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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You don’t have to know a PDF from a CMS to understand that Silicon Valley is one of the funniest comedies on television right now. While it’s been a hit with tech insiders—proving to be as cringe-worthily authentic to their industry as This is Spinal Tap was to musicians around the world—the show’s creators are banking on the fact that the majority of viewers don’t understand the first thing about compression or any other technical process. As the Emmy-nominated series prepares to debut its fifth season—its first without T.J. Miller—here are 20 things you might not know about the hilarious, Mike Judge-co-created comedy.
1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED AS A FEATURE FILM.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
More than 10 years before Silicon Valley made its debut in 2014, co-creator Mike Judge—who had logged some hours as an engineer in the real Silicon Valley—toyed with the idea of creating a feature film centered around America’s tech giants. “I’ve been hovering around with something like this for a while,” Judge told Deadline during the show’s first season. “Way back, before the dotcom burst in 2000, I thought about doing something like this, about a tech billionaire [Microsoft co-founder] Paul Allen-type, but that was as a movie.”
2. HBO WANTED MIKE JUDGE TO MAKE A SHOW ABOUT GAMERS.
Though Judge never got around to writing that feature, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky—writers and showrunners on Judge’s King of the Hill—eventually came to Judge with their own take on the tech world. “[Altschuler] suggested an idea like Falcon Crest, but instead of wine and oil money, it would be tech money,” Judge said. At the same time, HBO had expressed interest in working with Judge on a project. “HBO came to me with an idea about gamers with Scott Rudin attached, and from that point it was always going to be a TV series,” he explained. “I told them that I didn’t know enough about the gaming world, but I had worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley, and I suggested we do a project about that.”
3. AN EARLY VERSION FOCUSED ON TWO WOMEN WHO COME TO SILICON VALLEY LOOKING FOR THE NEXT BIG BILLIONAIRE.
Though HBO was anxious to work with Judge on a project, network executives were reportedly less than thrilled with the original pilot, which revolved around two women who come to Silicon Valley from Los Angeles in order to land the next dot-com billionaire. “We wanted women," one HBO exec toldThe Hollywood Reporter, "but not like that.”
Though Altschuler and Krinsky remained committed to the original idea, HBO was ready to walk away from the project. The writers departed the project, and Judge recruited writer-producer Alec Berg (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) to help rethink the series. “We reshot half the pilot," Casey Bloys, HBO's president of programming, explained. "And what those guys turned in was a comedy that was genuinely funny and also had something to say."
4. JUDGE WAS THINKING OF THOMAS MIDDLEDITCH AS HE WROTE THE SCRIPT.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
Though Thomas Middleditch was better known for his standup and some smaller film and television roles, he is the person Judge had in mind when he was writing the role of Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks. “This project felt charmed from the beginning,” Judge told Deadline. “I was a little worried before we started the casting process. I thought of Thomas Middleditch when I wrote it. He auditioned like everybody else and was great. It was important to me that the cast was believable, that they are highly intelligent and not just goofy caricatures. They had to be both funny and good actors.”
5. MOST OF THE CAST WANTED TO BE ERLICH BACHMAN.
Nearly every actor who ended up as a series regular (with the exception of Middleditch) auditioned to play Erlich Bachman, the self-centered entrepreneur who runs the incubator in which Pied Piper is born. Eventually, it was T.J. Miller who landed the part—or, more accurately, his silhouette. Judge told The New York Times that they were auditioning for the role in a frosted glass conference room, and when Miller walked by, just his silhouette elicited laughter. “If someone’s silhouette can make you laugh, they’re probably pretty funny,” Judge said.
6. AMANDA CREW ALMOST CANCELED HER AUDITION BECAUSE OF THE LACK OF WOMEN.
Silicon Valley is very much a boy’s club—so much so that it gave Amanda Crew, who plays Pied Piper board member Monica Hall, pause when it came time to audition. Concerned that she’d play more of a “seductress” than the whip-smart venture capitalist she became, she admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that, “I almost canceled my audition.”
