Most of us know the Leonardo's famous works by now. From the "Last Supper" to the "Vitruvian Man" and, of course, the "Mona Lisa", Leonardo's masterpieces have risen to the forefront of our cultural collective memory. His insatiable curiosity led him to become one of the foremost artists, scientists, architects and personas in Western history. But here are some things about Leonardo you may not know, on the anniversary of his death (May 2, 1519). Scroll down for a slideshow of his work.
Leonardo was ambidextrous. This means he could write forward with one hand and backward with the other, resulting in a strange mirror language that few friends could decipher; he was also dyslexic, which possibly contributed to his heightened visuo-spatial abilities, the Telegraph reports. As an adult, the inventor and artist took his interest in the mechanics of the human body to a new level by dissecting human cadavers in order to get the best understanding of how the human body operates. But don't think Leonardo was by any means a sadist. He was a vegetarian after all, for moral reasons.
You also may not know exactly what Leonardo's eternally coy Mona Lisa is thinking with her enigmatic pout. Yet according to Discovery Magazine, "researchers at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Illinois used face-recognition software to determine that the Mona Lisa is 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful, and 2% angry." Mystery solved?
Leonardo's accomplishments and idiosyncrasies could keep us here until his 561th birthday, but his overarching message is a simple one. From the smallest muscles in the human body to the grandest notions of the universe, Leonardo saw every detail as existing in relationship to the whole. His works maintained the perfect harmony he saw in the cosmos, where the eye could further both art and science through careful observation and eternal curiosity. Which is why on this matter most people can agree: Da Vinci was one of the most creative and intriguing artists of all time. His life, whether via science or art, revolved around the mantra saper vedere, or "knowing how to see". He believed sight was the most important sense with the highest level of certainty, and endeavored to learn about the wonders of nature through perception. The BBC even reported yesterday that "clinical anatomists believe that Leonardo's anatomical work was hundreds of years ahead of its time."
Leonardo was, perhaps not surprisingly, born in Vinci in the territory of Florence, where he became an apprentice for the sculptor, goldsmith and painter Andrea del Verrocchio at a mere 14 years old. There he learned to hone his artistic skills in addition to more interdisciplinary methods like chemistry. Six years later, he was officially accepted into the painters' guild of Florence. His life and legacy live on in a new exhibition of his anatomical drawings in London, so if you're in the UK, stop by the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace from May 4th - October 7, 2012.
What is your favorite fun fact about Leonardo? Let us know in the comments section, and see a slideshow of his famous works below.
1. Leonardo Da Vinci was a <a href="http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Heretic_s_Feast.html?id=rIjZo-cvifAC" target="_blank">committed vegetarian</a> at a time when this choice was highly unusual. A <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20375518" target="_blank"> 2010 study suggests that his nonconformist culinary decisions possibly contributed to his stroke</a>. Image: Last Supper 1495-1498
2. Da Vinci was the first person to explain <a href="http://www.uu.edu/dept/physics/scienceguys/2000Oct.cfm" target="_blank">why the sky is blue.</a> (Light scattering, duh.) Image: Lady with an Ermine oil on panel
3. Leonardo Da Vinci was <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jan/26/ambidextrous-children-schools" target="_blank">ambidextrous</a>, meaning he could write forward with one hand and backward with the other. Image: The Virgin and Child with St. Anne from 1500 until 1513
4. Leonardo Da Vinci was also <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8128233/Dyslexia-the-secret-of-Da-Vinci-and-Picassos-success.html" target="_blank">dyslexic</a>, and had trouble reading, writing and spelling. (Luckily his drawing skills weren't too shabby.) Image: Vitruvian Man
5. Mona Lisa is mostly happy, a little bit disgusted. <a href="http://discovermagazine.com/2006/may/10-da-vinci#.UWv0PyvwLKw" target="_blank">Discovery Magazine</a> reported on research on the painted lady's notoriously coy expression. Apparently "researchers at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Illinois used face-recognition software to determine that the Mona Lisa is 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful, and 2% angry." Image: Mona Lisa between 1503 and 1505
6. The devoted artist took his interest in the mechanics of the human body to a new level by dissecting human cadavers to best understand how the human body operates. Image: Studies of Embryos
7. Leonardo Da Vinci, an accomplished lyre player, was first presented at the Milanese court as a musician, not an artist. Image: Study of horses circa 1490 Silverpoint on prepared paper
8. Ever the animal rights enthusiast, Leonardo Da Vinci <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2011/nov/30/leonardo-da-vinci-animal-rights-activist" target="_blank">reportedly enjoyed purchasing caged birds so that he could set them free</a>. Image: The Virgin of the Rocks
9. Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo were <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2002/oct/22/artsfeatures.highereducation" target="_blank">reportedly frenemies</a>. In <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/apr/25/lost-battles-jones-michelangelo-davinci" target="_blank">"The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel That Defined the Renaissance,"</a> Jonathan Jones writes that two rival artists would often cause serious reality show level drama by insulting each other in public. Image: La Scapigliata
10. As if Leonardo Da Vinci hadn't accomplished enough in his lifetime, the multitalented artist and intellectual is now living the dream as an action hero in the new Starz drama "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/11/da-vinci-demons-television-show-poster-art-trailer_n_2662059.html" target="_blank">Da Vinci's Demons.</a>"