Leonardo da Vinci's study for "Madonna of the Rocks"

Study for Madonna of the Rocks

A couple of weeks ago, my mom and I went to the Birmingham Museum of Art to view the exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings. Since it was the last weekend of the exhibition, the line was long, but definitely worth the wait. Here’s a description from BMA’s website:

Group of Leonardo Drawings Shown for First Time in U.S.

The Birmingham Museum of Art will host one of the most significant groups of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci to be loaned to a U.S. museum by the Biblioteca Reale (Royal Library) in Turin, Italy from September 28 through November 9, 2008. Organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art, the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Drawings from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin encompasses one of Leonardo’s most celebrated notebooks, the Codex on the Flight of Birds, and 11 important drawings, including one described by Bernard Berenson as the “most beautiful drawing in the world.” The drawings have never before traveled as a group nor in their entirety been made available outside of Italy.

The exhibition was fascinating. His understanding of anatomy and mechanics is brilliant. Silly as it may sound, I felt star-struck being that close to his works.

Here are 10 fun facts about Leonardo da Vinci courtesy of BMA:

Leonardo da Vinci Fact No 1: Not a Prolific Painter

Leonardo left fewer than 20 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. 

Leonardo da Vinci Fact No 2: Where’s the Sculpture?

There are no pieces of sculpture that can definitely be attributed to Leonardo. He began several projects that were never completed. Many artists in the Renaissance worked as painters, sculptors, and architects, rather than specializing in just one field. Leonardo was also a poet and musician.

Leonardo da Vinci Fact No 3: Leonardo loved Horses

He studied and drew horses almost as much as the human body. He even wrote a book on horses, one of the only books that he appears to have finished. Unfortunately, it was never printed, and subsequently has been lost.

Leonardo da Vinci Fact No 4: Why did Leonardo write Backwards?

It was not because he wanted to be secretive! Leonardo was left-handed. He wrote backwards (right to left) so that he wouldn’t smudge his work. Also, Leonardo’s brain just worked that way; he could easily flip letters in his head. He was not the only one in the Renaissance to write in mirrored script, either.

Leonardo da Vinci Fact No 5: Lover of Inventions

Leonardo drew plans for  a flying machine, helicopter, parachute, three-speed gear shift, machine for cutting threads in screws, a snorkel, hydraulic jack, a revolving stage, locks for a canal system, armored tanks, and more. It does not appear that he actually made many of these, however.

Leonardo da Vinci Fact No 6: A great Anatomist

He was one of the first artists to do dissections. He pioneered the modern discipline of comparative anatomy. He was the first to draw parts of the body in cross section, and the first to make casts of the brain and the ventricles of the heart.

Leonardo da Vinci Fact No 7: How did Leonardo make a Living?

Leonardo accepted a few commissions to make paintings and sculptures. He also traveled to many cities that hired him as a military and hydraulic engineer. Most of all, though, Leonardo was housed, fed, and paid to live in various courts and pretty much do whatever he wanted. That is why he had time to study so many subjects. How is that for a great life?

Leonardo da Vinci Fact No 8: Loved Experimenting, not always Successful

Leonardo’s great fresco, The Last Supperbegan 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.

Leonardo da Vinci Fact No 9: Why is Leonardo buried in France?

Leonardo is buried in Amboise. He lived in France from 1516 until his death in 1519 as a member of the court of King Francis I.

Leonardo da Vinci Fact No 10: Don’t Call Him Da Vinci

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