7. THE WRITERS SPEND A LOT OF TIME RESEARCHING THE TECH INDUSTRY.
When discussing the authenticity of the series, Judge told Esquire that his past experience as an engineer working in Silicon Valley certainly helps, especially as “the personality types haven't changed that much.” But Berg shared that the writers really immerse themselves in the research, telling the magazine that, “At the beginning of each season, the entire writing staff goes up to San Francisco and the Valley for about a week. We pack our days with meetings with startups and with venture capitalists and different serial entrepreneurs. We have lunches and dinners with all kinds of oddball people with a lot of interesting thoughts.”
8. IT’S TOO PAINFUL FOR SOME TECH ENTREPRENEURS TO WATCH.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
Silicon Valley nails the true spirit of the Bay Area tech corridor and the people who inhabit its cubicles—sometimes, a little too well. “I get a good chunk of people saying hey, 'I love the show, it’s great, that happened to me' or whatever,” Middleditch told Den of Geek, “and then I get a really large amount of people saying ‘I can’t watch your show, it’s too painful. It’s like all my painful memories of being an entrepreneur are brought up in your show and therefore I can’t watch it.’”
For his part, Berg takes that as a compliment. “I’ll take that,” he said. “To me, if you look at a bell curve, rather than being at the center of the curve where everybody thinks it’s alright, I would rather live out at the edges where we’ve got fanatical fans and we’ve also got fanatical haters. I’ll trade mediocrity for the extreme.”
9. FINDING A WAY TO CREATE EXCITEMENT AROUND A BUNCH OF GUYS WHO SIT IN FRONT OF COMPUTER MONITORS ALL DAY CAN BE CHALLENGING.
While Judge, Berg, and their talented team of writers have no problem bringing out the humor in the series’s colorful cast of characters, the biggest challenge they face is creating drama and excitement around a group of guys who spend the bulk of the day sitting in front of a computer monitor. Having funny actors helps. “We found these guys and juggled things around and wrote to them,” Judge told Deadline. “These guys are programmers and sit in front of the computer screen for 16 hours—how do you film that and make that funny? That was a challenge. This world is so absurd, there’s a lot of great material along the way.”
“We try and make it about emotions or you try and get characters on opposite sides of a point of view so that they can argue about it in words, like Dinesh and Gilfoyle are constantly at each other and that’s not a thing that plays inside an IM window, that’s two people talking to each other,” Berg told Den of Geek. “We have to be good at figuring out what the emotional angles are and having characters play that.”
10. THE SHOW HAS BEEN ONE STEP AHEAD OF TECHNOLOGY ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION.
Technology moves at a breakneck speed—and so does Silicon Valley. “There were a few instances where the show would describe something, and by the time the episode came out, it had already happened in real life. I mean, bad ideas included,” Judge toldEsquire. “Like that app that was in the pilot, Nip Alert. It was supposed to be a bad idea. We had already shot the pilot and we went to TechCrunch Disrupt to kind of check it out. There was a big controversy because some Australian douchebag programmer had started a thing called Titstare. It brought out the sexism in Silicon Valley, and by the time our show aired—which was like nine months after that or so—it was written up somewhere as, ‘Oh they're making fun of Titstare,’ but we actually had that before.”
11. THE CREATORS ARE WELL AWARE THAT MOST VIEWERS DON’T KNOW A THING ABOUT TECHNOLOGY.
While some potential viewers may be turned off by the idea of a “tech” show, you don’t need to know a thing about technology to understand what’s going on. In fact, Judge and Berg half expect that their audience knows nothing about the subject. “We kind of make it so when there are technical things in play that it’s really not about the technology, it’s about some kind of emotion or a story that’s rooted in some kind of personal stakes that are relatable in an emotional way, hopefully,” Judge told Den of Geek.
“Fundamentally this is a show about outsiders and that’s one of the things that I think makes it, as you said, relatable,” added Berg. “These are guys trying to do something but they face long odds and they’re decidedly not part of the establishment which I think makes them somebody you root for.”
12. NOT ALL OF THE ACTORS ARE SUPER TECH-SAVVY EITHER.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
Though he plays a master programmer on the show, Martin Starr is the first to admit that he isn’t the tech-savviest of actors. “For the most part, I use my computer to write and Google whatever pops up in my brain that I want to know about in the moment,” Starr toldFast Company. “Other than that, tweeting may be about as tech-savvy as I get.”
