15 Things You Didn't Know Leonardo da Vinci Influenced

iStock.com/Zummolo
iStock.com/Zummolo

Leonardo da Vinci wore many hats—painter, mathematician, inventor, and paleontologist were just some of the titles that might describe him. Here are 15 areas of modern life that you might not know were influenced by the work of the 15th-century Italian genius.

1. Paleontology

Leonardo may have been the first person to record the discovery of a rare fossil called Paleodictyon, which appears as a hexagonal shape in sediment. Even today, scientists are still trying to figure out what exactly makes these fossil shapes, thought to be indicative of an animal burrowing into the sea floor. In understanding that fossils were the remains of ancient life, Leonardo expressed some of the first modern ideas about paleontology. He is considered the founding father of ichnology, the study of behavioral traces of plants and animals.

2. Robotics

In the late 15th century, Leonardo designed what is considered the first humanoid robot. Made to look like a knight, the automaton had a complicated series of pulleys and spring mechanics that allowed it to raise its hands and move its joints when activated. He also designed several mechanical lions that could walk on their own using clock-like machinery that was far ahead of its time. A Venetian designer made a full-sized recreation of one of these lions in 2009, creating a 6-foot-long wind-up toy that could walk, move its head, and wag its tail.

3. Flight Safety

Leonardo jotted down an idea for the first parachute in the margins of one of his notebooks as early as the 1480s. He wrote: "If a man is provided with a length of gummed linen cloth with a length of 12 yards on each side and 12 yards high, he can jump from any great height whatsoever without injury." In 2000, a British man jumped out of a hot air balloon using a parachute made to Leonardo's specifications, successfully floating back down (although it weighed almost 190 pounds, so he cut free from the contraption before reaching the ground to avoid being crushed by it).

4. Helicopters

Sketch of an early helicopter prototype drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in 1483.
A sketch of an early helicopter prototype drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in 1483.
Kean Collection/Getty Images

Long before flying machines were feasible, Leonardo came up with the basic idea for the helicopter. His "aerial screw" had a prop that turned to lift it off the ground. In 2013, a team of Canadian engineers created a human-powered helicopter based on Leonardo's idea, flying the winged bicycle in an international competition.

5. Telescopes

Though Leonardo probably didn't actually make a telescope, he definitely realized the potential of lenses and mirrors to reveal the details of celestial bodies from the ground. One of his notebooks contains instructions for what sounds a lot like a mirror telescope: "In order to observe the nature of the planets," he wrote, "open the roof and bring the image of a single planet onto the base of a concave mirror. The image of the planet reflected by the base will show the surface of the planet much magnified."

6. Contact Lenses

In 1509, Leonardo sketched out a model for how you might change the eye's optical power. By sticking the face into a bowl of water, one could see more clearly. Water-filled lenses worn over the eye might improve vision, he speculated. The idea wasn't practical enough for a prototype, but it would later influence the 19th-century scientists who finally produced the first rudimentary contact lenses.

7. Scuba Diving

Jacques Cousteau may be the father of scuba diving, but Leonardo was already thinking about diving suits in the early 16th century. He proposed a floating cork buoy that would keep cane tubes above water, funneling air to a diver below. He also dreamed up a leather bag to hold air, and a bag for the diver to pee in.

8. Freudian Psychology

In 1916, Sigmund Freud published an entire book attempting to analyze a historical figure based on his biography, using Leonardo da Vinci as his subject. Based on a very brief description in Leonardo's notes of a childhood memory, Freud psychoanalyzed Leonardo, coming up with extensive explanations for his relentless curiosity, artistic skill, and overall behavior.

9. Artistic Perspective

Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Saint John the Baptist,' from 1513-16.
Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Saint John the Baptist,' from 1513-16.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Renaissance painter was obsessed with optics and perspective. He brought the artistic technique of atmospheric perspective—where things farther away look blurrier—to Italy, and popularized it in Renaissance paintings, using it in his famous works like the Mona Lisa. He developed artistic techniques like chiaroscuro, the contrast between light and shadow, and sfumato, the blending of oil paints to blur the lines between colors in a painting.

