Credit: Sipa Press/Sipa USA
Leonardo da Vinci: Artist, engineer, handbag designer
Leonardo da Vinci was a Renaissance man in every sense of the word. He was a sculptor, architect, scientist, engineer and, of course, painter, who created some of the world's most famous artworks.
He is less well known, however, for his early imagining of one of a modern fashion essential: the handbag.
In the bottom corner of a page of the Codex Atlanticus, the largest known collection of Leonardo's drawings and notes, he drew a detailed sketch of a patterned handbag among his designs for cogs, gears, box mechanisms and sliding doors.
"Leonardo, who everybody thinks is a polymath, the greatest genius of our time, also designed a handbag," academic Shahidha Bari, author of the newly published "Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes," said in a phone interview.
"The bag, in many ways, is similar to a 20th-century handbag. It has brass fastenings at the top, is made of brown calfskin, and it has a top clasp. It's like a classic handbag that your mum might have."
Centuries later, the designs inspired high fashion. In 2012, Italian fashion house Gherardini produced a limited number of dark calfskin bags based on Leonardo's sketches.
The sketch wasn't the artist's first foray into accessories. According to Bari, he also designed saddle bags for transporting goods across the Nile on camels.
"Bags are crucial feats of engineering. How you carry things from one place to another is the foundation of our modern society. Haulage, freight, conveyance, importing and exporting," Bari said.
Although the bag is incredibly detailed, decorated with twisted curlicues, the Renaissance master's main motivation for designing it may have been practicality.
"The handbag is like a project, an intellectual engineering project, a mathematical puzzle for Leonardo. He designs a handbag because he is thinking 'How do you safely transport goods?' It's a little problem that in this passing moment he is puzzling over, and centuries later we inherit this design and somebody decides to make it," Bari said.
"It turns out to be this relatively modern and attractive handbag that lots of us would want to buy."