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

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.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.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

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.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

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If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

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2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

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3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

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4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

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Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

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5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

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6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

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7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

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8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

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9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

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10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

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New Online Art Exhibition Needs the Public’s Help to Track Down Lost Masterpieces by Van Gogh, Monet, and More

Vincent van Gogh's original Portrait of Dr. Gachet wasn't stolen, but it hasn't been seen in 30 years.
Vincent van Gogh's original Portrait of Dr. Gachet wasn't stolen, but it hasn't been seen in 30 years.
Vincent van Gogh, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If you wanted to compare both versions of Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet in person, you couldn’t. While the second one currently hangs in Paris’s Musée d'Orsay, the public hasn’t seen the original painting since 1990. In fact, nobody’s really sure where it is—after its owner Ryoei Saito died in 1996, the precious item passed from private collector to private collector, but the identity of its current owner is shrouded in mystery.

As Smithsonian Magazine reports, Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890) is one of a dozen paintings in “Missing Masterpieces,” a digital exhibit of some of the world’s most famous lost artworks. It’s not the only Van Gogh in the collection. His 1884 painting The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring was snatched from the Netherlands’ Singer Laren museum earlier this year; and his 1888 painting The Painter on His Way to Work has been missing since World War II. Other works include View of Auvers-sur-Oise by Paul Cézanne, William Blake’s Last Judgement, and two bridge paintings by Claude Monet.

Paul Cézanne's View of Auvers-sur-Oise was stolen from the University of Oxford's art museum on New Year's Eve in 1999.Ashmolean Museum, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The new online exhibit is a collaboration between Samsung and art crime expert Noah Charney, who founded The Association for Research into Crimes Against Art. It isn’t just a page where art enthusiasts can explore the stories behind the missing works—it’s also a way to encourage people to come forward with information that could lead to the recovery of the works themselves.

“From contradictory media reports to speculation in Reddit feeds—the clues are out there, but the volume of information can be overwhelming,” Charney said in a press release. “This is where technology and social media can help by bringing people together to assist the search. It’s not unheard of for an innocuous tip posted online to be the key that unlocks a case.”

The exhibition will be online through February 10, 2021, and citizen sleuths can email their tips to missingmasterpieces@artcrimeresearch.org.

[h/t Smithsonian Magazine]