Tag Archives: leonardo da vinci

Study finds Leonardo da Vinci’s family tree spans 21 generations, including 14 living male descendants

Leonardo da Vinci self-portrait. Credit: Public Domain.

Although Leonardo da Vinci never married or fathered any children of his own, he had at least 22 half-brothers that proliferated the family’s genes centuries after the famed renaissance artist and inventor passed away. According to the results of a decade-long investigation by researchers in Italy, the da Vinci family tree includes at least 21 generations spanning across 690 years. At least 14 da Vinci male descendants are still alive today, according to the researchers, which could greatly aid the search for Leonardo’s DNA.

Leonardo’s family roots

The Renaissance polymath, known for paintings like “The Last Supper” and “Mona Lisa,” was born in the Tuscan town of Anchiano in 1452, about 18 miles west of Florence.

Born out of wedlock to respected Florentine notary Ser Piero and a young peasant woman named Caterina, da Vinci was raised by his father and his stepmother. At the age of five, he moved to his father’s estate in nearby Vinci (the town from which his surname derives), where he lived with his uncle and grandparents.

For over a decade, Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato, both art historians and experts in Leonardo’s life, have been piecing together the puzzle pieces that form the da Vinci family tree. Using historical documents, the two Italian researchers performed genealogical detective work that documented Leonardo’s family across many generations.

Previously, in 2016, the same Vezzosi and Sabato published a preliminary da Vinci family tree that included many living but indirect descendants, including only two males in a direct line up to the 19th generation. Now, the investigation has been greatly expanded, documenting with new certainty the continuous male line, from father to son, of the da Vinci family.

Researchers Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato have documented 21 generations of Leonardo Da Vinci’s family covering 690 years and identified 14 living male family descendants. Credit: Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato.

Since Leonardo left no children and his remains (and DNA) were lost in the turmoil of the 16th century, the researchers used Leonardo’s father, Ser Piero da Vinci, as the starting point of the investigation. They then moved across the family tree until they identified progenitor Michele, born in 1331.

A letter written in 1402 by Leonard da Vinci’s grandfather, Antonio, from Morocco. Credit: State Archives in Prato.

According to Vezzosi and Sabato, Leonardo and half-brother Domenico were part of the 6th generation of the da Vinci family. By the 15th generation, the researchers documented over 225 individuals. Following the branches until today, the researchers documented a 690-year-old genealogical history, which included 21 generations and five family branches.

This new investigation corrects errors and fills gaps in previous work and will go a long way in supporting ongoing efforts to identify Leonardo’s DNA. One way to do so would be to compare DNA from his family’s descendants and that from remains that may belong to Leonardo.

The Y chromosome is passed on to male descendants and remains virtually unchanged through 25 generations, which is well within the 15 generations timeline since Leonardo’s death.

Once scientists certify Leonardo’s DNA, they may begin to perform other interesting investigations. These may include probing Leonardo’s physical prowess, premature aging, left-handedness, diet, health, and any hereditary diseases, as well as his extraordinary vision, synaesthesia, and other sensory perceptions.

The findings appeared in the journal Human Evolution.

Researchers find a new hidden secret in the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest geniuses in history, with skills and inventions way ahead of his time. On many occasions his work was surrounded by mystery, hiding secrets not visible at first glance. Now, a new study found another one, linked to bacteria and fungi.

Image credit: The authors.

Looking for hidden secrets in Da Vinci’s work, a team of researchers from Austria and Italy decided to investigate what was beyond the naked eye in seven of Leonardo’s best-known drawings. They weren’t looking for hidden sketches or anything like that: they were looking for the microbiome.

A microbiome is essentially a set of microorganisms that share the same habitat. They aren’t perceptible to the naked eye and advanced technologies are needed to try to understand how and why they coexist. Looking for hidden elements in Leonardo’s work, the researchers stumbled upon very nusual types of microbiome..

Five of these drawings are currently housed in the Royal Library of Turin: Autoritratto, Nudi per la battaglia di Anghiari, Studi delle gambe anteriori di un cavallo, Studi di insetti and tudi di gambe virili. The last two are stored at the Corsinian Library in Rome: Uomo della Bitta and Studio di panneggio per una figura inginocchiata.

