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Da Vinci’s Ghost

Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created The World In His Own Image

By Toby Lester
10-minute read
Audio available
Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created The World In His Own Image by Toby Lester

Da Vinci’s Ghost (2012) takes you back in time to the Renaissance, when Leonardo da Vinci created his iconic drawing, the Vitruvian Man – a naked figure framed in a square and circle. Today, this drawing can be found everywhere – it’s even featured on coins in some countries. Find out what was going on at the time and what Leonardo might have been thinking when he embedded art, science and philosophy all in one image.

  • Art-history geeks
  • European historians and Renaissance scholars
  • Fans of Leonardo da Vinci

Toby Lester, a contributing editor at the Atlantic, is a former Peace Corps volunteer. His work has also been featured on NPR and This American Life. His other book, The Fourth Part of the World, was published in 2009.

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Da Vinci’s Ghost

Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created The World In His Own Image

By Toby Lester
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created The World In His Own Image by Toby Lester
Synopsis

Da Vinci’s Ghost (2012) takes you back in time to the Renaissance, when Leonardo da Vinci created his iconic drawing, the Vitruvian Man – a naked figure framed in a square and circle. Today, this drawing can be found everywhere – it’s even featured on coins in some countries. Find out what was going on at the time and what Leonardo might have been thinking when he embedded art, science and philosophy all in one image.

Key idea 1 of 6

Many of the important cultural ideas of the Renaissance era can be traced back to ancient Rome.

Have you ever been to Rome? Well, even if you haven’t, you might be familiar with ancient Rome’s architecture. Some of it still stands. There are multiples reasons why these structures have endured – a main one being the intentions and ideas behind them.

The architecture of ancient Rome was meant to impress and influence both people and gods. After Rome fell, it continued to inspire people, even during the Renaissance era of Leonardo da Vinci.

In the first century BC, Caesar Augustus became Rome’s first emperor. He decided that the capital city needed a makeover to re-assert its power. At the time of his rise to power, Rome was in disarray. Years of war, political chaos and mismanagement had left the city in shambles.

Augustus was convinced that Rome’s shabby state was the result of its citizens not showing enough love to the gods: Romans were being punished for letting their religious traditions lapse and their temples fall into disrepair.

Augustus spared no expense. Monumental new temples were erected, along with other imposing structures made of marble. The impressive and lavish buildings were sure to appease the mighty gods and improve Rome’s status in the eyes of the mortals.

This architecture would continue to impress one generation after the next. But it wasn’t Rome’s only legacy. During the Renaissance, people were also impressed by the Roman dedication to collecting and compiling knowledge.

Augustus loved things to be in perfect order, and this led to the creation of style guides and rule books that sought to weave together all the various areas of knowledge and pieces of information. The Romans had a name for these catalogued and cohesive bodies of knowledge: a corpus.

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio worked under Augustus as an architect and military engineer, and when he noticed that there wasn’t a corpus on architecture, he took it upon himself to fill this lacuna. Around 25 BC, he completed the Ten Books on Architecture and dedicated it to Augustus.

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