From art to engineering to mathematics, Leonardo Da Vinci did it all. He got a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle named after him, too! But even with his unparalleled fame, there’s a lot we still don’t know about him.
For one thing, Da Vinci’s archives include cutting-edge designs that seemed impossible during the Renaissance and with today’s tech. However, some modern artisans believed they could recreate one of his strangest and most complex machines…
Leonardo Da Vinci is one of those few names synonymous with genius, and for good reason. The famed “Renaissance Man” mastered every discipline imaginable. Even today, the world’s foremost experts can’t decipher all of his master works.
Historians most often associate Da Vinci with present-day Italy, where he was born and spent most of his professional life. However, he may have completed his boldest creations in Amboise, France. Da Vinci did way more than just paint.
Leonard de Serres
Notwithstanding his innovative artwork, Da Vinci’s mechanical prototypes were centuries ahead of their time. About 500 years before the invention of the airplane, he concocted a design for a flying machine.
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Sketches from the inventor’s final years revealed a design for a mechanical lion. Da Vinci reportedly built a couple versions of the lion for King Francis I of France. The protoypes took his court by storm.
Today, Da Vinci’s residence at Château Clos Lucé is a museum. Its president, François Saint-Bris, has a longstanding fascination with the lion automatons. All without electricity, the contraptions could walk and move their heads and tails!
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In 2009, François proposed a daring idea to celebrate Da Vinci’s legacy: Would it be possible, he wondered, to fully recreate a lion automaton based on the polymath’s original blueprints?
For most historians and art critics, this was one Da Vinci code that even Robert Langdon couldn’t solve. Luckily, the staff at Clos Lucé tracked down a brilliant craftsman, whose sharp intellect might even rival Da Vinci’s.
The museum staff got in contact with a French artist named Renato Boaretto. A veteran designer, he made a name for himself by using old-fashioned technology to build truly stunning machines.
Renato’s specialty came in the form of lifelike mechanical figures. No piece quite the same, his work extended from a magician who makes a woman levitate to a musician capable of moving his bow across a cello.
When he heard the museum’s proposal about the lion reproduction, Renato naturally couldn’t resist. However, he had very little to work on. Only fragments of the original blueprint were available, so Renato would have to fill in the blanks.
And while Renato had sculpted just about every kind of face and body under the sun, so making a lifelike lion wasn’t too daunting, he harbored some concerns about the practical design of the machine.
Even the known aspects of the lion’s design weren’t exactly encouraging. Based on the dimensions of the real-life beast, it would come out to about 130 pounds. At the same time, it had to leave enough space to not crush the delicate gears and pulleys.
Complicating matters further, Da Vinci’s sketch for the motor inside the lion was lost forever. To make it actually walk, Renato would have to borrow from his past inventions as well as from Da Vinci’s other machines, which include a knight automaton.
Over the course of many months, Renato assembled his lion, bringing together the toughest parts of both art and engineering. The artist had to make sure the animal’s mane and face looked realistic, and all the machinery inside it actually had to work.
As large as the automaton was, Da Vinci designed it to be powered by the crank of a simple key. Renato laid out his model the same way. On the fateful day of the demonstration, he stuck the key inside and prayed that all his labor wasn’t in vain.
Miraculously, the lion walked! Though it could only take about ten steps at a time, it didn’t need any kind of track or additional power. Using Da Vinci’s notes, Renato snuck in one final surprise as well.
Once the lion finished its walk, a compartment in its side popped open. Then, it revealed a bouquet of lilies, the national flower of France! The museum figured Da Vinci included this as a tribute to his patrons in the French monarchy.
Visitors at the Clos Lucé applauded Renato’s accomplishment. Even in the age of the smart phone, this-16th century technology boggled people’s minds. It may also be a big step toward future discoveries.
After all, Da Vinci produced countless other designs that almost defy imagination. And even in his most famous masterpieces, experts are uncovering hidden meanings and patterns.
The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous pieces of art ever created. There is so much mystery surrounding Mona Lisa that historians continue to study the painting today, and after all these years she still has secrets to reveal…
In 2015, a French scientist using reflective light technology discovered a portrait of another woman hiding beneath the painting we see now. The underlying portrait is believed to be Da Vinci’s first draft of the famous painting, though it’s difficult to confirm. And Da Vinci isn’t the only artist with a secret.