Analyzing the seven drawings, the researchers discovered that the microbiome of each one was unique enough to be able to identify each of the works only by their distinctive microorganisms — you may not tell a book by its cover, but you can tell a work of art by its microbes.

This is not to say that the microbiomes were entirely different, they were still similar in many ways, but each had a distinctive touch.

Image credit: The authors.

The findings can help the researchers to locate the places where the drawing was carried out, as well as the places through which it has passed throughout its life, such as warehouses, restorers, or art dealers. This is very valuable information: the microbiome has a story to tell and if you read it well, you can even use it to detect fraud.

The researchers used a tool called Nanopore, a genetic sequencing method that quickly breaks down and analyzes genetic material, to make a detailed study of the different biological materials. They had already studied microbiomes in the past to determine how statues recovered from smugglers had been stored.

In the case of the Da Vinci drawings, they believe most of the human DNA discovered comes from people who were responsible for restoring and caring for their works from the 15th century. They also confirmed all the drawings are original works by Leonardo and found a high concentration of bacteria compared to the fungi.

In previous studies, they had been able to confirm that fungi tend to dominate the microbiomes, but in this case, it was absolutely the opposite. They believe that they came from both humans and insects, something that probably has to do with how the works were stored, especially after Leonardo’s death.

“Altogether, the insects, the restoration workers and the geographic localization seem to all have left a trace invisible to the eye on the drawings,” the researchers said in a statement. “[But] it is difficult to say if any of these contaminants originate from the time when Leonardo da Vinci was sketching its drawings.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

Credit: Public Domain.

Hair claimed to belong to Leonardo da Vinci to undergo DNA testing

Credit: Public Domain.

Credit: Public Domain.

A pair of art historians claim that they now possess a lock of hair which belonged to Leonardo da Vinci. They plan on conducting DNA testing in order to confirm the identity of the hair’s owner — an announcement which coincides with the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death. Critics, however, claim that it will be impossible to confirm whether the hair came from the famous Renaissance inventor and artist since Leonardo’s original tomb was destroyed and there are no reliable living descendants to compare their DNA to that from the hair.

The Renaissance of Leonardo’s DNA

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in a farmhouse outside the village of Anchiano, in present-day Italy. Historians believe he was born out of wedlock to respected Florentine notary Ser Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci and a young peasant woman named Caterina. At the age of five, he moved to his father’s family estate in nearby Vinci, the Tuscan town from which his surname derives. Leonardo da Vinci died of a probable stroke on May 2, 1519, at the age of 67, in the French town of Amboise.

Both Italian and French towns celebrated the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death with special events and exhibitions. As part of the celebration, Alessandro Vessozi, the director of the “Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci,” and Agnese Sabato, the president of the Leonardo da Vinci Heritage Foundation, announced that they have come under the possession of a lock of hair belonging to Leonardo da Vinci. According to Vessozi, the hair had remained hidden in a private American collection.

“We found, across the Atlantic, a lock of hair historically tagged ‘Les Cheveux de Leonardo da Vinci’”—French for “Leonardo da Vinci’s hair,” Sabato said in a statement.

Vezzosi adds, “This historical relic … has long remained hidden in an American collection. It will now be exposed for the first time, along with documents attesting [to] its ancient French provenance.”

The artist is believed to have been buried in the Chapel of Saint-Florentin, which was destroyed during the French revolution. In the late 19th century, French poet Arsène Houssaye discovered what he believed to be Leonardo’s bones while excavating the ruins of the chapel. The bones were placed at the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, also located at Château d’Amboise.

[panel style=”panel-default” title=”The Vitruvian Man” footer=””]Leonardo da Vinci is known for important artworks such as “The Last Supper” and “Vitruvian Man”, as well as his codex, notebooks, and many sketches which have fascinated millions for centuries. A real Renaissance man, da Vinci’s interests spanned art, architecture, music, mathematics, and science. For instance, he first dreamed of the designs for the parachute, bicycle, and helicopter. [/panel]

On May 2, da Vinci’s Sabato and Vessozi said in a statement that they want to perform DNA analysis on the hair and compare it to the presumed remains at the Amboise tomb. However, the seriousness of such an undertaking has been put into question by experts.

