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Leonardo da Vinci — a fashion designer in his time?

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an artist, inventor, scientist, architect, engineer, writer and even a musician. Now we know that he was also a fashion designer.
The "Pretiosa" by Leonardo, as reassembled by the Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci from fragmented drawings.
The "Pretiosa" by Leonardo, as reassembled by the Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci from fragmented drawings.Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci
/ Source: Discovery Channel

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an artist, inventor, scientist, architect, engineer, writer and even a musician. Now we know that he was also a fashion designer.

After several months of meticulous research, scholars have reconstructed some fragmented drawings of a unique bag designed by the Renaissance genius around 1497.

The sketch was first published in 1978 by Carlo Pedretti, a leading Leonardo da Vinci scholar, who identified it among the Atlantic Code's tens of thousands of drawings.

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Overlooked for more than three decades, it has been reconstructed and reassembled by Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, where Leonardo was born in 1452.

"Leonard designed several fashion accessories, but this bag is pretty unique. It blends beauty and functionality in a very harmonious way," Vezzosi told Discovery News in an exclusive interview.

Called "Pretiosa," (meaning "precious" in Leonardo's time) the bag has been brought to life by the renowned Florentine fashion house Gherardini (Mona Lisa is said to be an ancestor of the family).

Made of refined leather, the bag will be presented Tuesday in a world premiere at the Pitti fashion show in Florence. It will then go on display in a related exhibition at the Academy of the Arts of Drawing, which was founded in 1563.

"It's a very chic handbag, very modern in its vintage concept. It is also very functional and capable. Indeed, it embodies the best Florentine tradition of leather work," Lorenzo Braccialini, marketing director of Braccialini, Gherardini holding company, told Discovery News.

Described by the contemporary historian and biographer Paolo Giovio as "the arbiter of all questions relating to beauty and elegance," Leonardo had his own original idea of fashion.

"He strongly disapproved (of) conformism and condemned redundancy and excess of ornamentation," Vezzosi said.

At a time when cloaks were being worn long and with many folds, he "wore a rose-colored cloak which came only to his knees," said another early 16th-century source, the "Anonimo" ("anonymous") Gaddiano.

Writing in the Treatise on Painting, Leonardo harshly criticized the contemporary fashion of clothes so tight that "they burst on many people."

Not to mention shoes.

"They became so tight that the toes pushed against each other and became covered with corns," Leonardo complained.

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"Leonardo was no ordinary man. It doesn't surprise me that he did not conform to the fashion trends of the time. He had his own style, thus he was indeed very fashionable," Raffaello Napoleone, Pitti Immagine chief executive officer, told Discovery News.

Functional and beautiful, creative and provocative, the bag would have certainly stood out among Renaissance fashion.

"While the shape recalls the lectern in "The Annunciation," painted by Leonardo in the workshop of Verrocchio, its patterns feature rotating spirals and floral motifs, scrolls and foliage in metamorphosis," Vezzosi said.

Boasting a unique closing system, the bag was designed at the end of Leonardo's first Milanese period, around 1497. At that time, the artist was painting the tapestries in the Last Supper and knots designs in the Sala delle Asse in the Castello Sforzesco.

Vezzosi believes that Leonardo produced other drawings of the "Pretiosa" bag.

"Unfortunately, they are all lost. Altogether we're missing at least 4,000 of Leonardo's autographed sheets," said Vezzosi, who is also the curator of the new exhibition.

Also on display are other less known designs by Leonardo, such as a mechanical drum, a clock, a lens spectacle and a diamond-shaped esoteric Medicean ring.