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Leonardo da Vinci was born during the Italian Renaissance period which began near the end of the 13th century and extended to around 1600. The Renaissance was a period in Europe where societies were emerging from the medieval ‘Middle Ages’. The word itself is French and translates literally to meaning ‘rebirth’. Its Italian equivalent is ’Rinascimento’ .


During the renaissance period many in European society were renewed in their interest in the culture of classical antiquity. Ancient Greek and Latin became widely studied. Architecture, painting, sculpture, writing and music were transformed during this era, showing a more freer, less restricted approach.


There was great economic growth in Italy during the late 1400s due to the opening of trade routes with the east. This helped to grow the wealth of many including merchants and tradesmen alike. There was much demand for luxury goods which contributed to the wealth of the new mercantile and trade classes.


The new found wealth of these classes assisted in artistic development during this period. The well-off became patrons commissioning art for their enjoyment. Artists were able to display more individualism and self expression shaking off some of the constricting shackles of the art of the medieval period which was predominantly religious in content.


In Leonardo da Vinci’s Florence, one leading family was the Medici  family. The Medici were great patrons of the arts. Due to such patronage Italian Renaissance painting led the development of European renaissance painting at this time. Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Titian and Leonardo da Vinci were just some of the artists who operated during the renaissance in Italy.


A number of military conflicts occurred during da Vinci’s time including the invasion of Milan by the French. Leonardo da Vinci was in Milan at this time having completed The Last Supper. He had been employed by the Sforza family. When the French invaded the Sforza family was forced to flee Milan.


Leonardo da Vinci lived during a great age of human cultural development which allowed him to achieve all that he did during his lifetime. One can only speculate as to what he may have achieved if he had been born during a more restricted era, or more interestingly if his great mind had been unleashed in more modern times.



Leonardo da Vinci—Historical Context


All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.—Leonardo da Vinci