Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Dali,the original influencers, before Instagram was cool

Written by Janet Hu

We’d like to think of ourselves as cultured. We don’t just design ties with fish tacos on them, you know? We create wearable art!

So here’s Part I in an entertaining and educational series on the great influencers (pre-Instagram) who have inspired our designs. In this piece, we’ll tackle Ancient Greece to the early 20th century.

Part II has 20th and 21st-century pioneers from Pollock to Einstein to the inventor of Bitcoin.

The Great Influencers Who Sparked Our Designs


Time period: 300s – mid 200s BC
Who was he: Greek didactic poet, meaning he taught philosophy through poetry
Famous works: Phaenomena

Significance: Next time someone asks, “What’s your sign?” you’ll have the Ancient Greeks and Phaenomena to thank. Aratus basically described the constellations and celestial phenomena in a long poem called “Phaenomena.” But he was using the constellations to forecast weather, instead of romantic compatibility.

The ties he inspired: Connect the Dots Tie, Vintage Star Chart Tie


Time period: 200s BC
Who was he: Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer
Famous works: Discovered Pi

Significance: You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in math to have heard of Pi. Archimedes is considered the greatest mathematician of all time. He proved geometrical theorems like the area of a circle and the volume of a sphere. And he was the first to approximate π, which is an infinite and irrational number. So the next time someone whimsically offers you a slice of pie on March 14, you’ll know that it’s all because of Archimedes.

The ties he inspired: Pi Tie, Pi to the 50th Decimal Tie, Pi 2 Skinny Tie

William Shakespeare

Time period: Late 1500s – early 1600s
Who was he: English poet, playwright, and actor
Famous works: Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear…

Significance: He is the most famous writer in history. Period. Yes, Homer, Dante, and Tolstoy have also achieved worldwide acclaim, but no one is studied in schools and universities quite like Shakespeare. His plays about the human pathos have been translated into every language, and they live on in theatres, classrooms, and movies today.

The ties he inspired: Shakespeare Tie, Shakespeare’s Play Tie

Leonardo da Vinci

Time period: Late 1400s – early 1500s, the Italian Renaissance
Who was he: Italian polymath, which basically means a man who is skilled in everything.
Famous works: The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, The Vitruvian Man, the flying machine, the very first sketches of helicopters

Significance: This guy conceptualized airplanes more than 400 years before the Wright brothers took their first flight. He formulated the idea of solar power–something we’re still struggling to carry out effectively today. His paintings are displayed at The Louvre and The Vatican. He will forever embody the ideal “Renaissance Man” or “Universal Genius.” A cool fact? Da Vinci, whom scholars believe be one of the most diversely talented individuals of all time, was born out of wedlock to a peasant woman and a government worker. Talk about self-made.

The ties he inspired: Mona Lisa – Da Vinci Tie, Mona Lisa Skinny Tie


Time period: Late 1400s – early 1500s, the High Renaissance
Who was he: Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet
Famous works: Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, The Creation of Adam, The Last Judgment

Significance: Imagine being known as “Il Divino” (the divine one) and having two biographies written about you while you’re still alive. Imagine being commissioned to design the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church during its peak. Michelangelo was Da Vinci’s key rival during the Italian Renaissance, and he was known as the greatest artist during their time. His works even provoked a new term: “terribilità”–meaning “awesomeness,” “emotional intensity,” or “a sense of the sublime” in the viewer.

The ties he inspired: Creation of Adam – Michelangelo Tie

Thomas Jefferson

Time period: Late 1700s to early 1800s
Who was he: U.S. Founding Father and Third U.S. President
Famous works: Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase

Significance: Jefferson isn’t exactly an artist or a scientist, but did help found a nation. He was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. Because of him, equality of man, freedom of religion, and the pursuit of happiness are in our nation’s DNA. Jefferson also organized the Louisiana Purchase from France, which doubled the size of the U.S. by adding the American Midwest and the South. Though admittedly, yes, he was also known for being a planter, or plantation owner–politicians and hypocrisy; what can you do? (other than vote)

The ties he inspired: Declaration of Independence Tie

Christopher Latham Sholes

Time period: Mid-late 1800s
Who was he: American inventor, newspaper publisher, and Wisconsin politician
Famous works: the QWERTY Keyboard

Significance: How would one text?! Sholes invented the easiest way for us to access the right letters with our fingers at hyperspeed. The QWERTY keyboard was originally designed to solve key jamming by splitting up commonly used letter combinations. We’ve come a long way since the typewriter, but we’re still using the same keyboard design today.

