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Leonardo da Vinci The Humanist At Work

Leonardo da Vinci: The Humanist At Work


“Look upon the marvelous works of nature, if you judge it to be an atrocious act to destroy them, reflect that it is an infinitely atrocious act to take away the life of man.”  – Leonardo da Vinci.


Leonardo’s deep engagement with the world inspired his compassion for people, animals and the environment.  Renaissance humanism, the guiding idea of Leonardo’s time, valued human dignity and education, while seeking humanity’s natural place within the universe.  Because he loved the world as deeply as he studied it, Leonardo’s work now symbolizes this philosophy.

We think of Leonardo da Vinci as a great and prolific inventor, yet he was also committed to the well-being of people and animals.  He sketched many creatures with loving details, kept exotic pets and was likely a vegetarian.  The Italian painter Giorgio Vasari once wrote that Leonardo, when passing caged birds, would pay the demanded price so he could free them.  When advising city planners and engineers, Leonardo would suggest they work with nature and not against it.  He strove for a harmony between civilization and its environment, a harmony more relevant today than ever.

Leonardo detested unnecessary suffering and described was as “beastly madness.”  Yet this same man sketched numerous war machines in his notebooks and offered his designs to rulers and governments.  Historians believe many of these were created solely to impress patrons; few were ever constructed.  They cite Leonardo’s horrific depiction of war in reproductions of Leonardo’s lost painting, The Bottle of Anghiari as a truer representation of his attitude toward war.

Many consider da Vinci to be the epitome of the “Renaissance man”—a Renaissance polymath, someone whose intellectual achievements and interests span a wide variety of fields in art, science, and literature. Many men, including da Vinci were also considered the humanist type, humanism having emerged as a significant intellectual movement during the Renaissance.

Leonardo da Vinci was many things.  He is known as a painter, inventor, engineer and a scientist.  But above everything else, da Vinci was passionate towards his fellow men and the everyday things that nature offered.

How can you be more like Leonardo da Vinci?