The Ultimate Renaissance Man
While the term Renaissance Man has gone through changes over the years, the basic premise is the same as it has always been – someone who knows something about everything. In current times, we don’t require as much from our Renaissance people as we used to. Having prominence in two or more fields is enough now to consider someone a Renaissance person. Some claim it is because there is so much more to know now, but back in the Renaissance, experimentation and knowledge was currently being pushed, and new learning occurred on a daily basis. While we still make great advances, we are heavily building on things that have already been done. What was done then was being done and recorded for the first time.
During the period of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a true Renaissance Man was expected to be talented in many fields, holding knowledge and skill in not just one or two areas, but truly able to hold his own during discussions on math, science, art, literature, and philosophy. There were several men who fit this mold. (Women are not included because at the time, in general they were not educated or treated as equals, and as such did not have the opportunity to attain the same status as men.)
Some of the men who can be considered as candidates as a true Renaissance Man include Pope Julius II, Pope Leo X, Leonardo da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Martin Luther, Albrecht Durer, King Charles V, and Brunelleschi. They are all men who have achieved fame and notoriety in multiple fields, pioneering many things that still exist today, including art styles, religions, and printing. The one man that I feel reigns above all of them, however, is Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci was, to me, a man who could, and did, do everything. He embodies all the ideals of a Renaissance Man. Leonardo had interests in science which fueled his constant observations of nature. He paid special attention to the flight of birds (something he used when creating plans for flying machines), as well as the flow of water, the force of winds, and the movement of clouds. The knowledge he gained from these things are still with us today, thanks to the extensive notebooks that he kept, detailing all his work. He was a scientific pioneer, drawing up plans for, and creating many different machines. He had an interest in architecture, declaring that he could make better designs for public and private buildings than already existed. He loved music, and began his career, as we know it, by performing at the court of Milan as a lute player and singer. As if this wasn’t enough, he also sought knowledge in human anatomy, and his scientific illustrations, most based on illegal autopsies and dissections, made him the founder of modern scientific illustration because of the precision with which he was able to draw the human anatomy.
While many people don’t know the full breadth and width of his work, he is generally accepted as one of the great artists, having unbelievable talent with oil and fresco painting, and with sculptures that range from bronze, marble, and clay.
Leonardo was involved in everything, and excelled in everything. While others might have prominence in one, two, or even three fields, Leonardo was truly a master at everything he touched.