10 Masterful Facts About Leonardo Da Vinci

Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

There are few historical figures in the world with a creative reputation comparable to that of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the celebrated figurehead of the Italian Renaissance art movement. A polymath, da Vinci alternated stunning canvas work (The Last Supper, Mona Lisa) with prescient sketches of inventions and engineering theory.

Although his life could fill several books (and has), we’ve rounded up some of the more compelling facts about Leonardo da Vinci's work.

1. A SODOMY CHARGE LED TO HIS DISAPPEARANCE.

The Italy of the Middle Ages was not an era of particularly progressive thinking. Born in Tuscany in 1452, a young Leonardo da Vinci showcased his aptitude for art early on and was soon taken in by acclaimed artist Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence, studying under his wing for 11 years. Though a rich life following his creative pursuits seemed imminent, Leonardo’s aspirations were temporarily derailed when he and several other young men were charged with the crime of sodomy, a serious accusation that could have led to his execution. Leonardo, 24, was acquitted, but the apparent shame of the charge led him to completely withdraw from any activity for two years. He reemerged to take on a commission at a chapel in Florence in 1478.

2. HE DISSECTED CORPSES.

A museum visitor examines the work of Leonardo da Vinci
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

For Leonardo, no line could be drawn between science and art, or between the heart and the mind. His science studies informed his art, and he was particularly interested in human anatomy. In the 1480s, his interest in replicating the sinews and musculature of the body led to his performing numerous dissections of both humans and animals. It’s believed that his depictions of the heart, vascular system, genitals, and other components are some of the first illustrations of their type on record. This is particularly notable when one considers that in Leonardo’s time, there was no method for embalming—his deceased subjects were most certainly pungent at the time of their reference.

3. HIS BIGGEST PROJECT WAS DESTROYED.

Leonardo could spend years on a single piece of art—The Last Supper took three—but it was a commission from the Duke of Milan that proved to be his most substantial work-for-hire project. Asked to complete a 16-foot statue of the Duke’s father on horseback, Leonardo toiled for nearly 12 years. Before it could be completed, French forces invaded Milan in 1499 and shot the clay sculpture, shattering it into pieces.

4. HE LIKED TO WRITE IN REVERSE.

An example of Leonardo da Vinci's handwriting
Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

The hundreds of notebook pages belonging to Leonardo that have survived time reveal a curious habit of the artist: He wrote in mirror script, reversing his handwriting so it would only be viewable if the page was held up to a mirror. Despite some suspicion that he was trying to be secretive, the truth is that, as a left-handed writer, he could avoid smearing or erasing the chalk by writing in reverse.

5. THE LAST SUPPER HAS MIRACULOUSLY SURVIVED.

Leonardo’s depiction of Jesus and his apostles just before his betrayal by Judas might be his best-known work outside of Mona Lisa. It was famous in its time, too, with Europeans fascinated by the composition and often trying to replicate it in other mediums. That it’s still on display at Milan’s Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie is something of a miracle. When France invaded Milan in 1499, there was discussion of King Louis cutting it down from the wall so he could bring it home with him. In 1796, more French soldiers placed it under duress, hurling rocks at it. And in 1943, when Allied forces bombed the area, caretakers of the church had reinforced the painting wall in the hopes it would be enough to keep it safe. The church was destroyed, but The Last Supper was unharmed.

6. HE NEVER FINISHED MONA LISA.

A look at 'Mona Lisa' by Leonardo da Vinci
Getty Images

Although Leonardo was prolific, he was never in any particular hurry to finish individual projects. Many paintings and other works were abandoned or deemed incomplete, including one of his most famous projects, Mona Lisa. When Leonardo died in 1519, he willed that unfinished painting and his other possessions to his assistant and close friend, Salai. Some art historians have speculated that a debilitating illness could have resulted in right-side paralysis that would have hampered his work in the last few years of his life.

7. HE WAS AN ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST.

Pre-dating the animal rights movement by centuries, Leonardo wrote of his love and respect for animals and often questioned whether humans truly were their superiors. Leonardo reportedly bought caged birds in order to set them free and strayed from eating meat.