The ties he inspired: QWERTY Keyboard 2.0 Tie, The Keyboard Tie

Dmitri Mendeleev

Time period: Mid-late 1800s
Who was he: Russian chemist and inventor
Famous works: The Periodic Law

Significance: How can we tell oxygen apart from arsenic? Or gold apart from copper? These seem like pretty significant differences, and they’re all recorded on the Periodic Table. Mendeleev found a way to identify elements according to patterns in their chemical properties. There’s a reason students learn about his findings in grade schools all over the world.

The ties he inspired: Elements Tie, Periodic Table Skinny Tie, Periodic Table Tie

Herman Snellen

Time period: Mid-late 1800s
Who was he: Dutch ophthalmologist
Famous works: the Snellen Eye Chart

Significance: Now every time you go for routine eye exams, you can tell your doctor: “Hey, I may not have been able to read that last line, but Herman Snellen sure created one heck of a chart!” He even invented a new “font,” the optotype, which could be printed uniformly on different charts. The next time your doctor asks you to read off letters, you can also inform him or her that you’re actually reading standardized symbols called “optotypes.”

The ties he inspired: Eye Chart Tie, Optometrist Tie

Vincent van Gogh

Time period: Late 1800s
Who was he: Dutch painter, leader of Expressionism
Famous works: The Starry Night, Irises, Cafe Terrace

Significance: Aside from being one of the most influential figures in Western art, he is also emblematic of the “tragic, tortured artist.” Van Gogh grew up in a well-to-do family, but he lived most of his adult life in poverty while suffering from mental illness. He took his own life at age 37, though not without leaving a legacy of bold, avant-garde oil paintings: landscapes, still lifes, self-portraits. You may know him as the “artist who cut off his own ear.” Yes, it happened, and he created art out of the experience.

The ties he inspired: Irises – Van Gogh Tie, Cafe Terrace – Van Gogh Tie, Night Stars on River Tie

Edvard Munch

Time period: Late 1800s – early 1900s
Who was he: Norwegian painter and printmaker
Famous works: The Scream, The Sick Child, Puberty

Significance: Munch’s works had psychological themes that peered into the inner workings of fear and darkness. His paintings about anxiety, depression, madness, and loss greatly influenced German expressionism. The Scream, regarded as representing the “universal anxiety of the modern man,” is a study of the artist’s own soul and self.

The ties he inspired: The Scream – Edvard Munch Tie

Ernest Rutherford

Time period: Early 1900s
Who was he: New Zealand-born British Physicist
Famous works: The atomic structure, and the radioactive half-life

Significance: Nuclear weapons are a huge hazard, but the truth is that countries like France, China, and the U.S. still operate on nuclear power. There are more uses for an atom than splitting it. Rutherford was the first person to discover that an atom consisted of a nucleus surrounded by charged electrons. And guess what he named this atomic model? The Rutherford Model, of course.

The ties he inspired: Atomic Nucleus Tie, Nuclear Physics Tie

Salvador Dalí

Time period: Early 1900s, the Roaring Twenties
Who was he: Spanish surrealist painter
Famous works: The Persistence of Memory, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, The Great Masturbator

Significance: What people today would classify as delightfully “extra,” Dalí proclaimed a “love of everything that is gilded and excessive, [a] passion for luxury and [a] love of oriental clothes.” He is an exemplary figure of Roaring Twenties’ prosperity, warped pleasures, and eccentricities. Dalí‘s art exhibited whacky, and somehow authentic, interpretations of lust and dreams.

The ties he inspired: Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí Tie

Inspired to create something? Good. Feel free to progress to Part II


Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.