This lesson will explore the Renaissance’s influence on Da Vinci’s sketches, specifically the mathematical and scientific sketches that Da Vinci produced.
Description: While there is debate about how much the Renaissance period contributed to modern science, there is no doubt that events such as the invention of the printing press and the rediscovery of scientific texts via the Fall of Constantinople aided in developing and spreading scientific ideas. From the Renaissance came great scientists such as Francis Bacon, Galigleo Galilei, Rene Descrates, and Isaac Newton. Surprisingly, though, artists such as Giotto and Michelangelo also aided in the scientific discoveries during the Renaissance. These artists, like other Renaissance artists, wanted to recreate the artistry of the Greeks and Romans which included capturing perceived perfection and beauty defined by symmetry. Following the humanistic ideals built upon during this time, Renaissance artists became once again fascinated with the classics and sought to emulate them in their art. This desire led to the dissection of cadavers and animals to help them develop the realism they sought in their art, as well as to the rediscovery of mathematical laws and ratios created by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans for aesthetically pleasing designs. These artists, searching backwards in time for knowledge and inspiration, unconsciously contributed to the scientific developments that emerged from this time period and carried on past the time period of the Renaissance. One of these artists was the well-known Leonardo Da Vinci, whose work focused on capturing the details of the objects he was copying onto paper, objects including body parts from corpses he dissected and inventions from the depths of his own creativity.
In exploring this lesson, students will:
- Learn about the Renaissance, specifically some scientific and mathematical advances that were made
- Learn about Leonardo Da Vinci and his impact during the Renaissance period
- Learn to look closely and make visual observations about the artwork presented
This discovery will require students to:
- Compare Da Vinci’s sketches to our knowledge today of the scientific and mathematical topics he addresses
- Examine the sketches for examples of Renaissance influence, most importantly in the use of symmetry and ratios
- Consider what it means when we say “art” and look at Da Vinci’s unpublished sketches to determine why they are considered art today
Using this Resource:
- Visual Art teachers will be interested in looking at art that is not published works but rather sketches and what one would consider “rough drafts”
- Science teachers will be interested in exploring the anatomical themes as well as the inventions depicted in Da Vinci’s sketches. Also, this lesson allows students and teachers to debate the concept of whether or not science and scientific discoveries can be considered art.
- Mathematics teachers will be interested in the history of mathematics including the illustration Da Vinci worked on for the mathematics book De Divina Proportione by Luca Pacioli.
- Social studies teachers will be interested in the historical significance of Da Vinci’s works as examples of the influences of Renaissance ideology.
For sample related classroom activities, download the PDFs available under Related Resources.
The objects in this lesson are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum’s online collection through this web source – or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries – to look for other objects that will provide further insights into this exhibition.