Firstly, there is no reliable way to link Leonardo’s hair to the bones at the Amboise tomb, which could belong to anyone given the original ransacking. Then there’s the question of extracting DNA from the hair itself, a process which isn’t as straightforward as it might sound — the original genetic material may be degraded or contaminated.

The historians have also proposed comparing genetic material from the lock of hair to that belonging to da Vinci’s living descendants. In 2016, Vezzosi and Sabata claimed to have identified 35 living relatives of Leonardo using historical documents. These individuals were linked to Leonardo’s father via the artist’s brother. Leonardo didn’t marry or have children.

However, there are only two types of DNA can be traced reliably over the centuries. One is mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother’s side and is solely passed on only through an unbroken female line. Similarly, Y-chromosome DNA comes from the father and is passed on to the next generation only through an unbroken male line. The relatives identified by Vezzosi and Sabata don’t represent unbroken male or female lines, and as such cannot be used to reliably confirm whether the hair did, in fact, belong to Leonardo.

Elsewhere, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute are testing paintings, notebooks, and drawings which belonged to da Vinci looking for traces of his DNA such as fingerprints, skin flakes, and strands of hair. If it can ever be obtained, this DNA can then be compared to the newly announced lock of hair or any other similar remains.

New AI tells masterpieces from forgeries by only looking at brush strokes

AIs might not know much about art, but they can easily tell apart one style from the other — even when they’re terribly similar.

AI could see whether a painting is fake or not. Credits: Pexels.

Identifying forgeries is hard, time-consuming, and expensive, but we need it more than ever. The art world is full of forgeries. Recently, a supposed Da Vinci painting sold for $450 million, although suspicions loomed that it might be a fake. The problem is, humans have a hard time telling apart real art from fakes. In most cases, a trained eye will catch small details, identifying tells that confirm or infirm authenticity. If you want a more thorough confirmation, you might take the art piece in a laboratory for infrared spectroscopy, radiometric dating, gas chromatography, or a combination of such tests. All this takes a lot of time, money, and effort. But an Artificial Intelligence (AI) needs none of this.

In a new paper, researchers from Rutgers University and the Atelier for Restoration & Research of Paintings in the Netherlands broke down the style of different artists, by analyzing their strokes. They developed a recurrent neural network (RNN) which learned what features were important for what artist, and then used said traits for identification.

“We designed and compared different handcrafted and learned features for the task of quantifying stroke characteristics,” the study reads. “We also propose and compare different classification methods at the drawing level. We experimented with a dataset of 300 digitized drawings with over 80 thousands strokes. The collection mainly consisted of drawings of Pablo Picasso, Henry Matisse, and Egon Schiele, besides a small number of representative works of other artists. The experiments shows that the proposed methodology can classify individual strokes with accuracy 70%-90%, and aggregate over drawings with accuracy above 80%, while being robust to be deceived by fakes (with accuracy 100% for detecting fakes in most settings).”

The AI especially analyzed the strength along a stroke — how hard and in what way the artist was pushing the brush against the canvas. That is impossible for a human to analyze since it requires a visual precision that the human eye is just not capable of. However, there is also a downside: the AI only works when the strokes are clearly visible. When the painting has aged and strokes have faded out, accuracy declines significantly.

They only focused on a few painters, and the results aren’t perfect, but as a proof of concept, the AI showed it is more than capable. If anything, it could be used alongside more conventional techniques for an extra confirmation, or by itself to give solid indications about authenticity. The RNN could also be enhanced to include more painters and other artistic tells.

Now, the only question is, how long until someone will train an AI to trick this AI?

Journal Reference: Ahmad Elgammal et al. Picasso, Matisse, or a Fake? Automated Analysis of Drawings at the Stroke Level for Attribution and Authentication. arXiv:1711.03536v1


Leonardo Da Vinci’s to-do list from 1490 makes you look like a pleb


Credit: Wiki Commons.

To-do lists are a great way to keep your life organized and track goals. For instance, my to-do list for today is ‘call my accountant; buy milk; wait home for the courier to drop off shopping at 1PM; finish a book review;’ and that’s basically it. I felt pretty good about what I would accomplish — until I learned how Leonardo da Vinci went about his ‘mundane’ tasks.

Leonardo, one of the most brilliant men to have ever lived, diligently documented his inventions, experiments, and interests which included painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography — to name only a few. Buried in one of his many notebooks dated from the 1490s is a to-do list, which NPR had translated. “It is useful,” Leonardo wrote, to “constantly observe, note, and consider.”

