Leonardo and the Nature of Genius Short Program: July 2-5, 2014

Only once in a very great while does a person come along whose life's work can be argued to have perceptibly changed the world. Leonardo da Vinci not only joins this illustrious group of the truly exceptional: he may well stand in its vanguard.

A legendary figure of noted aloofness, Leonardo worked for popes, sultans, kings and rogues, dukes and duchesses, poets and their muses, and an array of Europe's most beautiful women. But he largely worked alone, lost in his thoughts, unmindful of impatient patrons and a fawning public. Addicted to the flights of his own fancies, he dabbled in a variety of projects that would take his admirers hundreds of years to complete.

He imagined great armored war machines that fired cannons from a covered, mechanical carriage. He envisioned flying machines that operated on screw shafts and enormous wings. He dreamt of diving suits and robots and odometers and self-supporting bridges that could span miles. He invented a new way of painting, mastered the art of bronze casting, designed sophisticated buildings, and ushered in modern medical study. He was arrested (and released) for a capital offense, served as a diplomat for one of Europe's most important politicians, and pleased some of the day's most notorious villains with his work. He lived during one of the most volatile periods in European history, and from a cauldron of instability and chaos he created an approach to art, science, and philosophy that literally changed the western world. And all of this Leonardo did under the shadow of illegitimacy and the mark of common birth.

Helping us to appreciate the genius of Leonardo and one of our civilization's greatest minds will be W&L art historian George Bent, historian David Peterson, and chemistry professor Erich Uffelman. In April 2015 the W&L Traveller will offer a trip to Milan and Como to examine some of Leonardo's greatest works.