10 Facts About Leonardo da Vinci

da Vinci's notes

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I had great fun working my way through the book Da Vinci for Dummies and thought I'd share some of the intriguing facts I'd learned about him.

Fact #1: Not a Prolific Painter

Leonardo left fewer than 30 paintings, and these aren’t even all finished. But before you think you can do the same and still go down in art history, remember he also left hundreds of drawings, sketches, and pages of notes. His reputation isn’t just based on his paintings.

Fact #2: His Own Worst Enemy

Leonardo was both a perfectionist and a procrastinator. How’s that for a terrible combination of personality traits? It’s said to be one of the reasons why he left so few paintings.

Fact #3: Where’s the Sculpture?

There are no pieces of sculpture that can definitely be attributed to Leonardo, even though art historians know he learned sculpture while an art apprentice in Verrocchio’s studio. (So remember to sign your work!)

Fact #4: If He Hadn’t Been Illegitimate, He May Not Have Been an Artist

Leonardo was born out of wedlock on April 15, 1452. But if he hadn’t been, he might not have been apprenticed to the artist Andrea del Verrocchio, as he would have more occupations open to him. As it was, being illegitimate, his options were limited. The only thing known for sure about his mother is that her name was Caterina; art historians believe she probably worked in the household of Leonardo’s father, Ser Piero da Vinci.

Fact #5: Expensive Paper Makes for Messy Notebooks

Paper was far more expensive and harder to get hold of in Leonardo’s day than it is today which is why he made more intensive use of it, “filling” most of every page.

Fact #6: A Vegetarian

Unusually for the era in which he lived, Leonardo was a vegetarian for humanitarian reasons... not that this stopped him from dissecting humans to study anatomy and to map out where the human soul was, nor from taking a job as a designer of military weapons at one point.

Fact #7: One of the First Italians to Use Oil Paint

Leonardo was one of the first artists in Italy to use oil paints instead of egg tempera, enjoying the freedom it gave him to rework a painting. He even concocted his own recipe for oil paints.

Fact #8: Lover of Experimenting

Leonardo’s great fresco, The Last Supper, began to deteriorate almost immediately. This is because Leonardo didn’t follow traditional, tried-and-tested fresco techniques of water-based paints applied to wet plaster, but used oil-based paint on a surface that was a mixture of gesso, pitch, and mastic.

Fact #9: What He Didn’t Invent

Leonardo invented or drew up plans and sketches for a great number of things, but the telescope wasn’t one of them—nor gears, ratchets, pulley systems, or screws as all of these already existed.

Fact #10: Don't Call Him "Da Vinci"

Despite the title of Dan Brown’s best-selling who-done-it, if you must shorten his name, call him Leonardo. Da Vinci just means “from the town of Vinci.”