Jan van Eyck, the Netherlandish painter, created the famous Arnolfini Portrait in 1434. The painting depicts Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini, an Italian merchant, and his wife, Constanza Trenta. While the renowned work is impressive in itself, there’s more to the painting than meets the eye…
Take a closer look, you’ll see a mirror centered in the background of the painting. Reflected in the mirror are two other figures who appear to be looking at the Arnolfini’s. Based on our logic of mirrors, one of the figures is presumed to be the artist, Van Eyck, subtly eternalizing himself in the portrait.
We can’t talk about art without bringing up the chiseled bod of David. Arguably one of the greatest sculptures of all time, Michelangelo’s statue of David stands 17 feet tall. Seriously, we have to admit, David doesn’t really have a bad angle going for him. But looking up at David does distort one thing that might change the way you consider the work.
His body is anatomical perfection, and, paired with his confident stance, David is often thought to be sculpted as “hero.” Looking at David at eye level, however, reveals a different story. His expression shows concern and fear, which makes sense given he is about to engage in a battle with Goliath!
This one is a touch macabre. In 1533, Hans Holbein the Younger painted The Ambassadors. The work showcases two rich ambassadors, seemingly healthy and in their prime, surrounded with their fine material goods. While the portrait is strikingly rich in color, the hues defy the underlying message of the work, which is far from vivifying.
Looming at the feet of the ambassadors is an anamorphic perspective of a skull. This piece was intended to hang in a stairwell so, at the angle of ascension, the skull would jump right out at you. The skull was to serve as a memento mori, which translates to, “remember you will die.” So much for a welcome mat, huh?
Despite his name, Pieter Bruegel the Elder is not a wizard. Unfortunately. What he is though, is one of the most notable artists of the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting. In 1559, he created the Netherlandish Proverbs. It may look more like a Neanderthal-ish bedlam, but this raucous scene is actually telling a story — 112 stories to be exact!
The painting literally illustrates 112 different proverbs and sayings from the Netherlands. Some of which include, “To be a pillar biter” and “Armed to the teeth.” But the real proverb here is, if you’re not Dutch, you’re not getting much (at least not much face time in a Bruegel painting)!
The Sistine Chapel. You may have heard of it… Well, way back in 1512, Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the story of Genesis across 9 sections of the concave ceiling. Michelangelo’s work would come to be recognized as a cornerstone of high renaissance art. Some speculate that beyond a masterpiece, the artist also left behind a message…
Michelangelo spent years studying human anatomy. With that deep understanding, he was able to depict people with greater realism and insert more cerebral meaning into his work. In this famous section, God is surrounded by what looks like a brain. This insinuates that not only did God give Adam life, but also the ability to reason and think.
The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci is almost as famous for its rumors of secret meanings as it is for its artistic brilliance. Da Vinci was unique in his genius, and much of that is to due to his vast and diverse passions. Aside from an artist, Da Vinci also identified as a mathematician, scientist, inventor, and even a musician.
And when a fellow musician admired Da Vinci’s work, he noticed something peculiar. When the five lines of a musical staff are drawn across the supper, the bread rolls combined with the apostle’s hands create musical notes. When you follow Da Vinci’s signature style of right to left, the notes make up a 40-second musical composition.
Vincent Van Gogh created Café Terrace at Night in 1888, a scene so charming, you can almost hear accordions. Some art historians have a different take on this painting though. There are theories that posit this café might have a more symbolic impetus, coming from the son of a Protestant minister…
There have been many comparisons with Van Gogh’s Café Terrace and Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The central figure in white is thought to be a representation of Jesus, while the dark figure in the doorway is speculated to represent Judas.
There is a good story here, but first let’s take a moment to appreciate the name of this painting’s creator, Hieronymus Bosch. Ohhh, it’s so good! Hieronymus Bosch is the creator behind this triptych oil painting titled, The Garden of Earthly Delights. What is even more delightful are the secret, behind-the-scenes notes…
These notes, found on the bottom of a tortured soul in the “hell panel” of the painting, translate into approximately 28 seconds of what can only be described as a reject Nokia ringtone. This melody is widely referred to as “the butt-song from hell.”
The legendary Mexican painter Frida Kahlo had a husband who was, apparently, a painter as well. Just kidding, Diego Rivera is totally a big shot. Due to his notoriety, in the early 1940s, Nelson Rockefeller commissioned Rivera to paint a mural, Man at the Crossroads for the Rockefeller Center in New York City. Alas, even the richest of the rich don’t always get exactly what they want…
Rockefeller didn’t appreciate the inclusion of the communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in the mural, so he had the painting destroyed. In response, Rivera re-created the mural in Mexico City. Not only was Lenin even more prominently featured, but Rivera, not so coyly, painted in Rockefeller’s father below the bacterial illustration of syphilis.