[Calculate] the measurement of Milan and Suburbs

[Find] a book that treats of Milan and its churches, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cordusio

[Discover] the measurement of Corte Vecchio (the courtyard in the duke’s palace).

[Discover] the measurement of the castello (the duke’s palace itself)

Get the master of arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle.

Get Messer Fazio (a professor of medicine and law in Pavia) to show you about proportion.

Get the Brera Friar (at the Benedictine Monastery to Milan) to show you De Ponderibus (a medieval text on mechanics)

[Talk to] Giannino, the Bombardier, re. the means by which the tower of Ferrara is walled without loopholes (no one really knows what Da Vinci meant by this)

Ask Benedetto Potinari (A Florentine Merchant) by what means they go on ice in Flanders

Draw Milan

Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night.

[Examine] the Crossbow of Mastro Giannetto

Find a master of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner

[Ask about] the measurement of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni Francese

Try to get Vitolone (the medieval author of a text on optics), which is in the Library at Pavia, which deals with the mathematic.

Another da Vinci to-do list dated 1508-10 and now in the possession of the Royal Collection in the UK worked as a reminder to obtain a skull, to get his books on anatomy bound, to observe the holes in the substance of the brain, to describe the tongue of the woodpecker and the jaw of a crocodile, and to give the measurement of a dead man using his finger as a unit. On the same page with the list, da Vinci also scribbled some thoughts which dissected what are the essential qualities of a successful anatomical draughtsman.  He highlights not only skill in drawing, but also knowledge of perspective, an understanding of the forces and strengths of the muscles, and patience. He also writes to himself that an anatomist might be ‘be impeded by your stomach’ or ‘by the fear of living through the night in the company of quartered and flayed corpses, fearful to behold’.

One can imagine da Vinci strolling through the streets of Milan and writing notes such as these whenever something caught his attention. A lot of things have been said and written about da Vinci’s work, but despite all his contributions we know little about how the man himself was like. Though da Vinci was a mysterious person who generally kept to himself, we can immediately notice two things from his to-do lists. Firstly, he had an insatiable curiosity and his mind would wander from one thing to the other. In the morning he might be studying arithmetic or anatomy and in the evening he would be casually drawing Milan. Secondly, da Vinci knew how to pick the brain of those who were more knowledgeable than him in certain fields of study. It’s no wonder that he eventually became a polymath.

Hidden portrait found under the Mona Lisa

In what reads like the headline for a modern mystery novel, a researcher has found a hidden portrait under Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – or so he claims.

The image on the left is a digital reconstruction of what Mr Cotte claims to have found underneath the Mona Lisa. Image via Brinkworth Studios.

Pascal Cotte said he has spent over 10 years to study the painting with modern technology, scanning it with multispectral cameras and revealing what he claims to be another image underneath it, and reconstructed the image, as can be seen above.

However, reactions have been pretty skeptical. Will Gompertz, Arts Editor said that this wouldn’t be very shocking as it was (and still is) common for artists to make modifications to their paintings, but we should take this finding with a grain of salt:

“I’m sceptical. It’s perfectly common for an artist to overpaint an image as it is for a client who’s commissioned that artist to ask for changes. So it’s not surprising that there are those underpaintings on the Mona Lisa,” he told the BBC. “The data that the technology generates is open to interpretation, which needs to be analysed and corroborated by the academic and curatorial community, and not just an individual. I think the Louvre’s decision not to make a comment is telling. This is the world’s most famous painting which, like a celebrity, always makes for a good story. But in this case I think caution is required.”

Cotte was given access to the painting in 2004, and has since then pioneered a technique he calls Layer Amplification Method (LAM), which he used to reach his results. The technique projects lights of different wavelengths onto the painting and then analyses reflections – sort of like remote sensing is done at a much larger scale. This allows him to see “deeper into the painting,” below the visual surface.

“We can now analyse exactly what is happening inside the layers of the paint and we can peel like an onion all the layers of the painting. We can reconstruct all the chronology of the creation of the painting.”

There are many beliefs and myths around Mona Lisa, regarding who she is and what she stands for; one of the theories was that she was Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant – hence the name. But Cotte claims he disproves that idea, which means that we would basically have to change its name.