10. Anatomy

In addition to his discoveries regarding human organs, Leonardo da Vinci was the first person to accurately describe the shape of the spine. He portrayed the backbone's S-shaped curve, and for the first time depicted the sacrum as being made up of fused vertebrae.

11. Dentistry

Leonardo was the first person to depict the correct structure of the teeth within the mouth, illuminating their number and root structure for future study.

12. Heart Surgery

A Leonardo da Vinci drawing, dated 1509-10, of a woman's cardiovascular system.
A Leonardo da Vinci drawing, dated 1509-10, of a woman's cardiovascular system.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Leonardo was obsessed with the heart, and dissected actual hearts to figure out how they worked. A century before the discovery of the heart's role in pumping blood around the body, Leonardo figured out that it was vital to the circulation system, and diagrammed it and its surrounding blood vessels. He was the first person to describe coronary artery disease, and the first to describe the heart as a muscle.

13. Obstetrics

Anatomical drawing of a fetus in the womb by Leonardo da Vinci.
iStock.com/JanakaMaharageDharmasena

Many of Leonardo's drawings of female anatomy mistakenly assume similarities between the reproductive organs of humans and cows. But he was the first to depict the position of the fetus within a woman's uterus, laying the groundwork for better understanding of pregnancy and childbirth.

14. Optical Illusions

Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks contain the earliest known examples of anamorphosis, a visual trick where an image looks distorted from the usual vantage point, but appears normal in another, such as in a mirror. This is the illusion that makes a flat image look three-dimensional, as often seen in sidewalk art.

15. Pop Culture

Leonardo's Vitruvian Man is one of the most recognizable drawings in the world. It's been used to illustrate the opening credits of television shows, parodied on t-shirts, and featured prominently in movies to represent mankind.

This story was updated in 2019.

Happy Little Mystery Solved: We Finally Know What Happened to All of Bob Ross’ Paintings

Bob Ross Inc.
Bob Ross Inc.

Bob Ross is one of the most prolific artists of the 20th century, but his works are hard to find. They aren't sold at auction houses and they rarely appear in museums. But that doesn't mean they're not out there. For each of the 403 episodes Ross filmed for The Joy of Painting, he painted three pieces: one before filming to use as a reference, one during the show, and one after for his how-to books. He painted more than 1000 works for the series and now, nearly 25 years after the painter's death, The New York Times has finally discovered where all those happy little masterpieces are hiding.

Bob Ross Inc. headquarters in northern Virginia houses stacks of boxes of Bob Ross originals. The paintings aren't kept in a climate-controlled room like you might expect to find in the back of the Louvre. Rather, they sit in a regular storage room mixed in with other Bob Ross documents and artifacts.

Knocking on the door of the building won't get you a private showing of the artwork. Bob Ross Inc. is the company that handles the Bob Ross brand, and its headquarters aren't open to the public. But the massive body of work the painter left behind is becoming slightly more accessible to fans. Earlier in 2019, Bob Ross Inc. donated some of the items in its inventory to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The donation included the paintings “On a Clear Day" and “Blue Ridge Falls,” as well as handwritten notebooks and fan letters. The museum has no plans to display the paintings as of yet, but this fall, a different set of Ross originals will be shown at the Franklin Park Arts Center in Purcellville, Virginia. The exhibit will include 24 of his paintings—the most ever displayed at one time.

Fans looking to own a happy little landscape of their own are likely out of luck. The paintings at Bob Ross Inc. aren't for sale, which means any so-called Ross paintings you see being auctioned off online are likely fakes. For tips on how to spot a counterfeit, and to see where Bob Ross's real paintings are today, watch the video from the The New York Times below.

