Hello readers! We are approximately one month away from the publication date of Da Vinci's Tiger. Leading up to November 10th, I will be regularly updating this blog with fun facts and tidbits I learned while researching and writing this novel! Stay tuned! Starting off with....
Six Things You May Not Know about Leonardo da Vinci
1. Leonardo was a rock star. We all know him as the quintessential Renaissance man—painter, sculptor, writer, engineer, inventor, scientist, botanist, and anatomist. But did you know that he was an extremely skilled musician as well? Able to play any stringed instrument, Leonardo could also sing “divinely without any preparation,” according to the 16th century art biographer Giorgio Vasari.
In fact, his primary duty when Leonardo first moved from Florence to Milan was to perform music at the court of Duke Ludovico Sforza. He arrived with a lyre decorated with a beautifully carved horsehead that Leonardo had created himself. Some historians believed that Lorenzo the Magnificent may have even commissioned the lyre as a gift for Duke Sforza, as part of the Medici’s brilliant cultural diplomacy with Italy’s competing city-states. Just as Lorenzo “lent” artists like Botticelli to Rome in order to create friendly bonds with the Pope, he may have sent Leonardo as a kind of musical emissary to Milan.
There are a few short musical compositions some scholars suggest Leonardo wrote, but it is clear from the artist’s notebooks that he definitely liked to listen to music as he painted.
While Leonardo believed sight to be the most important sense, and, therefore, visual art the highest form of human expression and communication, he ranked sound and music second (above poetry!). Even though he considered painting and the eye supreme, Leonardo believed developing and using all senses was the only way for a person to achieve harmony and the ability to learn and to truly understand the world.
A few scholars speculate that this painting of a musician may be a self-portrait:
Leonardo da Vinci (attr.) Portrait of a Musician (c.1485)
Leonardo also designed an instrument he called the viola organista, which is best described as a cross between a harpsichord and a cello. Leonardo sketched spinning wheels of horsehair gliding over the instrument’s encased strings. See this link to hear what a modern-day construction of it sounds like:
2. Leonardo may have been a vegetarian. The source for that belief is a quote from a contemporary who wrote about Leonardo: “Certain infidels called Guzzarati are so gentle that they do not feed on anything which has blood, nor will they allow anyone to hurt any living thing, like our Leonardo da Vinci.” Leonardo himself never recorded his diet in his notebooks, but he did say this: “If you want to be healthy observe this regime: Do not eat when you have no appetite and dine lightly.
Chew well, and whatever you take into you should be well-cooked and of simple ingredients…. Beware anger and avoid stuffy air….do not sleep at midday… rest your head and keep your mind cheerful.”
3. Leonardo was left-handed, self-educated, and wrote backwards to hide his thoughts. To read his notes required a mirror.
4. He loved puns and word games. He also was a prolific writer, penning humorous parables and fairy-tales, and invented toys:
See # 4, the robot knight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwOlIGGDVjE
5. Leonardo may be Arab as well as Italian. The illegitimate son of a notary and a young peasant girl, scholars now think his mother Caterina may in fact have been a slave from Istanbul, belonging to Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci and his family. Supporting their research into historical documents related to Leonardo’s lineage is a full print from Leonardo’s left index finger recently discovered on one of his paintings. The fingerprint’s center whorl pattern is common to people of Middle Eastern descent.
6. Leonardo may have been the original metrosexual, noted for his carefully maintained hair and beard and salmon-colored dress tunic. His actual sexuality is not conclusively known. Accused of sodomy in 1476, Leonardo was arrested in Florence and may have been imprisoned for what then was deemed illegal love between men. But he also greatly admired and idealized the regenerative power of women and even his Madonna’s are females of agency—laughing, reaching out to the infant Jesus, awash in emotion. Nothing staid or prim about them.