was published. When he died, he left them to his disciple and friend Francesco Melzi, but after his death many of them were lost to history.  Interestingly, Bill Gates today owns one, the Codex Hammer.

8. CHANGING THE COURSE OF THE RIVER ARNO

Water and hydraulic machines were one his greatest passions, but being Leonardo he didn’t limit himself to canals and fluvial navigation. He dreamed of deviating the Arno river so that it would be navigable from Florence to the sea, passing through strategic Florentine territory.

leonardo da vinci facts

Leonardo, “View of the Arno Valley” (1473)

9. LEONARDO THE ILLEGITIMATE

Leonardo was born out of wedlock and didn’t live with his mother, instead leaving her house wen he was a kid to live with his father, who was a wealthy notary and landowner. The relationship with his mother was poor, but he would go often to see his father’s family and his uncle in Vinci, and mourned his father deeply after his death.

Follow in Leonardo’s footsteps in Florence and Tuscany.

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10. LEONARDO AND HOMOSEXUALITY   

When he was 24, he was accused of sodomy, but because the accusation was anonymous nothing came of it. Some scholars studying Leonardo affirm that he was definitely homosexual, as he formed an attachment with two men during his life, Andrea Salaì and Francesco Melzi. Others say that he remained celibate, and even Freud joined the debate, stating that the artist never lived out his homosexuality.

A number of drawings found in the manuscripts of Da Vinci mention Salaì’s sexuality. One particular  drawing based on Leonardo’s painting “John the Baptist”, known as the “Angel Incarnate”, shows a young nude man who seems to be Salaì. We’re still not sure who the artist was. Perhaps Da Vinci, or even Salaì himself.

leonardo facts

“Angelo incarnato” (thought to be a portrait of Salaì)

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