[h/t The New York Times]

17 Artful Facts About Frida Kahlo

A visitor looks at "Self-Portrait as Tehuana or Diego on My Mind" at the Frida Kahlo Retrospective in Berlin in 2010
A visitor looks at "Self-Portrait as Tehuana or Diego on My Mind" at the Frida Kahlo Retrospective in Berlin in 2010
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The life and work of Frida Kahlo—one of Mexico's greatest painters—were both defined by pain and perseverance. Getting to know how Kahlo lived provides greater insight into her beloved paintings, which are rich with detail and personal iconography.

1. Frida Kahlo was born and died in the same house.

Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in a building nicknamed “La Casa Azul” for its vivid blue exterior. There, she was raised by her mother, Matilde, and encouraged by her photographer father, Guillermo. Years later, she and her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, made it their home as well. And on July 13, 1954, Kahlo died there at age 47.

2. … and Kahlo's beloved home is now a museum.

Casa Azul is also known as The Frida Kahlo Museum. As a tribute to Kahlo, Rivera donated the house in 1958 as well as all of the artwork, created by both him and Kahlo, that it contained. Much of the interior has been preserved just the way Kahlo had it in the 1950s, making the space a popular tourist attraction that allows visitors a look at her work, life, and personal artifacts, including the urn that holds her ashes.

3. A third of Frida Kahlo's paintings were self-portraits.

Kahlo folded in symbols from her Mexican culture and allusions to her personal life in order to create a series of 55 surreal and uniquely revealing self-portraits. Of these, she famously declared, "I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best."

4. A surreal accident had a big impact on Frida Kahlo's life.

On September 17, 1925, an 18-year-old Kahlo boarded a bus with her boyfriend Alex Gómez Arias, only to be forever marred when it crossed a train's path. Recalling the tragedy, Arias described the bus as "burst(ing) into a thousand pieces," with a handrail ripping through Kahlo's torso.

He later recounted, "Something strange had happened. Frida was totally nude. The collision had unfastened her clothes. Someone in the bus, probably a house painter, had been carrying a packet of powdered gold. This package broke, and the gold fell all over the bleeding body of Frida. When people saw her, they cried, ‘La bailarina, la bailarina!’ With the gold on her red, bloody body, they thought she was a dancer."

5. Kahlo’s path to painting began with that collision.

The accident broke Kahlo's spinal column, collarbone, ribs, and pelvis, fractured her right leg in 11 places, and dislocated her shoulder. Those severe injuries left her racked with pain for the rest of her life, and frequently bedbound. But during these times, Kahlo picked up her father's paintbrush. Her mother helped arrange a special easel that would allow her to work from bed. Of her life's hardships, Kahlo once proclaimed, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

6. Frida Kahlo once dreamed of being a doctor.

As a child, Kahlo contracted polio, which withered her right leg and sparked an interest in the healing power of medicine. Unfortunately, the injuries from the train accident forced the teenager to abandon her plans to study medicine.

7. Kahlo’s poor health shaped her art.

In the course of her life, Kahlo would undergo 30 surgeries, including the eventual amputation of her foot due to a case of gangrene. She explored her frustrations with her body's frailty in paintings like The Broken Column, which centers on her shattered spine, and Without Hope, which dramatically depicted a period where her doctor prescribed force-feeding. On the back of the latter, she wrote, "Not the least hope remains to me ... Everything moves in time with what the belly contains."

8. Kahlo didn’t see herself as a surrealist.

She rejected the label, saying, "They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."

9. Kahlo’s tumultuous marriage sparked more pain and paintings.

Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera and a pet dog, Mexico City, 1940s
Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera and a pet dog, Mexico City, 1940s
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Kahlo met Rivera, she was a student and he was already a father of four and on his way to his second divorce. Despite a 20-year age difference, the pair quickly fell for each other, spurring Rivera to leave his second wife and wed Kahlo in 1929.

From there, they were each other's greatest fans and supporters when it came to their art. But their 10-year marriage was wrought with fits of temper and infidelities on both sides. They divorced in 1939, only to remarry a year later. Paintings like Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, The Two Fridas, and The Love Embrace of the Universe boldly illustrated their relationship from Kahlo's perspective.

