The ‘Da Vinci ’ Code


Vinci, a small region in the Republic of Florence (a part of present day Italy), was the flourishing and prosperous center of one of the most culturally charged movements that swept across the Western hemisphere: the Renaissance. It was also the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, who owes a good half of his name to Vinci. In fact, the phrase ‘da Vinci’ signified no title but simply his birthplace. Vinci, and Florence in general proved themselves to be more than simply regions as they were nearly the singular origin of the enamoring phenomenon of Renaissance– a movement of culture, and of, more than anything else, art.

The advent of the philosophical movement of Renaissance humanism and the revival of classical thinking that replaced the scholastic domination of formalist religious preaching and dialectics was predominantly kick-started for the first time in regions in Italy and Florence. Focus was shifted to the holistic development of all the abilities of man- including sciences but more importantly liberal arts- rhetoric, grammar, poetry and moral philosophy in Latin and Greek. In fact, the contextual significance of ‘humanism’ draws from Cicero’s usage of studia humanitatis (as a means of literary culture which are most appropriate to man and separate him from the animals- humanitas as opposed to feritas) rather than offshoots that portrays the human force as contraposed to the divine.

The movement of Renaissance humanism was certainly not irreligious in any sense. On the contrary, it redefined the relations of the human with the divine, and the glorification of human faculties entailed the ultimate praise of the divine. The spirit of Renaissance paintings imbibed this essence of humanism within it, for instance, the paintings of Genesis in the Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo, that depicted God and Adam in their purest forms, nude and glorious. Florence became the hub of the growth of cultural sensibilities and a new era of art for a number of reasons.

Its geographical location made it accessible to two of the most historically rich communities of classical thought: the Romans and the Greeks. The inception of the Renaissance movement, thus, was in regions such as Florence and in and around Italy. This marked it as the center of the spreading movement. The rich and wealthy families of Florence became patrons of the flourishing art, most notably the Medici family. They were responsible for commissioning a majority of art during the early Renaissance period, making Florence the single most important center of Early Renaissance art.

High Renaissance Art was spearheaded by three great artists: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rafael, all of whom were Florentine. Leonardo in specific held significance with respect to his persona and art. He was hailed as the epitome of the Renaissance man as he was a trained in the sciences: anatomy, botany, engineering, mathematics; as well as the liberal arts: history, literature, architecture and cartography. As the ‘Universal Man’, he was the exemplar for the entire age of Renaissance. His paintings furthered High Renaissance Art by leaps and bounds as he brought in a new amount of realism by the use of oil as a medium.

Paintings such as the Vitruvian Man celebrated the essential aspects of humanism itself by depicting the reality of man, free of taint and naked. The idealized naturalism of his paintings became an essential theme of High Renaissance Art, and was perpetuated to a great degree by Michelangelo, whose unmitigated focus was on the functioning of man, through painting, but more importantly, sculpting. When people trot across the Louvre, admiring the works of Leonardo da Vinci, little do they know that his works are more than mere paintings; they encase within them a history and a philosophical movement, the influences of the regional and geographical factors, as well as a unique cultural sensibility, all of which would have been impossible without the awakening of Renaissance in Florence and Italy before all of Europe.

Florence is the prime example that brings together art, geography, history, and civics at its conception, the interrelationship of which, made possible the flourishing of a great painter in Vinci and his predecessors and contemporaries. Vinci’s characteristic location on the globe made it possible for it to be the home to the pioneer of High Renaissance Art, whose name, till date, remains incomplete without the name of the region that was his place of birth.

-Contributed by Tinka Dubey

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