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2019 Essay Readings and Questions

All Readings Are Available On Line

INTRODUCTION

2019 marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci death. Major exhibits will be shown in Europe: in Paris at the Louvre, and in Florence at Palazzo Strozzi among other exhibits. It is a historical occasion to explore the work, the personality and the making of a great artist and a great scientist. That is why this year we have chosen Leonardo, the ultimate genius, as the topic for your Palazzo Strozzi Renaissance Essay Competition.

Instructions

Please select one of the three essay questions below (A, B or C) and develop a 1,000-1,200 word typed response for submission to your school team. Essays are due on February 26th, 2019. Finalists from each school will be read by Palazzo Strozzi committee members and participate in an interview process with the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation. Two winning students from each school will be awarded a chaperoned, all expenses paid three to four week trip to Florence, Italy this summer, to study art, history and the Renaissance.

To support the development of the essays, the Foundation has submitted required and recommended readings, as per the guidelines below. All materials are provided electronically by the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation.

Mandatory Readings about Renaissance for all Essay Topics
    1. The Italian Renaissance by J.H. Plumb
      • Dawn of the Renaissance (pgs. 6-19)
      • Leonardo da Vinci (pgs. 222-237)
    2. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt
      • Part Three, The Revival of Antiquity, the Humanists (pgs. 1-4)
    3. A Little History of the World, by E.H. Gombrich (pps. 163-171)
    4. Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography, by Walter Isaacson
      • Introduction, "I can also paint" (pgs. 1-9)

Choose one of these questions for your essay:

Topic I – Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist and Artist
“The greatest gifts often rain down upon human bodies through celestial influences as a natural process, and sometimes in a supernatural fashion a single body is lavishly supplied with such beauty, grace, and ability that wherever the individual turns, each of his actions is so divine that he leaves behind all other men and clearly makes himself known as a genius endowed by God (which he is) rather than created by human artifice. Men saw this in Leonardo da Vinci, who displayed great physical beauty (which has never been sufficiently praised), a more than infinite grace in every action, and an ability so fit and so vast that wherever his mind turned to difficult tasks, he resolved them completely with ease.”
- Giorgio Vasari from The Lives of the Artists.

“Nature has beneficently provided that throughout the world you may find something to imitate.” Leonardo da Vinci, 'How something May Be Learnt Everywhere', in the Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, 252

Perhaps no other human in history embodies the idea of the ‘Renaissance Man’ like Leonardo da Vinci. Born into humble beginnings as the illegitimate son of a notary, Leonardo received no formal schooling in the liberal arts and classical studies and yet surpassed all contemporaries in his artistic and scientific achievements. He trained as an apprentice in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio learning the crafts of draughtsmanship, painting, and sculpture, eventually working his way up to be an assistant who would soon surpass the master. While working as a military engineer for the court of Ludovico Sforza the Duke of Milan, Leonardo started to gain notoriety, first for his elaborate ephemeral decorations and pageantry, and finally as both an artist and engineer. Today, Leonardo is as famous for his paintings of the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper as he is famous for his anatomy and science.

Leonardo wrote that artists should look to the natural world for inspiration. By looking closely at the natural world and observing patterns in nature he made connections that broke the barrier of what was considered art and ushered in a new era of scientific study leaving behind over 7,200 pages of notes and drawings. The year 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.

Leonardo da Vinci does not fit neatly into any one category: he was a painter, sculptor, musician, author, engineer, anatomist, and many other things.


Question A
Leonardo as an artist: describe some of his masterpieces and explain if and how he used his science to portray his art and if and how, for him, there was a relationship between art and science. Do his artistic accomplishments still matter 500 years later?

Question B
Leonardo as a scientist: describe some of his major scientific works, from inventions to engineering projects or anatomy studies and explain if and how he used his art to portray his science and if and how, for him, there was a relationship between science and art. Do his scientific accomplishment still matter 500 years later?

In your response be sure to include:
a) A brief background description of Leonardo’s biography and work relative to the thesis of your essay.
b) Specific references to Leonardo’s scientific and artistic works relative to the thesis of your essay.
c) Comparisons and points of contrast between Leonardo and artists and scientists of his age (i.e. Michelangelo and Galileo).
d) A formal conclusion.

Mandatory Readings for Topic I
    1. The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari
      • a. The Life of Leonardo da Vinci (pgs. 284-298)
    2. The Science of Leonardo by Fritjof Capra (pgs.1-12)
    3. The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, edited by Jean Paul Richter
      • a. The Practice of Painting (pgs. 241-254)

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Topic II – The making of a Genius
“Genius is a talent for producing something for which no determinate rule can be given, not a predisposition consisting of a skill for something that can be learned by following some rule or other.”
- Immanuel Kant

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
- Arthur Schopenhauer

As the illegitimate son of a notary born in the small town of Vinci about 25 miles west of Florence, Leonardo did not have access to top schools and tutors yet he was still known as a genius even during his lifetime. As a young man, most of his education was hands-on and took place directly in the workshop of the artist Andrea del Verrocchio. As a young adult in Verrocchio’s workshop it was clear Leonardo had the makings of a genius.

Question C
How do you think the time spent in Verrocchio’s workshop shaped Leonardo as a Renaissance Man? How did Leonardo’s curiosity contribute to his genius? Please compare and contrast to any figures in American history, perhaps like Benjamin Franklin and Bill Gates, could either or both be considered geniuses like Leonardo?

In your response be sure to include:
a) A brief background description of Leonardo’s biography relative to the thesis of your essay.
b) Specific references to what defines Leonardo as a genius.
c) A reflection on an American figure that could be defined a genius.
d) A formal conclusion.

Mandatory Readings for Topic II
    1. The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari
      • a. The Life of Leonardo da Vinci (pgs. 284-298)
    2. The Science of Leonardo by Fritjof Capra (pgs.1-12)
    3. The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, edited by Jean Paul Richter
      • a. The Practice of Painting (pgs. 241-254)

Download All Readings for Topic II

Optional readings for Questions A and B
    1. The Science of Leonardo by Fritjof Capra
      • a. Chapter 5: Science in the Renaissance (pgs. 137-156)
    2. Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography by Walter Isaacson
      • a. Chapter 10, Scientist (pgs. 170-180)
      • b. Chapter 14, The Nature of Man (pgs. 212-222)
      • c. Chapter 17, The SCience of Art (pgs. 260-278)
Optional Reading for Question C
    1. The Production of Art During the Florentine Renaissance by Matthew Gream
    2. Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography by Walter Isaacson
      • a. Chapter 3, Apprentice (pgs. 23-67)
    3. Benjamin Franklin
    4. Bill Gates Biography

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