List of Renaissance men  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Image:Leonardo self.jpg
Leonardo da Vinci is regarded as a "Renaissance Man" and is one of the most recognizable polymaths.

This is a partial list of Renaissance men.


The terms Renaissance man and, less commonly, homo universalis (Latin for "universal man" or "man of the world") are related and used to describe a person who is well educated or who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. The idea developed in Renaissance Italy from the notion expressed by one of its most accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–72): that “a man can do all things if he will.” It embodied the basic tenets of Renaissance Humanism which considered man empowered, limitless in his capacities for development, and led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible. Thus the gifted men of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments and in the arts.


The following people represent prime examples of "Renaissance Men" and "universal geniuses", that is "polymaths" in the strictest interpretation of the secondary meaning of the word. The list is organized by date of birth.

  • Imhotep, 2650–2600 BC, was an Egyptian polymath, who served under the Third Dynasty king, Djoser, as Vizir (or Chancellor ) to the pharaoh and high priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis. He is considered to be the first engineer, architect and physician in history known by name. The full list of his titles is:
Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor and Maker of Vases in Chief.
Imhotep was one of very few mortals to be depicted as part of a pharaoh's statue. He was one of only a few commoners ever to be accorded divine status after death.
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 BC–43 BC, Roman statesman, lawyer, humanist, republican, letterist, constitutionalist, politician, philosopher, translator, political theorist, orator, linguist and prose stylist.<ref>"For almost two millennia Cicero has been held up as a polymath mind, translating Greek and South Italian philosophy to Latin, extending Latin's reach and style to include a philosophical vocabulary, and a successful and famous practicing lawyer. Cicero helped shape the European tradition of letter writing taking to great heights during the Republic of Letters period of the late Renaissance which emulated Cicero's 'respublica literaria' McNeely I. F. and Wolverton, L. Reinventing Knowledge. New York, WW Norton (2008).</ref>
  • Trotula of Salerno 11th to 12th century Salerno, south Italy. Chair of Medicine, Salerno Medical School responsible for alleviating women’s suffering in illness and the specific medical needs of women. Physician, obstetrician, gynaecologist, medical teacher, writer, health planner and experimenter, responsible for major advances in female medicine, public health, pharmacology and medical teaching methods, as well as generally in science. Trotula became famous for establishing the distinct field of women’s health, and teaching men about women’s health. She wrote books used for many centuries about this area, most significant was Passionibus Curandorum, sometimes called The Book of the Diseases of Women or Trotula Major and also De Ornatu Mulierum known as Trotula Minor. These works discuss menses, conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and general issues of illness and treatments. In Trotula’s view men also suffered fertility problems. She promoted and experimented with opiates to numb pain during childbirth.<ref>Green, Monica, 1992, Obstetrical and Gynaecological Texts in Middle English Studies in the Age of Chaucer 14: 53–88. [Reprinted Royal College of Surgeons of England Library — TRACTS D-GRE.]</ref>