Fortunately for Starr and the rest of the cast, there are consultants on the set to help the actors better understand what the hell they’re talking about. “Most of my questions to those guys are about understanding what I’m saying,” Starr said. “In our [first] season finale, there’s perhaps the most complicated dick joke that’s ever existed. It makes you feel real stupid when a base-level joke is too complicated for you.”
13. KUMAIL NANJIANI THINKS TECHNOLOGY IS DANGEROUS.
In October 2017, Kumail Nanjiani, who plays programmer Dinesh Chugtai, took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the power of technology. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t overly optimistic.
Thread: I know there's a lot of scary stuff in the world rn, but this is something I've been thinking about that I can't get out of my head.
14. THE ACTORS AND WRITERS ARE PITCHED TECH IDEAS ALL THE TIME.
Though Silicon Valley’s stars and writers are just that—actors and writers—that doesn’t stop the would-be Richard Hendrickses of the world from pitching anyone involved with the show their own tech ideas. “You have to be careful, because if you start talking to them, then they’ll start pitching you their thing,” writer Clay Tarver toldThe New York Times. “So I just don’t talk to anyone. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb here.”
15. MANY OF THE SHOW’S STARS HAVE BECOME TECH INVESTORS.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
The upside to all that pitching? Some of the show’s stars have been bitten by the Silicon Valley bug and actually invested in some startups. Amanda Crew has invested in a handful of female-run businesses, including Darling, a magazine that adheres to a strict “no retouching” photo policy. Middleditch, meanwhile, has focused on companies dedicated to aviation and the environment, including Beyond Meat, a plant-based ‘meat’ company. Both Middleditch and Martin Starr have also invested in WaterFX, a solar desalination company.
16. THEY’VE HAD SOME MAJOR TECH GURUS SIT IN ON THE WRITERS ROOM.
Though the show’s creators had trouble getting industry insiders to open up to them in the early days, before the show was a proven quantity, they’ve since managed to lure a number of A-list tech names to sit in the writers room.
“[A]fter the first season aired … I do think we got a lot of fans, and it became much, much easier to get people to talk to,” Berg toldEsquire, adding that they ended up having former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo “sitting in the writing room once a week. He's just a fan of the show, and he found himself out of work, and he decided to come down once a week and just hang.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (who was a classmate of Berg’s at Harvard), LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and Yelp co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman are among the individuals who have offered input to the show’s creators.
17. YOU PROBABLY DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT JARED’S PAST.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
Though Donald “Jared” Dunn (Zach Woods) may be the heart of Silicon Valley, you’re probably best not knowing too much about his oft-hinted-at dark past. According to Judge, many of the seemingly out-of-nowhere lines that Jared delivers about his bizarre personal history come straight from Woods. “A lot of this originally came from lines that Zach would just improv in the first two seasons,” Judge toldEntertainment Weekly. “Almost none of them made it in, but they did influence our writing of the character. Then we just started putting them in in ways that made a little more sense, where it was a little more organic to the scene.”
As for Woods himself: “To me, there’s like a hazy toxic fog that’s behind Jared,” he told IndieWire. “You don’t really know what happened, but you know it was real bad … If you could see the amount of backstory I have for Jared! I’m constantly trying to shoehorn in Jared’s unbelievably traumatizing history. Because in my head, one of the things that’s funny about Jared is that he’s endured unspeakable, constant tragedy for the first 30 years of his life, but is completely un-self-pitying and resilient.”
18. THERE’S A PIED PIPER WEBSITE.
If you’ve ever wondered what Pied Piper’s website might look like if it existed in real life, you’re in luck: HBO built a website for the company, complete with company bios, a blog (written by Jared), cheesy font, and banner that proudly touts the fact that, “Pied Piper's Space Saver App Hits Top 500 in Hooli App Store!”
19. T.J. MILLER COULD HAVE COME BACK FOR AN ABBREVIATED FIFTH SEASON.
Season four ended with a bit of a shakeup when T.J. Miller and the series very publicly parted ways with the show. As one of Silicon Valley’s breakout stars, the departure left the writers with a couple of challenges, but Judge—for one—believes that Miller’s departure was for the best. “It just wasn't working,” Judge toldThe Hollywood Reporter. He and his fellow creators offered Miller the chance to return for three episodes in the fifth season, in order to give Erlich a proper sendoff, but Miller declined.
