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corner ...Da Vinci and the Renaissance
The beginning of the 16th century marked Italy's transition from the murky Middle Ages into a formidable political and economic power and the art capital of Europe. In Leonardo's da Vinci's home of Florence, a city made wealthy by banking and international trade, the Medici was the leading family and set the tone for a city of potential art patrons.

Many artists took advantage of the patronage to create art for religious and historical purposes. But there was also an emerging call for portraiture and for paintings and sculpture created as works of beauty or as examples of the artist's individual skills and vision. The idea that painters and sculptors might create from personal inspiration was new, and the concepts of artists as "professionals" and of the "fine arts" were born. It was an age of experimentation and discovery, characterized by this dramatic shift toward the aesthetic liberty of the High Renaissance.

Born in 1452 in Vinci, a little town near Florence, Leonardo was the epitome of a Renaissance man. His genius was widely acknowledged by his contemporaries at a time when most painters were still considered mere craftsmen. According to his biographer, Giorgio Vasari, Leonardo's standing as arbiter of all questions of aesthetics was irrefutable: "Occasionally a single person is so marvelously endowed by the hand of God with beauty, grace and talent in such abundance as to leave all other men far behind. Leonardo da Vinci cultivated his genius so brilliantly that to whatever subject he turned his attention, he made himself master of it."

Leonardo was an artist, scientist and inventor whose radical ideas were centuries ahead of their time. Although he had little formal education, he demonstrated a voracious interest in diverse subjects. The more than five thousand pages of his notebooks include studies as varied as astronomy, anatomy, botany and geology, and insights and inventions so numerous they could never be accomplished in a lifetime: a hang-glider that looks similar to those used today; a helicopter powered by four men pushing a shaft connected to "blades" made of fabric; hydraulic devices; and a bicycle not unlike those of the early twentieth century.
Leonardo technical drawing
Leonardo - anatomy sketches
Leonardo - geological drawings
Driven by his unquenchable curiosity, Leonardo studied the physical manifestations of the world around him: the way the moon is illuminated, the way water flows around obstacles, the reason the sky is blue. Painting was a way for him to explore his scientific inquiries, and to apply his knowledge of science to the arts. Though he was notoriously disorganized and completed few of his many projects in either art or science – only fifteen of his paintings have survived – yet he is possibly the most esteemed artist who ever lived. The Mona Lisa is his most famous experiment.

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Mona Lisa
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