Leonardo Da Vinci


Inventor, artist, scientist, engineer, architect, philosopher, and more. Leonardo da Vinci was a true “Renaissance Man” and a clear creative genius. Join Active Minds as we review his life, work, and lasting impact.

Key Lecture Points

  • Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15th, 1452 in Anchiano, Tuscany (now Italy), close to the town of Vinci that provided the surname we associate with him today.  Vinci sits about 20 miles west of Florence, a hub of power, wealth and enterprise at the time of Leonardo’s birth.
  • Leonardo trained with the Renaissance master Verrocchio in Venice and contributed to his artworks as a member of his studio. Leonardo would go on to set up studios of his own and innovate some of the painting techniques that define Renaissance artwork.  Throughout his life he would win the patronage of wealthy and powerful figures in the Renaissance city-states of Florence and Milan and elsewhere in Italy and France.  He was not prolific in his painting, often taking years to finish a work. He was famous for paralyzing perfectionism. Many of his works were ephemeral designs for court festivals and have been lost to posterity.
  • Leonardo’s most famous art works were not necessarily revered in his lifetime.  The Mona Lisa, for instance, only rose to global fame after it was stolen from the Paris Louvre in 1911.
  • Leonardo’s genius extended beyond artwork to science and engineering. Among his inventions were such modern ideas like a helicopter, underwater diving suit, and armored tank.  He left a legacy over 7000 pages of notebooks detailing his studies and thoughts.
  • A badly damaged painting names Salvator Mundi was identified as a Leonardo in 2017 and sold for a record 450.3 million dollars.  The painting is supposed to go on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Exploration Questions

  • How did art and science overlap in Leonardo’s work?
  • What made Leonardo’s chiaroscuro and sfumato techniques so revolutionary in the Renaissance art world?
  • How did the Renaissance system of patronage influence Leonardo’s career?

Reflective Questions

  • What is your favorite Leonardo painting? What is unique about it? What attracts you to it?
  • What powerful artistic propaganda have you seen recently? What do you think about the Renaissance practice of using the arts to show power and wealth?
  • Which of Leonardo’s inventions do you think is the most impressive and ahead of its time?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Isaacson, Walter. Leonardo da Vinci. Simon & Schuster, 2017. 625 pages. To write this biography Isaacson immersed himself in da Vinci’s 7,200 pages of notebooks. Isaacson’s empathetic and deeply researched portrait illustrates how he willed himself to genius through endless curiosity and a creativity that sometimes crossed over into fantasy.
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  • Richter, Jean Paul. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (Volume 1). Dover, 1970. 367 pages. Leonardo’s voluminous notebooks, the great storehouse of his theories and discoveries, are presented in 1566 extracts that reveal the full range of Leonardo's versatile interests.
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  • Strathern, Paul. The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped. Bantam, 2011. 496 Pages. This astonishing work of narrative history examines the intersecting lives of three iconic renaissance figures.
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