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Renaissance Man

January 19, 2010

On Saturday I had an opportunity to visit an exhibit at the High Museum of Art with a collection of pieces by Leonardo da Vinci and some of his contemporaries, titled “The Hand of the Genius”.  This visit was made as a part of the Leadership Academy program I’m in, and both the exhibit and the Leadership Academy event were focused on exploring genius: the exhibit on the genius of Leonardo, and the event on our own individual genius as it relates to our leadership capabilities.

The art exhibit featured not only the work of Leonardo but also of contemporaries and teachers of Leonardo, including works by Leonardo’s mentor, Verrocchio, and by contemporary Giovanni Rustici, whom Leonardo mentored.  The exhibit provided context for Leonardo’s work, dispelling the myth of the solitary genius, slaving away in the dark away from the world churning out works of unparalleled and unprecedented brilliance.

There’s certainly no question that Da Vinci was an unqualified genius and a master of a broad range of artistic and scientific endeavors – a rare talent in any age.  But the exhibit shows how Leonardo grew from student of painting and sculpture, under Verrocchio, into master, and how he influenced and was influenced by other great artists like Rustici,  Donatello, and Michelangelo (ostensibly Leonardo’s rival).  Although best known for his iconic paintings and drawings, the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and the Vetruvian Man (the last of which is included in the exhibition), the exhibit was filled with many lesser-known pieces, many from his notebooks, including numerous horse studies he made in preparation for his planned monumental sculpture, the Sforza Horse, which was never accomplished in Leonardo’s lifetime.

Besides his artistic achievements, both realized and unrealized, Leonardo made enormous contributions to the fields of science.  He was a skilled engineer of siege engines and other devices of war.  His anatomical studies – both of the visible exterior and of internal organs – were the most accurate of his time.  His numerous inventions are at times fantastical and at times prophetic.  Ultimately, Leonardo’s legacy is that of the quintessential genius – a yard stick against which all other great artists, engineers, and inventors are measured.

What this exhibit really did for me, considering the purpose for which I was visiting it, was put all of this in the context of my own life.  Gazing at some of these magnificent works, my mind was first turned to the attention to detail and the marvelous skill and craftsmanship evident in these artistic pieces – both by Leonardo and by others. 

But I was surprised to find my mind turning to a more personal interpretation as I considered my own legacy.  Tomorrow, an introspective on the influence of the Renaissance Man in my own life.

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