United Nations: Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.</ref>

  • Leone Battista Alberti (1404–1472), painter, poet, medallist, philosopher, hydraulic engineer, cryptographer, including machine assisted encryption, musician, and architect, and writer-novellist.<ref name="Watson, Peter 2005, p 411">Watson, Peter. Ideas: A History from Fire to Freud. (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2005, p 411)</ref><ref name="Burke, Peter 1540. pp 51-52">Burke, Peter. Culture and Society in the Renaissance Italy, 1420–1540. (London, Batsford, 1972, pp. 51-52.</ref>
  • Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) <ref>p. 180.</ref> "In Leonardo Da Vinci, of course, he had as his subject not just an ordinary Italian painter, but the prototype of the universal genius, the 'Renaissance man,' …"; "prodigious polymath… Painter, sculptor, engineer, astronomer, anatomist, biologist, geologist, physicist, architect, philosopher, humanist.". Leonardo's scientific accomplishments are often reduced to inventions (of which he made very many) or to speculation, and an adventurous spirit. Recent writing shows that he was in fact a serious and brilliant scientist, concerned with what today is called 'systems theory', or complex systems; but he devised scientific reasoning models for experimentation, and conducted experiments with validation procedures, all of which qualify him as a scientist in the true sense as well.<ref>Capra, Fritjof. The Science of Leonardo. Inside the Mind of the Genius of the Renaissance. New York, Doubleday, 2007.</ref> For the extraordinary and unprecedented range of his work, of which only a minority survives, he is justly considered by many the most diversely talented person, or, as Helen Gardner says "The scope and depth of his interests were without precedent… His mind and personality seem to us superhuman".<ref> Gardner, Helen (1970), Art through the Ages, Harcourt, Brace and World</ref>
  • Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), architect, sculptor, painter, poet, writer.<ref name="Watson, Peter 2005, p 411"/><ref name="Burke, Peter 1540. pp 51-52"/>
  • Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), "Italian scientist, mathematician, astronomer, physicist, and philosopher. He made fundamental contributions to many sciences such as motion, materials, astronomy; he adapted telescope devices to astronomical purposes. As a natural philosopher committed to accounts of the world in mathematical terms moved away from descriptive accounts of the material world to mathematical ones tested empirically by experiments devised according to scientific method and reasoning. He formulated laws on circular inertia, on falling bodies, and parabolic trajectories. Several of these launched the change in how motion was understood and studied and this was decisive in understanding the physical universe. Galileo was a true Renaissance man, excelling at many different endeavors, including lute playing and painting."<ref>Eric W. Weisstein, Galileo Galilei (1564–1642)</ref> Galileo is considered by some to have been the true revolutionary (along with Descartes) of the so-called revolution in thought often called the Copernican revolution.<ref> Van Doren, Charles. A History of Knowledge. (New York, Ballantine, 1991, p. 212).</ref>
  • Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, the first constructor of mechanical calculators, philosopher, theologian, and one of the greatest masters of French prose. Not frequently described as polymath, as the word doesn't exist in French, he was, for instance, praised by Chateaubriand, who said "There was a man who, aged 12, had rediscovered mathematics using rounds and bars; aged 16, written the deepest book on conics seen since Antiquity; aged 19, reduced to mechanical means a science which exists only in the mind; aged 23, found the weight of air, (…), then turned his thoughts towards God (…) giving its definitive shape to the language used later by Bossuet and Racine (…) This frightening genius was named Blaise Pascal" <ref>Chateaubriand, Génie du Christianisme, III,2,ch.6</ref>
  • Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716); "Leibniz was a polymath who made significant contributions in many areas of physics, logic, mathematics, history, librarianship, and of course philosophy and theology, while also working on ideal languages, mechanical clocks, mining machinery…" "A universal genius if ever there was one, and an inexhaustible source of original and fertile ideas, Leibniz was all the more interested in logic because it …"<ref name="autogenerated3">Google books</ref> "Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was maybe the last Universal Genius incessantly active in the fields of theology, philosophy, mathematics, physics, …"<ref name="autogenerated3" /> "Leibniz was perhaps the last great Renaissance man who in Bacon's words took all knowledge to be his province."<ref>Google books</ref>
  • Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790); "The ultimate creole intellectual… A true polymath of the Enlightenment style, he distinguished himself on both sides of the Atlantic by researches in natural sciences as well as politics and literature." He was a leading author, political theorist, politician, printer, scientist, inventor, civic activist, publisher and diplomat.
  • Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718–1799) a great female polymath. Born in Milan, Italy, she was only the second ever female university professor, a brilliant linguist, geometer, theology, logician, algebraist, mathematician and philosopher.<ref> Anzoletti, Luisa. Maria Gaetane Agnesi. Milan: L.F. Cogliati, 1990.</ref>. She wrote a book discussing differential and integral calculus. A child prodigy she spoke French as well as her native Italian from five years of age and in childhood also acquired Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German and Latin. From age nine, she was delivering educated talks and later lectures, including a famous logical claim for the right of women to a full and equal education with men. Appointed by Pope Benedict XIV to Bologna University chair of mathematics.<ref>Truesdell, C. "Maria Gaetana Agnesi." Archive for History of Exact Sciences. 1989, 40: 433, pp. 113–142.</ref><ref> Mazzotti, Massimo. "Maria Gaetana Agnesi: Mathematics and the Making of the Catholic Enlightenment," Isis, 92(4) (December 2001), pp. 657–683.</ref>

See also

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