“When I finished the reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini, I was in front of the portrait and she is totally different to Mona Lisa today. This is not the same woman.”

Art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, who has made a BBC documentary about the Mona Lisa, believes this could be one of the biggest findings of the century in terms of art studies.

“I have no doubt that this is definitely one of the stories of the century. There will probably be some reluctance on the part of the authorities at the Louvre in changing the title of the painting because that’s what we’re talking about – it’s goodbye Mona Lisa, she is somebody else.”

But not everyone is convinced: Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford believes that this shows an evolution of the painting, rather than disprove that Mona Lisa is Lisa Gheradini.

“They [Cotte’s images] are ingenious in showing what Leonardo may have been thinking about. But the idea that there is that picture as it were hiding underneath the surface is untenable. “I do not think there are these discrete stages which represent different portraits. I see it as more or less a continuous process of evolution. I am absolutely convinced that the Mona Lisa is Lisa. “

Whichever version may be true, it’s remarkable that even after centuries of studies, we can find out new things about paintings and art – with the help of modern technology.

Fossilized burrows thought to be left by Paleodictyon nodosum [souce: scitechdaily.com]

A primitive form of parenting possibly found in 540 million years old paleodictyon patterns

Paleodictyon is a mysterious fossil pattern found mainly in marine sediments thought to be specific of a certain paleo-depth range; it is a relatively widespread trace fossil – called this way because it is mainly accepted that it is created by a burrowing creature. Although it has been discovered since the dawn of geology and fossil hunting, no one was able to find sediments where you can also see the “architect” of such a symmetric creation – given that underwater honeybees are excluded.

Among his many other passions, Leonardo da Vinci collected and described fossils, including it seems, what later came to be known as Paleodictyon [from BIBLIOTECA LEONARDIANA, via Nature]

Among his many other passions, Leonardo da Vinci collected and described fossils, including it seems, what later came to be known as Paleodictyon [from BIBLIOTECA LEONARDIANA, via Nature]

A new study finds a special type of paleodictyon fossils in the limestone of Nevada and Mexico – one where clues to the elusive pattern may appear to be present. At least that is what the lead author proposes, Mark McMenamin, a paleontologist at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Besides the fact that this new fossil may hint towards an explanation of a centuries’ old mystery, what is also interesting is the fossil’s age: about 540 million years – placing it in the early Cambrian – a period when modern multicellular life seemed to have emerged and diversified in a relatively brief period of geological time.

When examining the fossil, McMenamin noticed that some of the burrow swarms seemed to cut through organic pellets 250 to 500 micrometers in diameter — making the pellets too large to have been created by the creature that made the burrows.

“I noticed that the smaller micro-burrows tended to cluster in the center of the swarms,”says McMenamin.

Fossilized burrows thought to be left by Paleodictyon nodosum [souce: scitechdaily.com]

Fossilized burrows thought to be left by Paleodictyon nodosum [souce: scitechdaily.com]

The paleontologist hypothesizes that some sort of adult animal laid down the organic pellets to form a nest around its eggs – and if these eggs were mostly made of soft material, which is the case for many animals – they failed to fossilize.  “The hatchlings then fed on organic matter in the pellets that had been broken down by bacteria,”he says. As they “ate their nest”, the hatchlings would have left that hexagonal burrowing pattern that we see fossilized today.

Although it all seems amazing, it is hard to irrevocably link such parenting behavior to this type of fossil. Gabriela Mangano, who studies Cambrian burrows at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada says the idea certainly is spectacular, but for it to be true, it needs to rely on a more detailed morphological analysis.

Duncan McIlroy, a burrow specialist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in St John’s says that in order to bring further evidence, one idea would be to create a 3D model of the rock containing the fossil, perhaps by making a section passing through its regions of interest: “I would look for a discrete structure as part of a large semi-permanent burrow system created by the adult,” he says.

