When you think of Leonardo da Vinci, you most likely recall his most famous works of art, like the Mona Lisa or the Vetruvian Man. The master painter, whose achievements are still lauded today, was one of the most important figures of the Italian Renaissance.
But there was more to Leonardo da Vinci than his amazing works in the field of the fine arts. In the notes he left behind, it was revealed that da Vinci was also a gifted inventor, architect, and scientist.
However, one such da Vinci project—this time in the field of science—went unrecognized for years until one researcher revealed its hidden meaning. What was waiting to be discovered in his notes changed history forever…
Leonardo da Vinci mastered dozens of skills over the course of his lifetime. He was passionate about architecture, sculpture, cartography, and even astronomy. When he passed away in 1519 at the age of 67, he’d left behind dozens of paintings—and more than 13,000 pages of notes.
Even though da Vinci was perhaps best remembered for famous paintings such as the Mona Lisa, the countless pages of notes he left behind revealed a far greater contribution. He had a keen scientific mind, after all, and there’s a reason why none of his notes should ever be discarded.
See, da Vinci was a true genius. In addition to being a gifted artist, he was also an inventor and a scientist. While the man himself might have been gone, his work lived on. In fact, what researchers recently discovered among his old doodles could be one of the greatest discoveries of all time…
While sorting through da Vinci’s journals and various notebooks, researchers came across something fairly remarkable. Next to the drawing of a very old woman, the artist had scribbled a phrase in his native Italian. Translated to English, it read: “Mortal beauty passes and does not last.”
For years, the notebook containing this page was on display in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. People spent decades speculating over the drawing of the old woman; some even believed it was Helen of Troy. The real mystery, however, was what else was on that page…
In addition to the drawing of the elderly woman and the quote written in Italian, there were other notes scribbled all across the page in da Vinci’s journal. For years, researchers believed that these were just musings, but a historian from the University of Cambridge, Professor Hutchings, believed they held a much deeper meaning.
Back in the 1920s, a museum director who had examined the content of the journals remarked that they were nothing more than “irrelevant notes and diagrams in red chalk.” However, Hutchings knew that the museum director’s analysis was wrong—all he had to do was prove it.
They realized that da Vinci understood the science behind the concept of friction long before anyone else had figured it out. It was not until Hutchings began getting involved, however, that the researchers were able to put together a timeline of all of da Vinci’s works and discoveries.
Hutchings pored over the teeny notebook that had once belonged the master painter. The notebook was just three-and-a-half inches by two-and-a-half inches in size, and it was filled to the brim with doodles. While others had dismissed these doodles, Hutchings knew that they held the key to da Vinci’s first work on the concept of friction.
The notes that Hutchings studied were divided into two parts. The first comprised the texts themselves, which were written in da Vinci’s preferred note-taking style: they were mirrored in order to make it difficult for others to steal his ideas. The second part, which was made up of da Vinci’s drawings, revealed a special clue about his scientific discovery…
Hutchings argued that the drawing wasn’t an idle doodle, as previous researchers had claimed, but a rough attempt to depict a very common experiment that students still practice today to demonstrate friction. Hutchings even noticed that it was dated in 1493, which helped him prove that da Vinci was among the first to “discover” friction.
According to Hutchings, da Vinci’s scribblings depicted the image of a row of blocks being moved by a weight on a pulley system. While this is a common theory in the modern era, it proved that da Vinci himself was studying friction roughly 200 years before anyone else!
Friction as we understand it today is called tribology, though da Vinci rarely was credited with the concept. Instead, that honor went to Guillaume Amontons more than two centuries after da Vinci’s death. While Amontons never was influenced by da Vinci’s work, it was quite an impressive coincidence.
Even though da Vinci was never credited for his work in the field of tribology, he spent more than 20 years studying the concept. It was just one more example of the ways in which this master artist was truly so far ahead of his time!
In fact, this handful of words once presumed to be scribblings and doodles was, as Hutchings claimed, da Vinci’s “eureka” moment. Many of the fantastical machines he would design over the rest of his career would all hinge upon the science he discovered in that moment.
The little red scribbles indicated that da Vinci had made major headway when it came to tribology. He understood that the amount of friction between two objects depended upon the forces that pressed them together, and the area of contact between the two objects had no role in the concept as previously thought.
There was no doubt that a vast amount of the knowledge that da Vinci learned about tribology was gleaned from his own experiments and inventions. Working with his complicated machines seem to have taught the great master a lot about the way friction works!
While researchers and scientists knew that da Vinci had made progress in many different scientific fields, they were surprised to learn that he was toying with friction theory. His meticulous experiments with tribology proved that he was just as great a scientist as he was a painter and artist. What a brilliant mind!
Discoveries like this one further prove just how important to works of Leonardo da Vinci truly were. He was more than an artist whose great paintings would grace the halls of museums for years after his death—he was a scientific genius.
This discovery begged the question: what other scientific secrets are hiding inside of da Vinci’s notebook? If he was able to figure out this major concept hundreds of years ahead of his time, anything could be lurking inside the pages of his work just waiting to be figured out!
It’s unbelievable that it took so long for researchers to discover this scientific discovery inside of da Vinci’s notebooks. Who knows else its pages are hiding?
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