8. BILL GATES BOUGHT HIS NOTEBOOK FOR $30.8 MILLION.

One of Leonardo da Vinci's notebook is put on display
Valentina Petrova/AFP/Getty Images

Even Leonardo’s doodles captured the amazement and attention of the public. In 1994, one of the artist’s notebooks went up for auction at Christie’s. Titled The Codex Hammer, it was compiled from 1506 to 1510 while Leonardo was in both Florence and Milan and contains musings on everything from art theory to why the sky appears blue; another casual note predicts the invention of the submarine. Microsoft founder Bill Gates was the winning bidder, paying $30.8 million for the 72-page collection.

9. HE INSPIRED PAINT-BY-NUMBERS.

There is some irony in the idea that history’s most eclectic artist might have been the inspiration behind the paint-by-numbers kits popularized in the 1950s. Leonardo taught his apprentices to paint using number-sorted canvases, an idea that was later discovered by paint company employee Dan Robbins. By 1954, Robbins's paint-by-numbers kits were doing $20 million in sales.

10. HE HAD BEEF WITH MICHELANGELO.

An illustration of Leonardo da Vinci
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The celebrated artist and sculptor was Leonardo’s contemporary, but the two did not go out for drinks. Historical accounts describe the men as artistic rivals, needling one another about their methods. Michelangelo taunted Leonardo over his inability to complete certain works; Leonardo took his foe to task for over-exaggerated musculature in his sculptures. 

11 Fascinating Facts About the War of the Roses

The Battle of Towton (1461) during the War of the Roses.
The Battle of Towton (1461) during the War of the Roses.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It's no secret that George R. R. Martin looked to history for inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire, his epic, still-in-process series of fantasy novels that serves as the basis for HBO's Game of Thrones, which will end its eight-season run in May. (The Black Dinner of 1440 and the Massacre of Glencoe, for example, served as inspiration for the series' infamous Red Wedding.) One of Martin's main influences was the War of the Roses—three decades of bloodshed and animosity between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, two rival branches of the English royal family. So before the fight for the Iron Throne subsides—at least on TV—let's take a look at its real-life historical counterpart.

1. The War of the Roses started in 1455 and lasted until approximately 1485.

The War of the Roses wasn't one long, continuous conflict; it was a series of minor wars and civil skirmishes interrupted by long periods that were mostly peaceful, if politically tense (which is why it's frequently referred to as the Wars of the Roses, rather than the singular War). After the opening battle—the First Battle of St. Albans—broke out on May 22, 1455, there wasn't another major showdown until the Battle of Blore Heath erupted four years later. And the years between 1471 and 1483 were a time of relative peace in England. Things did heat back up in 1483, as the Yorkist ruler Richard III began clashing with Henry Tudor, an exiled Lancaster nobleman. Tudor prevailed over his foe at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and then took the crown as King Henry VII. Two years later, in 1487, the Battle of Stoke Field essentially ended the Yorkist cause, which some consider to be the true end of the War of the Roses.

2. The War of the Roses was initially known as "The Cousins' War."

The conflicts didn't come to be called the "Wars of the Roses" until long after the actual fighting stopped. Throughout the 15th century, the House of York used white roses as an emblem, and by 1485, the House of Lancaster had become associated with red roses. In the 1560s, a British diplomat discussed "the striving of the two roses." William Shakespeare baked the convenient symbolism into his play, Henry VI, Part I, (which was most likely written in the 1590s). Later, a 1646 pamphlet called the medieval York/Lancaster struggle "The Quarrel of the Warring Roses." Then David Hume's 1762 History of England popularized the term "Wars Between the Two Roses." From labels like these, the now-ubiquitous "War of the Roses" phrase evolved.

3. The War of the Roses was caused by a struggle between a deposed King Henry VI and his cousin Richard, the Duke of York.