10. Kahlo grieved privately and publicly for the children she never had.

Modern doctors believe that the bus accident had irreparably damaged Kahlo's uterus, which made pregnancies impossible to carry to term. In 1932, she painted Henry Ford Hospital, a provocative self-portrait that marks one of several devastating miscarriages she suffered.

The piece would be displayed to the world in a 1938 gallery show. But Kahlo kept private personal letters to her friend, Doctor Leo Eloesser, in which she wrote, "I had so looked forward to having a little Dieguito that I cried a lot, but it's over, there is nothing else that can be done except to bear it.'" This letter, along with others from their decades-long exchange, were released in 2007, having been hidden for almost 50 years by a patron worried about their contents.

11. Frida Kahlo once arrived to an art show in an ambulance.

In 1953, toward the end of her short life, the painter was overjoyed about her first solo exhibition in Mexico. But a hospital stay threatened her attendance. Against doctors' orders, Kahlo made an incredible entrance, pulling up in an ambulance as if in a limousine.

12. Kahlo is rumored to have had several famous lovers.

When she wasn't recovering from surgery or confined to a recuperation bed, Kahlo was full of life, relishing the chance to dance, socialize, and flirt. While American sculptor Isamu Noguchi was in Mexico City for the creation of his History as Seen from Mexico in 1936, he and Kahlo began a passionate affair that evolved into a life-long friendship.

Three years later, while visiting Paris, the bisexual painter struck up a romance with the city's "Black Pearl" entertainer Josephine Baker. And many have speculated that the artist and activist also bedded Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, while he and his wife Natalia stayed in Kahlo's family home after they were granted asylum in Mexico in 1936.

13. Frida Kahlo was fiercely proud of her heritage.

Though she'd lived in New York, San Francisco, and Paris, Kahlo was always drawn back to her hometown, Mexico City. She favored traditional Mexican garb, the long colorful skirts she was known for, and the Huipile blouses of Mexico’s matriarchal Tehuantepec society. Perhaps most telling, she told the press she was born in 1910, cutting three years off her age so she could claim the same birth year as the Mexican Revolution.

14. Frida Kahlo had several exotic pets.

Casa Azul boasts a lovely garden where Kahlo had her own animal kingdom. Along with a few Mexican hairless Xoloitzcuintli (a dog breed that dates back to the ancient Aztecs), Kahlo owned a pair of spider monkeys named Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal, which can be spotted in Self Portrait with Monkeys. She also cared for an Amazon parrot called Bonito, who would perform tricks if promised a pat of butter as a reward, a fawn named Granizo, and an eagle nicknamed Gertrudis Caca Blanca (a.k.a. Gertrude White Shit).

15. She has emerged as a feminist icon.

Though in her time some dismissed this passionate painter as little more than "the wife of Master Mural Painter (Diego Rivera)," Kahlo's imaginative art drew acclaim from the likes of Pablo Picasso and film star Edward G. Robinson. After her death, the rise of feminism in the 1970s sparked a renewed interest in her work. Kahlo's reputation eclipsed Rivera's, and she grew to become one of the world's most famous painters.

Feminist theorists embrace Kahlo's deeply personal portraits for their insight into the female experience. Likewise, her refusal to be defined by others' definitions and the self-love shown in her proud capturing of her natural unibrow and mustache speak to modern feminist concerns over gender roles and body-positivity.

16. Kahlo’s personal style has become a vibrant part of her legacy.

Frida's art and its influence were not simply spawned from the paint she put to canvas. Her distinctive personal style has proved influential in the world of fashion, inspiring designers like Raffaella Curiel, Maya Hansen, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Dolce & Gabbana. (In 2019, Vans even launched a collection of shoes featuring her work.)

17. Frida Kahlo's work is record-breaking.

On May 11, 2016, at the first auction to put a major Frida work up for sale in six years, her 1939 painting Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma) sold for over $8 million—the highest auction price then paid for any work by a Latin American artist.

This list was first published in 2016 and updated in 2019.

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