Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 in Vinci, Tuscany, during a time called the Renaissance. His creations of art and advancements in science not only surpassed those of his time, but have contributed to the fundamentals of modern day technology and are arguably the greatest in history. Many of da Vinci's paintings remain today as proof of his pioneered techniques, brilliance, and talent. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines "renaissance man" as "[a] man who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences." This is a term still used today, and its derivation is obvious. Many people in the Fourteenth to Sixteenth Centuries were skillful artists and scientists, but Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance man.
The Renaissance was a time of economic stability. Originating in Italy and eventually expanding to other parts of Europe such as Germany, France, and England, the Renaissance was an era of renewed interest in literature and art and emphasized autonomous thought and creations. The philosophy of humanism, an idea stressing the importance and distinction of individuals, is thought to have originated during this time ("Renaissance" Encarta). Italian writers struggled to discover and preserve earlier works by Romans and Greeks.
There was one main cause for the Renaissance and the economical boom; a population increase. The Crusades caused a spark in trade due to interactions with other cultures. Trade routes were established and eventually became crowded. Therefore, existing towns grew into cities, and new ones were conceived. As towns grew and became crowded, there arose a need for expansion. People traveled more and interacted with other cities and cultures, which was forbidden under the feudal system. This interaction and constant traveling, along with military encounters, increased trade even more. The feudal system began to break down.
The exports brought money, and Italian rulers and nobles, as well as the governments of cities, became wealthier because of the merchants: "These merchants exerted both political and economic leadership and their attitudes and interest helped to shape the Italian Renaissance" ("Renaissance" World History 345). They also donated generously in support of the arts. Soon, cities became commercial centers and banks were established. The increased funds of cities were used for cultural endeavors, partially because the competing city-states of Italy wanted their strength and power to be acknowledged. Italian inventors and artists realized that this was "
a new age, free from the darkness and ignorance
characterized [by] the preceding era"("Renaissance" Encarta).
There were three distinct periods of the Renaissance, each identified by the works of different individuals. In order to comprehend the extraordinary greatness of Leonardo da Vinci, it is also important to become familiar with the achievements of his predecessors and colleagues. The early Renaissance introduced a new style of painting. Masaccio, born in 1401, was the first great painter of the Italian Renaissance, and his use of perspective and natural lighting portrayed an important step in the development of modern painting: "In his life, he made several important innovations in the art of painting. His treatment of space and light influenced generations of Italian artists, earning him the title Founder of the Renaissance'" (Who and When? 24). According to John R. Hale, Bencivieni di Pepo was an Italian painter and mosaic craftsman from Florence. He was one of the most important artists of his time, breaking with the formalism of Byzantine art, then predominant in Italy, and introducing a more lifelike treatment of traditional subjects. His style preceded the realistic Florentine school of the early Renaissance founded by Giotto, and he is believed to have been Giotto's teacher. Among di Pepo's works are Crucifix...
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Richter, Irma A. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952.
Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. Phoenix: Prentice-Hall, 1985.
Turner, A. Richard. Inventing Leonardo. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
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