King Henry VI of England.
King Henry VI of England.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

After England lost virtually all of its French holdings in 1453, King Henry VI suffered a mental breakdown. The Lancastrian monarch seemingly lost his ability to speak, walk unassisted, or even hold up his own head. (What happened is unclear; some suggest that he was stricken by a depressive stupor or catatonic schizophrenia.)

Henry VI clearly wasn't fit to rule, so his cousin Richard, the Duke of York, was appointed Lord Protector and Defender of England in his stead. York's political muscle unraveled when Henry VI recovered on Christmas Day 1454; his desire to regain power set the stage for the First Battle of St. Albans a few months later.

4. After being killed during one battle in the War of the Roses, the Duke of York had a fake crown placed upon his severed head.

During the May 1455 battle at St. Albans, York met and defeated Henry VI's Royal Army with a superior force of 3000 men. In the aftermath, the king was forced to restore York as England's Lord Protector—but York didn't hold the job for long. After some violent clashes against the supporters of Henry VI's biological son (with whom the Duke was a rival for the throne), York died at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. As a final insult, his disembodied head was mounted on Micklegate Bar in the city of York—and decorated with a phony crown made of paper (or possibly reeds).

5. Pope Pius II tried—and failed—to ease political tensions during the War of the Roses.

The Pope wanted to enlist King Henry VI as an ally in a potential crusade against the Ottomans. Unfortunately for His Holiness, the War of the Roses was keeping Henry plenty busy at the time. So in 1459, Pius II sent clergyman Francesco Coppini to England with instructions to ask for the king's support—and if possible, negotiate peace between Houses York and Lancaster. Instead, Coppini became a Yorkist sympathizer who vocally denounced the Lancastrian cause.

6. Early guns were used in some battles of the War of the Roses.

Swords and arrows weren't the only weapons deployed during the War of the Roses. At archaeological sites dating back to the 1461 Battle of Towton (a Yorkist victory), broken pieces of early handheld guns have been recovered. It's suspected that the devices would have blown themselves apart when fired, making them dangerous to wield. Regardless, primitive guns also saw use at the 1485 Battle of Bosworth.

7. After defeating Henry VI, King Edward IV was betrayed by a former ally—and his own sibling.

King Edward IV
King Edward IV.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Edward, one of the sons of the slain Duke of York, deposed Henry VI in 1461 to become King Edward IV. One of the men who helped him do so was Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick. But the earl soon had a falling out with the new king and, in 1470, Warwick helped put Henry VI back on the throne after teaming up with Queen Margaret of Anjou and George, the Duke of Clarence (who was also Edward IV's brother). The Yorkist king went into exile, but he returned with a vengeance in 1471.

Despite their rocky past, the two brothers reconciled and worked together to overcome the Warwick-led Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Barnet. This victory, and a later triumph over Queen Margaret's men, enabled King Edward IV to regain the crown. (Sadly, in the end things didn't work out for the Duke of Clarence—he was executed for treason in 1478.)

8. Edward IV's wife, Elizabeth Woodville, took sanctuary in Westminster Abbey twice to escape enemies during the War of the Roses.

One reason why Warwick soured on King Edward IV was because he didn't approve of the young ruler's chosen spouse. In 1464, Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville, a widowed mother of two who was five years his senior (and whose first marriage had been to a Lancastrian knight). From October 1, 1470 to April 11, 1471, during Edward's exile, Elizabeth and her daughters holed themselves up in Westminster Abbey, where they declared sanctuary. During her stay, she gave birth to a son, Edward V. Elizabeth would return to the Abbey for another prolonged stay that began in 1483. Edward IV had died earlier that year, and by taking sanctuary in the Abbey once again, Elizabeth was now looking to protect herself and her children from a man she deeply mistrusted: The late king's younger brother, Richard, the Duke of Gloucester.

