Archive | August, 2019

Leonardo da Vinci

12 Aug

I           The Polymath

On 2 May 1519, a little over 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest polymaths that ever lived, died (possibly) of a stroke, according to Francis I of France, who was a close friend.  He was 67 years old.   The sixteenth century biographer of Renaissance artists, Vasari, said Leonardo was filled with repentance in his death throes, saying that he “had offended against God and men by failing to practice his art as he should have done”.  He sent for a priest to confess and receive the Holy Sacrament.

A score of years later, Francis I was reported by the sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini as saying: “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 great philosopher.

It is salutary to reflect on the life of this great man five centuries later at a time when we encourage our children to specialise.  The argument advanced is that specialisation assists them in building focused careers.  They will thrive (at least as long as there is a demand for that specialism), if not flourish.  However, the clarion call to do so leads them to learn more and more about less and less so that they end up knowing everything about nothing.  This is not to say they become generalists – learning less and less about more than more – because then they will end up knowing nothing about everything.

The point is that education should be about encouraging young people to follow their interests, grow in the directions which help them lead whole and fulfilled lives and develop a sense of balance.   The more talented ones could strive to emulate Leonardo da Vinci.

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