Could Paleodictyon also be nests? “Sure they could be,” says McIlroy. “But it would be very difficult indeed to prove without finding one with associated eggs and juveniles.”
A few cases in which paleodictyon would not be related to this type of parenting would be, for example that the creatures making burrows would actually be preying on the hypothesized eggs. Or perhaps the small creatures would have nothing to do with the whole idea of nests and eggs, and it just came and drew it’s mysterious pattern in the sediment, years after such organic pellets existed. After all, what are a few years or even a decade when compared to the vast eons of geologic time ?
[Via Nature]

A Paleodictyon fossil from Austria [source: wiki]

A Paleodictyon fossil from Austria [source: wiki]

Helicopter Student

New record for human powered flight set by engineering students

A talented team of students from the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering has set a new record for the longest flight time for a human-powered helicopter. The helicopter in question, called “Gamera II”, after the flying monster turtle of Japanese films and the university’s terrapin mascot, was devised and built by the students themselves.

Helicopter StudentFirst thing that came into mind when I first read about the young engineers’ accomplishment was Leonardo da Vinci’s famous aerial screw concept. In his late fifteenth century notes, one of the most important figures of the Renascence sketched a remarkable design in which  a flying machine resembling a helical screw would be able to lift in the air, powered by man’s mechanical efforts. “If this instrument made with a screw be well made – that is to say, made of linen of which the pores are stopped up with starch and be turned swiftly, the said screw will make its spiral in the air and it will rise high.”

Like many of his invention’s, though, da Vinci’s aerial screw never left the drawing board, but it served as a fascinating piece of science, and dared many to fantasize and dream – the first actual helicopter wasn’t built until the 1940s.

The Gamera II  is built of lightweight carbon fiber rods, with strength lent from the team’s own “micro truss” system of design, which allowed the human powered helicopter to weigh only 75 pounds, unmanned. Kyle Gluesenkamp, a 135-pound Ph.D. candidate in the mechanical engineering department, powered the craft with both foot pedals and a hand crank last week which allowed it to lift for 50 seconds of flight. on record of approximately 35 seconds. If verified by the National Aeronautic Association, this new time will supersede the team’s previous world record of 11.4 seconds set last July. The Gamera II, which uses about $150,000 worth of materials, has four 43-foot rotors that rotate at about 20 revolutions per minute.

The team is pursuing the $250,000 prize offered by the American Helicopter Society, through its Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition, in which a human-powered helicopter needs to fly at least three meters above the ground for at least 60 seconds, all while remaining withing a 10 by 10 square, in order to win. The competition has been open for 30-years, but in all this time no one team was able to meet the winning conditions. Inderjit Chopra, the professor advising the project, said that Gamera II reached an estimated altitude of 4 feet – nearly half the required altitude to meet the contest’s terms.

Next, the team hopes to reach a flight duration of 60 seconds, which should bring it one step towards completing the AHS Sikorsky Prize goals.

The Gamera Project’s website

I can see it in your eyes…

Just when the DaVinci Code craze seemed to be long over, some members of Italy’s national committee for cultural heritage state that they have discovered a code in Mona Lisa’s eyes. Magnifying high-resolution images of the world’s most famous painting would reveal hidden letters and numbers added by Leonardo Da Vinci, said Silvano Vinceti, president of the Committee.
Harder to decode are the letters writen in the left pupil. CE, B, 72 or just L2? The researchers don’t seem to see the same thing here. But if the DaVinci Code fans are thrilles, the scolars aren’t.

“I can’t offer any comment on the scientific value of this ‘finding’ since the scientific basis to support it are missing,” Carlo Pedretti, the world’s leading scholar in Leonardo studies, told Discovery News.

The other problem is that the numbers cannot be seen on the magnified picture, but only on high resolution photos of it, but as some seem to be inlove with the portait, others try to find more scientific explanations for her famous smile.

“Attempts to solve the enigma around her smile, described by the 16th century artist and writer Giorgio Vasari as “more divine than human,” have included theories that the noblewoman was happily pregnant, suffering from asthma, had facial paralysis or that the smile was the result of a compulsive gnashing of teeth.”

She also seemed to suffer from hypercholesterolemia, an inherited cholesterol disorder. But until the researchers agree on her diet and other hidden messages she send us, we can only hope for a chance to see the work.