9. Two young princes disappeared during the War of the Roses.

In the wake of King Edward IV's death, the Duke of Gloucester—who'd been a high-ranking Yorkist commander at the Battle of Tewkesbury—was named Protector of England. Then on July 6, 1483, he was crowned as King Richard III. His claim to the throne was not uncontested: Edward IV had two sons, aged 12 and 9, who were staying in the Tower of London at the time. No one knows what happened to the boys; they were last seen alive in the summer of 1483. King Richard III is frequently accused of having the boys murdered, though some suspect that they were killed by another ambitious royal, Henry Tudor. It's also possible that the boys fled.

10. Henry Tudor ended the War of the Roses through marriage.

The York Rose, the Lancaster Rose, and the Tudor Rose.
iStock.com/Rixipix

After his forces defeated Richard III's at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, Henry Tudor was crowned Henry VII—some say at the exact spot where Richard III was killed. After he was officially crowned, Henry VII wed Elizabeth of York, King Edward IV's daughter, in 1486.

This marriage is part of the reason Houses Lancaster and York are synonymous with roses today, though both used many non-floral emblems (loyalists of Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI, identified themselves by wearing swan badges, for example, and Yorkist Richard III made a white boar his personal logo). After his marriage to Elizabeth of York, Henry VII was able to portray himself as the grand unifier of two enemy houses. To symbolize this, he introduced a new emblem: A white flower with red trim called the “Tudor Rose.”

11. Richard III's body was found under a parking lot in 2012.

 King Richard III.
King Richard III.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard III was not destined to rest in peace. In the centuries following the Battle of Bosworth, the dead king's body went missing. In 2012, an archaeological team rediscovered the former king's remains beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England. DNA testing helped confirm their identity. Richard III's well-documented scoliosis was clearly visible in the spinal column, and it was concluded that he had died of a blow to the skull. The much-maligned ruler was given a ceremonious reburial at Leicester Cathedral in 2015.

11 Game of Thrones Easter Eggs You Might Have Missed

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

Game of Thrones is famous for dropping clues of things to come—and subtle nods to George R.R. Martin’s books—in casual bits of dialogue or unassuming props. As fans prepare to say goodbye to the beloved HBO series, we've rounded up 11 Easter eggs you might have missed the first time around, from the debut season all the way up to "Winterfell," the first episode in season 8. Be sure to watch and listen carefully for future references as the final episodes unfold.

1. Ser Davos Seaworth said Jon Snow’s real name in season 3.

Liam Cunningham in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

In season 7, the popular R+L=J theory was finally confirmed. Jon Snow is not the bastard son of Ned Stark, as nearly everyone in Westeros believes, but the legitimate son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen—and the heir to the Iron Throne. Ergo, his real name is Aegon Targaryen. So far, only a handful of characters on the show have figured it all out, but technically, Davos Seaworth called this a long time ago. When Princess Shireen Baratheon taught Davos to read in season 3, the first word Davos learned was Aegon, foreshadowing Jon Snow’s true lineage.

2. Sansa Starks’s wedding gown contained an embroidered story.

On Game of Thrones, even the clothes have hidden messages. According to the show’s costume designer Michele Clapton, the dress Sansa Stark wore when she married Tyrion Lannister was stitched with her life story. The golden gown featured a fish embroidered around the belly to honor her mother’s house sigil, as well as a Stark direwolf and a Lannister lion on the back.

3. Walder Frey’s death was outlined earlier in the show.

Arya Stark claimed long-awaited vengeance for her family in the season 6 finale, when she finally killed Walder Frey. Before she slit his throat, however, she served him a pie stuffed with the remains of his sons—Black Walder and Lothar. It’s a shocking and gruesome scheme, but it’s also one we’ve heard before. In season 3, Bran told Hodor and his companions the legend of the Rat King: According to this folklore, a cook in the Night’s Watch once killed the son of a visiting king. He chopped the body up and cooked it into a pie that he then served to the king, who loved it so much he asked for seconds. The gods punished the chef by turning him into a large rat who could only survive by eating his own children. As Bran explained, the gods were not offended by the murder or even the cannibalism—they couldn’t abide a man “kill[ing] a guest beneath his roof,” which is exactly what Walder Frey did to Catelyn, Robb, and Talisa Stark.

