Renaissance Man

Today we are rolling back the clock to the Renaissance (circa 1350 AD to 1600 AD), an era of rebirth and revolution that began in Florence, Italy and swept through Europe.  The Renaissance began after the Crusades and archaic feudal system of the Middle Ages waned.  Humanism, a philosophy emphasizing the importance of humans rather than the divine arose, setting off a “rebirth” or Renaissance.

Leonardo da Vinci (1510)

The ancient Greek and Roman classics were revived.  Inventions such as the printing press, mariner’s compass, gunpowder, and flush toilet were created.  Nicolaus Copernicus debunked the belief that the earth was at the center of the universe.  Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon, and Sir Francis Drake set sail across the globe, and quintessential Renaissance man, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452-1519) made his debut.

Born out of wedlock to Caterina, a young peasant and Ser Piero, a local notary, Leonardo was raised and educated in his father’s house, in Anchiano, Italy (near the town of Vinci). A bright, creative child, with a thirst for knowledge, Leonardo left home at the age of 14 to begin an apprenticeship with artist Andrea del Verrocchio. By age 20, Leonardo had established his own workshop and was inducted into the Guild of St. Luke as a master artist.

Throughout the course of his life, Leonardo rubbed elbows and came under the patronage of several powerful and ruthless men, including Lorenzo de Medici, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, and Francis of Angoulême, the King of France.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (started 1503)

Leonardo is best known for his paintings, in particular, the Mona Lisa (started in 1503) and The Last Supper (1498).

A good painter has two chief objects to paint—man and the intention of his soul. The former is easy, the latter hard, for it must be expressed by gestures and the movement of the limbs. ~Leonardo da Vinci

Like his fellow humanists, Leonardo believed art and science were not separate disciplines.  He claimed the study of science made him a better artist, and vice versa.  For example, he dissected animals and performed autopsies on human cadavers, to obtain a better understanding of anatomy, and used the knowledge to perfect his art.  Leonardo also studied aeronautics, anatomy, architecture, botany, engineering, geology, mathematics, philosophy, physics, sculpture, and zoology. He scribbled and sketched in countless notebooks, filling them with his observations and theories.  Click on these sample pages to view his notes, courtesy of the British Library.

The Last Supper – Photo by Markus Baumeler,

Leonardo da Vinci died at the ripe old age of 67 on May 2, 1519, in Amboise, France.  You can visit his tomb located inside the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in Château d’Amboise, in France. This wraps up a very brief look at the life and work of a creative and multi-talented man.  If you’d like to dig deeper into Leonardo da Vinci’s life and work, here are a few links to get you started:   Louvre,,

Have a great week and see you next Friday.

Vitruvian Man (1490) by Leonardo da Vinci

Fun Human Facts:  Leonardo da Vinci’s famous work, Vitruvian Man (1490), is based on ancient Roman architect and military engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s (c. 90 – c. 20 BCE) theories about human proportions.

For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. ~ Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, De Architectura


Ancient History Encyclopedia

Atlas Obscura

British Library

Khan Academy


The National Gallery

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