Leonardo da Vinci: inventions and discoveries that changed the world


Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance man

While we know many things about Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, many more are still awaiting to be discovered (and sadly, many will never be discovered). Widely considered an archetype of the “Renaissance man”, he was a man whose curiosity was equaled only by his intelligence and talent. He was a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician, and writer. Many claim he was the smartest man to ever live — a true genius — and his talents in many areas of science and art are simply impossible to deny. After so many centuries of history, one thing’s for sure: he was a one of a kind. Here are some of the things through which Leonardo da Vinci contributed to mankind:


Something as simple yet as important as the scissors had a major importance in the development of mankind. Who knows how many centuries would have passed without being able to utilize this tool had it not been for the man? Just think about all the tailors… not much of a job left for them, huh?

Still, this is one of da Vinci’s more controversial inventions, with archaeological evidence indicating rudimentary scissors from ancient Egypt, and cross-bladed scissors from ancient Rome. However, it is clear that da Vinci made detailed sketches of scissors and likely contributed to an improved design.


leonardo da vinci parachute

What da Vinci’s early parachute model may have looked like. Credit: Flickr, Tim Roton.

The first parachute had been imagined and sketched by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th century. It’s hard to believe something as “modern” as a parachute could have been invented over 500 years ago. Leonardo’s parachute design consists of sealed linen cloth held open by a pyramid of wooden poles — about seven meters long. The invention would allow any man to “throw himself down from any great height without suffering any injury,” da Vinci said. Still, because his ideas were way ahead of his time, the technology was not able to sustain his ideas, thus nobody invented a practical parachute until 1783.

Like many of his monumental discoveries, Leonardo’s parachute was never tested. However, the cool part is that in 2000, daredevil Adrian Nichols actually built a parachute based on Leonardo’s designs. Despite great skepticism from most people, the parachute worked smoothly and Nichols even complemented its smooth ride.

Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa (Gioconda) - Da Vinci's most known painting

Without a doubt, the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa (or Gioconda) has fascinated people for centuries – and for good reason. It is said that just the lips took 10 years to make! Also, it has fueled an impressive amount of theories not only due to its mysterious smile and implicit (for some) sexual hint, but also because of the fact that it also has some man traits, despite also having pregnant features. Still, it was worth every second, because the entire picture — especially the enigmatic smile — is the crowning of a genius.

The painting is a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, but there’s more to the painting than just Lisa. Many have seen the Mona Lisa as a fusion between both male and female features, while others see in it clear features of the Virgin Mary. Despite not being attractive in a traditional way, Gioconda embodies the ideal woman. Her gaze fixes the observer no matter where he is positioned (seriously, try it), and her legacy fixes a standard for art which was never achieved again.

Anatomy studies

vitruvian man - by leonardo da vinci

Vitruvian man

Leonardo’s formal training in the anatomy of the human body began with his apprenticeship to Andrea del Verrocchio, with his teacher insisting that all his pupils learn anatomy. As an artist, he grew fond of topographic anatomy, drawing many studies of muscles, tendons and other visible anatomical features. His drawing of the Vitruvian man is iconic: a nude male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square was almost a science fiction topic in 1487. The measurements are those of an average man, surprisingly correct (again, for the average man).

Studies of Embryos by Leonardo da Vinci.

But Leonardo didn’t stop there. His most penetrating anatomical studies began in 1506 with his dissection of a 100-year-old man whom he had previously known. He continued acquiring human skulls and corpses for dissection, and as gross as that may sound, at the time, it greatly helped advance science. Unfortunately, he abandoned his anatomic interest after a while and his sketches were lost and forgotten for centuries — some to be never found again.



flying machine - by leonardo da vinci

Image via by Wikipedia

During his lifetime and even after that, Leonardo was valued as an engineer. Still, with his imagination, it was hard to remain practical all the time, so some of his inventions were not devisable (at least not at that time). In 2001, a vision of his was resurrected by some engineers who built a small bridge based on his ideas. For much of his life, Leonardo was fascinated by the phenomenon of flight, producing many studies of the flight of birds, including his c. 1505 Codex on the Flight of Birds. Still, what chances would you have of somebody actually building the helicopters and tanks you designed? Even today, his engineering ideas still fascinate researchers.

Many of his ideas were unpractical, many were just brilliantly applied, and many had to wait hundreds of years before they could be applied. Also, his connection with the masonry is widely known and speculations have always been made — some more realistic, some complete fantasy. Stay tuned for a list of Leonardo’s more poetic ideas, and speculations that surrounding his unbelievable life.