Many things are known about Leonardo da Vinci, yet many things still await to be discovered (and sadly, many will never be discovered). Widely considered an archetype of the “Renaissance man,” he was a man whose curiosity was equaled only by his intelligence and talent. In this article there are some interesting Da Vinci facts.
Among others, he was a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician, and writer. Many claims he was the smartest man to ever live – a true genius – and his talents in many areas of science and art are simply impossible to deny.
After so many centuries of history, one thing’s for sure: he was a one of a kind. Here are some of the things through which Leonardo da Vinci contributed to mankind. You may be very surprised.
Keep reading: 10 Different Ways to Enhance Creativity
Leonardo da Vinci may well have been the greatest inventor in history, yet he had very little effect on the technology of his time. Da Vinci drew sketches and diagrams of his inventions, which he preserved in his notebooks, but either he lost interest in building them or was never able to convince one of his wealthy patrons to finance construction of his designs.
As a result, almost none of da Vinci’s inventions were built during his lifetime. And, because he never published his diagrams, nobody else knew about them until his notebooks were discovered long after his death.
That’s a shame because da Vinci’s designs were spectacularly ahead of his time. If they had been built, they might have revolutionized the history of technology, though many of them may have been impossible to build with the tools available in the 15th and 16th centuries.
In recent years, however, engineers have begun to construct models of da Vinci’s amazing machines, and most of them work. In the following paragraphs, we’ll look at some of the most imaginative — and coolest — of his designs and unique facts about him.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s reverse handwriting
When you look at Leonardo da Vinci’s journals, your first impression may be of awe at the sketches; but then, if you are curious enough to look at the words, you suddenly discover that the writing seems to be reversed. Was this done on purpose? Was this a method for protecting his trade secrets?
The experts seem to agree that Leonardo was left-handed; however, he wrote unusually even for a lefty. In most texts:
He started writing to the right and continued to the left.
Letters are inverted (back to front).
This is called mirror writing because you can read the text reflected in a mirror as if it was written, well as everyday texts (left to right, letters in the right direction). Putting a page face down against a light source can also do the trick.
People have wondered if this style of writing was deliberate to keep his notes private and safe (he designed tanks and other warfare machines after all).
It is more likely that did it because if you are left handed, you don’t have to write over your words making a mess pressing your hand over wet ink and because it is easier to pull the pen than to push it.
But that was not all, Leonardo would sometimes combine words and even invent new ones, he didn’t use punctuation often and used contractions and shorthand symbols.
In recent years, the theory that Leonardo Da Vinci was also dyslexic is gaining supporters because mirror writing seems to be easier to people with this dyslexia.
That is a surprise, yes?
The self-propelled car
It’s no Ferrari, but Da Vinci’s designs for a self-propelled vehicle were revolutionary for his day. His wooden “car” moved by the interaction of springs with geared wheels.
Da Vinci’s self-propelled cart can be looked at as history’s first car. In fact, because it has no driver, it can be looked at as history’s first robot vehicle, too.
The drawings that da Vinci made of the car in his notebooks don’t fully reveal the mechanism inside and modern engineers have had to guess at what made it go.
The best guess is that it used a spring-driven mechanism similar to that in a clock. The “mainsprings” are contained inside drum-shaped casings and can be wound up by hand.
As the springs uncoil, the cart is driven forward like a wind-up toy. The steering can be programmed through a series of blocks set among the gears, though the fact that the cart could only make right turns would have limited its usability.
Leonardo apparently considered his cart to be something of a toy, but it’s not hard to imagine that, had it been built, useful applications would have shortly followed.
Scientists at one museum in Florence built a replica in 2004 and found it worked as Da Vinci intended.
We are always curious, aren’t we?
Da Vinci was fascinated by birds. He watched them, sketched them and borrowed ideas from them for his inventions. One of the results of this fascination was the ornithopter, a device conceived by da Vinci that would theoretically have allowed humans to soar through the air like birds.
While da Vinci’s parachute would have allowed a human being to jump off a cliff without being hurt, the ornithopter was a way for people to soar off the ground and into the air. On paper, the ornithopter looks much more birdlike (or batlike) than present-day airplanes. Its wings are designed to flap as the pilot turns a crank.