20. PREPARE FOR JIAN-YANG TO BECOME THE SERIES’S RESIDENT “A**HOLE.”
With Erlich Bachman gone, Jian-Yang is ready to take up the role of becoming the series’s resident a**hole. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Jimmy O. Yang—who has spent several seasons in Erlich’s shadow—said he is ready to ratchet up the obnoxiousness of his character. “I kind of love it,” he said of his character’s recent transformation from quiet incubee to Erlich’s nemesis. “Because me, myself, I don’t think I’m an a**hole in real life. Something about me playing an a**hole is very funny, because I look very small and nice.”
It may seem extreme to threaten the gallows for the theft of a book, but that's just one example in the long, respected tradition of book curses. Before the invention of moveable type in the West, the cost of a single book could be tremendous. As medievalist Eric Kwakkel explains, stealing a book then was more like stealing someone’s car today. Now, we have car alarms; then, they had chains, chests … and curses. And since the heyday of the book curse occurred during the Middle Ages in Europe, it was often spiced with Dante-quality torments of hell.
The earliest such curses go back to the 7th century BCE. They appear in Latin, vernacular European languages, Arabic, Greek, and more. And they continued, in some cases, into the era of print, gradually fading as books became less expensive. Here are nine that capture the flavor of this bizarre custom.
The Arnstein Bible at the British Library, written in Germany circa 1172, has a particularly vivid torture in mind for the book thief: “If anyone steals it: may he die, may he be roasted in a frying pan, may the falling sickness [i.e. epilepsy] and fever attack him, and may he be rotated [on the breaking wheel] and hanged. Amen.”
2. "A WORSE END"
A 15th-century French curse featured by Marc Drogin in his bookAnathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses has a familiar "House That Jack Built"-type structure:
“Whoever steals this book
Will hang on a gallows in Paris,
And, if he isn’t hung, he’ll drown,
And, if he doesn’t drown, he’ll roast,
And, if he doesn’t roast, a worse end will befall him.”
In The Medieval Book, Barbara A. Shailor records a curse from Northeastern France found in the 12th-century Historia scholastica: “Peter, of all the monks the least significant, gave this book to the most blessed martyr, Saint Quentin. If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgment the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
4. "OUT WITH HIS EYES"
Drogin also records this 13th-century curse from a manuscript at the Vatican Library, as Medievalists.net notes. It escalates rapidly.
"The finished book before you lies;
This humble scribe don’t criticize.
Whoever takes away this book
May he never on Christ look.
Whoever to steal this volume durst
May he be killed as one accursed.
Whoever to steal this volume tries
Out with his eyes, out with his eyes!"
An 11th-century book curse from a church in Italy, spotted by Kwakkel, offers potential thieves the chance to make good: “Whoever takes this book or steals it or in some evil way removes it from the Church of St Caecilia, may he be damned and cursed forever, unless he returns it or atones for his act.”
6. "YOU DESERVED THIS WOE"
This book curse was written in a combination of Latin and German, as Drogin records:
"To steal this book, if you should try,
It’s by the throat you’ll hang high.
And ravens then will gather ’bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you’re screaming 'oh, oh, oh!'
Remember, you deserved this woe."
7. "CURSED FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD"
This 18th-century curse from a manuscript found in Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, is written in Arabic: “Property of the monastery of the Syrians in honorable Jerusalem. Anyone who steals or removes [it] from its place of donation will be cursed from the mouth of God! God (may he be exalted) will be angry with him! Amen.”
“Steal not this Book my honest friend
For fear the gallows be yr end
For when you die the Lord will say
Where is the book you stole away.”
BONUS: TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
One of the most elaborate book curses found on the internet runs as follows: "For him that stealeth a Book from this Library, let it change to a Serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with Palsy, and all his Members blasted. Let him languish in Pain, crying aloud for Mercy and let there be no surcease to his Agony till he sink to Dissolution. Let Book-worms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment let the Flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye.”
Alas, this curse—still often bandied about as real—was in fact part of a 1909 hoax by the librarian and mystery writer Edmund Pearson, who published it in his "rediscovered" Old Librarian's Almanack. The Almanack was supposed to be the creation of a notably curmudgeonly 18th-century librarian; in fact, it was a product of Pearson's fevered imagination.