4. The furniture at King’s Landing reveals regime changes.

Squint hard at the wooden furniture in the Red Keep and you’ll notice a lot of dragons. The Game of Thrones production team intentionally included these pieces—which are most prominent in Tommen Lannister’s bedroom and the Small Council’s meeting room—to remind viewers of past power struggles at King’s Landing. The dragon furniture implies that the Baratheons and Lannisters kept the Targaryens' furnishings after they staged a coup, perhaps while they waited on some new bedframes with roaring lions.

5. Olenna Tyrell referenced family history in Dorne.

When Olenna Tyrell called a secret meeting with Ellaria Sand in Dorne, she admitted to being uneasy in the kingdom—and with good reason. "The last time a Tyrell came to Dorne, he was assassinated,” Lady Olenna told Ellaria. “A hundred red scorpions, was it?” This is a nod to Martin's novels, which detail the death of Lyonel Tyrell. The story goes that Lyonel liked to storm Dornish castles, then kick the lords out of their own bedrooms. One night, he wound up in a bed with a velvet canopy and matching sash, intended to summon women to his room. Except when he tugged the sash to do just that, 100 red scorpions fell from the canopy, killing Lyonel and freeing the Dornish from his tyranny.

6. The magic of Harry Potter is alive in Westeros.

Fandoms collided in season 7 when Samwell Tarly asked Archmaester Ebrose for help accessing “the restricted area of the library.” The phrase was a familiar one for Harry Potter fanatics; in the book series and subsequent movies, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has a restricted section of the library containing books on dark magic. Sam’s request felt like a wink to Harry Potter fans, especially since Archmaester Ebrose was played by Jim Broadbent, who played Horace Slughorn in the movies. But that’s not the only connection: Natalia Tena, who plays Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter universe, also appears in Game of Thrones as the wildling woman Osha. In her early scenes, she is seen making brooms.

7. The Meereenese love Monty Python.

The warriors on Game of Thrones aren’t above trash talking. According to David Peterson, the show's language creator, the Meereense fighter who challenged Daario Naharis in season 4 shouted some very silly insults in Low Valyrian. His words translated to the French guard’s speech from Monty Python and Holy Grail—the one that goes, “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!”

8. The Iron Throne includes swords from other fantasy franchises.

The swords that form the Iron Throne further link Westeros to other fictional universes. If you look closely, you’ll spy Gandalf’s sword from The Lord of the Rings movies molded into the back of the throne, as well as the weapon Orlando Bloom wields in Kingdom of Heaven.

9. Ed Sheeran’s fate was revealed in a sex scene.

Ed Sheeran and Maisie Williams in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

Fans were furious when pop star Ed Sheeran appeared in the season 7 premiere as a Lannister soldier Arya Stark encounters in the woods. The response was so negative that Sheeran later joked, “It was fun being in Game of Thrones, but I definitely think they should've killed me off in the episode.” Well, he almost got his wish. In the season 8 premiere, Bronn visits a brothel and hires three women who can’t stop talking about the Lannister men who perished in battle. They specifically reference a “ginger” named “Eddie” who “came back with his face burned off” and no eyelids. Ouch.

10. Euron Greyjoy’s fleet hides some famous faces.

Speaking of cameos: season 8 has already given us two more. When Theon Greyjoy storms his uncle Euron’s ship to free his sister Yara, his men take out the crew with arrows to the face—and, for one especially unfortunate sailor, the eye. That unfortunate sailor was none other than Rob McElhenney, co-creator and star of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Also aboard the ship? Martin Starr of Silicon Valley fame.

11. The show's co-creators are in the Hall of Faces.

Maisie Williams and Tom Wlaschiha 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

In a move straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s playbook, Game of Thrones co-creators David Benioff and David Weiss have cameoed on their own show—or at least, their faces have. The two men’s visages appeared in the Hall of Faces that Arya frequents with Jaqen H’ghar. See if you can spot them on your next rewatch.

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