This invention demonstrates da Vinci’s strong grasp of aerodynamics and modern attempts to reproduce the ornithopter show that it could indeed have flown — that is if it were already in the air. Taking off under the weak propulsion supplied by human muscles would have been much trickier.
The parachute and ornithopter were only two of the flying machines concocted by da Vinci in his notebooks. Others include a glider and his helicopter-like aerial screw.
Da Vinci facts … the Winged Glider
Da Vinci’s imagination was filled with ideas for flying machines, including several gliders equipped with flappable wings. This open-shelled model, fitted with seats and gears for the pilot, did not include a design for a crash helmet.
Da Vinci’s fascination with the sea spurred many designs for aquatic exploration. His diving suit was made of leather, connected to a snorkel made of cane and a bell that floated at the surface. Proving the artist was also practical, the suit included a pouch the diver could urinate in.
Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa of Bridges
Norwegians offer solid proof that Leonardo Da Vinci’s designs work. His 1502 draft dreamed of a bridge over Istanbul’s golden horn. This one in Norway is a pedestrian crossing over the E18 near Oslo (right).
Da Vinci designed the bridge in 1502 to cross the Golden Horn inlet at Istanbul. With a length of 346 meters (1,135ft), it would have been the world’s longest bridge at the time, if only Sultan Bajazet II believed it feasible.
Five centuries after a Turkish sultan rejected the project the bridge opened yesterday, albeit 1,500 miles north of the sunny spot he intended.
As with most of Da Vinci’s works, the design pleases aesthetes as much as engineers.
Although Da Vinci envisioned the bridge in stone, the Norwegians thought it too expensive and settled for a graceful wooden version, weighing in at £930,000.
The bridge, actually a pedestrian crossing, is supported by three light-colored wooden arches, like a series of archer’s bows pulled back in parallel. Over them, a pathway in wood spans the E18 highway.
The arches are built in glued pine, a process used in many of the venues at the 1994 Winter Olympics further north in Lillehammer. The railings are of stainless steel and teak.
Very cool design, isn’t it?
Da Vinci facts and notebooks
During Leonardo Da Vinci’s life, it is estimated he produced between 20,000 to 28,000 pages of notes and sketches about work-related subjects and everything else that interested him.
There are entries on anatomy, engineering, philosophy, painting, botany, physiology, landscapes, proportion, perspective, architecture, warfare, geography, zoology, light and shade, theories and inventions.
He started writing his journals when he was 26 and continued writing for the rest of his life.
The notebooks that we know were written between 1478 and his death at age 67 in 1519.
They consist of pages of different sizes, sometimes loose and sometimes bound.
It is believed that he produced at least 50 notebooks.
Leonardo da Vinci’s journals are also called notebooks, manuscripts, codex (pl. codices), sketches, or notes. (They are the same thing)
Leonardo’s notebooks after his death
Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks were probably the most valuable work he did for the world. In them, he registered not only sketches and art, but science and technique that were way ahead of his time.
Many of his works, like his anatomy and physiology studies, could have accelerated discoveries and knowledge in areas such as medicine and engineering if they had been consulted after his death by other scientists and inventors.
Unfortunately, da Vinci’s peculiar handwriting worked against him. It didn’t help either that he moved to a new project right away after finishing the former without putting his notes in order.
It is believed that he had the intention to publish some of his notes, but he never came to “translate” it to be easily readable by others.
After he died, all his works passed on to his apprentice and friend Count Francesco Melzi. Melzi’s descendants sold Leonardo’s journals, and his work was lost or in the hands of private collectors.
Some of Leonardo’s amazing experiments and scientific work remained unknown and could not be used as a reference by scientists and researchers in the following centuries.
It was until the last 20th century that modern scholars began studying the codices and understanding their scientific merit and value.
The bottom line
These are interesting facts many of which we already know, of course. They are not rocket science and shouldn’t be.
This list of little things simply reminds us of what we have forgotten. Then it is up to us to put these lessons (or reminders) into daily use through persistence and practice.
Remember … Your learning trumps all!
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Interesting Leonardo da Vinci Facts