Legendary Beard Fact: Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the few artists never to leave behind a self portrait, but in every image executed by others, his magnificent flowing beard takes center stage.
Leonardo Da Vinci was the bastard son of wealthy and well-respected lawyer Messer Piero Fruosinio de Antonio da Vinci and a peasant woman named Caterina. The birth took place on April 14, 1542 inn the hill town of Vinci in the Republic of Florence. He received virtually no formal education, until he was apprenticed to artist Andrea del Verrochio, one of the region’s leading artists. As an apprentice he would have been exposed to theoretical training and a vast array of technical skills, such as drafting, mechanics, metal working and metallurgy, carpentry, plaster casting, as well as the artistic pursuits of painting, drawing, modeling, and sculpting.
By 1482 Leonardo was an accomplished musician as well as an artist. Having designed and fabricated a lyre made in the shape of a horse’s head, he came to the attention of Lorenzo de’Medici, who sent him to the court of the Duke of Milan. Leonardo worked in the court from 1482 until 1499, creating some of his greatest works, including The Virgin On the Rocks and The Last Supper. When French troops invaded in 1499, Da Vinci fled to Venice, where he was employed as a military engineer, designing defenses against naval incursions. He shortly thereafter returned to Florence, and by 1502 was employed by Cesare Borgia as a military engineer and architect. He designed such military craft as an armored car and a scythed chariot.
Leonardo da Vinci was a true renaissance man, with many varied talents. He was self taught in many areas. As an engineer and designer, he was responsible for designing a flying machine, a rotating crane, an underwater breathing apparatus, and a diving bell to allow a ship to be attacked from below. He left plans for a rapidly constructed bridge made of pulleys, ropes, and wheels which was not built until centuries later. His artworks have moved generations to tears. He was a religious man who believed in God, but not necessarily the God the Church was preaching about. He was to get into some trouble by pointing out discrepancies between religious doctrine and natural law, but he never backed down. His inquisitive mind led him not only to dissect cadavers in order to gain a greater knowledge of anatomy, but to replace the muscles in those cadavers with strings, the better to observe their operation.
Leonardo was a man who enjoyed life, and a good pun. Folio 44 of his Arundel Codex contains a long list of playful synonyms for the penis. He loved fabricating rebuses (word puzzles). He was ambidextrous, and would often write with his right hand while scribing the exact same thing as a mirror image with his left. Interestingly, he was the first man to explain why the sky is blue, and why we can see the vague image of the entire moon when it is in its crescent phase.
Leonardo Da Vinci never married. He was said, “Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes hoping to pull out an eel.” He also explained that pursuing passion distracts from other pursuits, so, if he had married and led a more conventional life, we may never have seen the “Mona Lisa”. I think history will agree that if Leonardo had settled down with the eel of his choice, er would be the poorer for it in so many ways.