The Ultimate Renaissance Man: Scholar, Artist, Politician

The Ultimate Renaissance Man: few scholars achieve the degree of success necessary to qualify for such a distinguished title. Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, the famed painter, sculptor, architect, and inventor set such an example as the quintessential polymath and the world still struggles to produce another mind of his magnitude 500 years after his death.

Although opinions of which achievements constitute a Renaissance man may differ, the title applies to either a man or woman, well-educated, innovative, and knowledgeable in both academics and the arts. During da Vinci’s time, the idea that women would accrue the knowledge and education of men of their time caused considerable ridicule. Relatively modern cultural changes made such achievements of the fairer sex possible. Select, exemplary women such as ‘warrior princess’ Condoleezza Rice acquire a vast wealth of knowledge, far exceeding men with fewer impediments.

Classic polymaths excel in a diverse selection of learning and activities. They attain remarkable musical success, speak multiple languages fluently, possess great knowledge of the literary classics, understanding, for example, the inward conflict of Achilles or the fatal consequences surrounding the teachings of Socrates.

These extraordinary humans provide great insights into the world and leave significant impact on society long after their deaths. Innovations in science, political concepts, and the arts require brilliant minds. Without these ultimate-scholars the people of the world might live lesser lives. Leonardo da Vinci personifies the Renaissance man archetype. His artistic and technological advances remain unmatched.

Although a prodigious engineer and inventor, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci’s magnificent art remains his most famous contribution to society. Leonardo’s painting, the Mona Lisa, remains the world’s single most famous work of art. According to Vasari, a close friend of da Vinci’s, his musical abilities surpassed all others. He invented two instruments, the lyre and the viola organista. da Vinci personally created the lyre for Leonardo d’Medici.

The latter apparatus represents the first bowed keyboard instrument, forerunner of the modern piano. This savant sketched drawings of flying machines which inspired the Wright brothers’ first glider. da Vinci created designs for the first submarine and military tank. Towards the end of his life Leonardo received an invitation from King Francis I to live in the French court. da Vinci served as an advisor to King Francis, introducing some of his designs to the French public.

Twenty years after Leonardo da Vinci’s death, Francis I stated, “There had never been another man born in the world who knew as much as Leonardo, not so much about painting, sculpture and architecture, as that he was a very great philosopher.” [1] Although 500 years passed since the Renaissance, few would argue that Leonardo da Vinci remains the pattern of the Ultimate Renaissance Man. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, both men and women excel in artistic and scholarly pursuits and Condoleezza Rice exemplifies “the Renaissance Man”.

Born to a Presbyterian minister in Alabama in 1954, Condoleezza Rice began her education at an early age. As an only child, Condi received much of her parents’ attention and the best opportunities they could provide. At the age of three she began learning the piano, which remained her primary emphasis through high school. Although not a concert pianist Condoleezza accompanied great musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma, performed for Heads of State, such as Queen Elizabeth II, and occasionally plays for charitable concerts.

She speaks French, Spanish, German, and Russian, significant assets in her political career. At the age of sixteen she attended the University of Denver, majoring in Political Science. Dr. Rice earned her PhD by the age of twenty-six. She became the Provost of Stanford University in 1993. Her political skills captured the attention of several U.S. presidents including President George W. Bush. Upon his election in 2001, President Bush appointed Rice as his National Security Advisor. She proved invaluable during the extremely difficult circumstances surrounding the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Her innovative ideas relating to the Iraq War and the building of a new democratic Iraqi society may parallel the ground breaking accomplishments da Vinci introduced in the Renaissance period. In 2005 President Bush chose her as his Secretary of State. After the close of her appointment, Dr. Rice returned to Stanford as tenured professor of Political Science. Dr. Rice served as director of Chevron, HP, and Transamerican Corporation. In 1993, a 129,000 ton supertanker christened the “SS Condoleezza Rice” launched into service.

The Ultimate Renaissance Man has received the synonym of polymath meaning, “a person with experienced learning in several fields of study.” This broad definition leaves room for a wide variety of applicants but very few epitomize this title as Leonardo da Vinci. His broad range of knowledge, artistic ability, and innovative mind dominated his era. His legacy remains unchallenged. The few who achieve the level of accomplishment da Vinci embodied demand applause. Through extensive study, hard work, and a myriad of talents, Dr. Rice meets the requirements demonstrated by da Vinci. Her life, along with that of Leonardo da Vinci, will remain a testament and inspiration to others to pursue scholarly and artistic endeavors.