“The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci”


Instructor: Dr. Rocky Ruggiero
Lecture Hours: 15 Hours
Credits: Certificate of Completion

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The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci

Course Description:
This course will focus on the extraordinary artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Through an in-depth and nearly exhaustive analysis of selected works of art from throughout Leonardo’s career, students will acquire a profound understanding of the contributions, achievements, and failures of this most unique of historical figures.

Particular emphasis will be given to those works of art that best define our collective image of Leonardo, as well as those that stand as milestones in the history of art.

Course Objectives:

  • To bring a historical figure to life through a “hands on” approach to the works produced by the artist throughout the entirety of his career.
  • To understand the role that the historical context of Leonardo’s life had on his extraordinary artistic and scientific production.
  • To learn to appreciate the rich and influential aspects of Italian art from the late 15th to the early 16th centuries.
  • To develop the fundamental skills of art historical analysis that include formal analysis and iconographic interpretation.
  • To develop an ability to interact in a personal and intimate manner with works of art – which in the case of Leonardo da Vinci are some of the most iconic in history – and their surroundings.

Virtual Classroom: Upon registration, participants will have full access to an online educational platform with videos of recordings, syllabus, readings and discussion forum. Each lecture lasts 1 hour 15 minutes.

Credits: Certificate of Completion

Access: Students have lifetime and unlimited streaming access to the course content.

Supplemental Readings & Podcasts:
Readings and Podcasts are provided to students to enhance the course experience.



– Lecture 1: Verrocchio’s Apprentice

In 1467, Leonardo entered the workshop of Florence’s most celebrated sculptor, Andrea Del Verrocchio, in whose household he would remain even after becoming an independent professional artist. This lecture will examine Leonardo’s contemporary artistic environment, his formative years as an apprentice, as well as the influence of his master on his work.

– Lecture 2: The Early Works – Annunciation and Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci

Leonardo’s earliest works were clear indicators of this unique artistic vision and talent. This lecture will analyze Leonardo’s earliest known professional contract for the church of San Bartolomeo a Monte Oliveto, and his groundbreaking portrait of a young Florentine woman named Ginevra de’ Benci.


– Lecture 3: Unfinished Florentine Paintings – Adoration of the Magi and St. Jerome

In 1481, Leonardo began work on a major altarpiece for the church of San Donato a Scopeto. At the same time, he sent his resume to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, in hopes of landing the position of court artist of the duchy of Milan. This lecture will examine Leonardo’s paintings of the Adoration of the Magi and St. Gerome, both of which were left unfinished, most likely because of Leonardo’s departure for Milan.  

– Lecture 4: The Controversy of the Virgin of the Rocks

In 1483, the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception commissioned Leonardo and Ambogio and Evangelista de Predis to paint an altarpiece for their chapel at the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan. Due to a controversy regarding payment to the artists, it appears that the painting was never delivered. This lecture will examine the controversy surrounding the two versions of the same subject – one in the Louvre, while the other is in the National Gallery in London.


– Lecture 5: The Unrealized Equestrian Monument of Francesco Sforza

Duke Ludovico Sforza’s principal motivation for bringing Leonardo to Milan was most likely Leonardo’s experience in working with bronze. The duke was hoping to apply Leonardo’s experience and talent to create a colossal equestrian monument in honor of his father Francesco Sforza. This lecture will examine the complex 20-year history of this never-realized monument.

– Lecture 6: The Vitruvian Man, the Lady with an Ermine, and the Sala delle Asse

Although Leonardo never realized his equestrian monument, his years in Milan were some of his most productive. From architectural drawings, to court portraits, to decorating the residence of the duke, Leonardo’s sojourn in Milan resulted in the some of the most iconic works of his career. This lecture will examine those best-known from Leonardo’s Milanese period.


– Lecture 7– The Last Supper

Leonardo’s Last Supper was painted in 1495 in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan and is celebrated as the first work of the High Renaissance. Few people realize that Leonardo’s painting of the subject was the culmination of nearly 1,000 years of iconographic tradition. This lecture will explore the evolution of the subject of the Last Supper in Italian art, as well as Leonardo’s own unique expression of the subject.

– Lecture 8– The Burlington Cartoon and the Mona Lisa (Part I)

When Leonardo returned to Florence in the early 1500s, he immediately made his presence felt. Giorgio Vasari recounts how a Leonardo cartoon was put on display in the church of Santissima Annunziata and how great crowds “would gaze in amazement at the marvels he had created.” Shortly thereafter, Leonardo would receive the commission for his most famous work, a portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo – better known to the world as the Mona Lisa.


– Lecture 9: The Mona Lisa (Part II) 

Leonardo’s portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of the wealthy cloth merchant Francesco del Giocondo, has generated a multitude of theories concerning her enigmatic smile. From the painting being a self-portrait of Leonardo as a woman, to the subject being pregnant, just about everything that could possibly have been written about the Mona Lisa seems to have been written about her. In addition to analyzing the formal aspects of the painting, this lecture will also examine just why the painting is so famous.

– Lecture 10: Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari vs. Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina

In 1504, Florence found its two greatest artists in the city at the same time. Not wanting to miss this rare opportunity to have them test their talents against each other, massive murals were commissioned from each in the great hall of Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. While Michelangelo only got as far as producing a 1,300 sq. ft. cartoon in chalk, Leonardo actually began to paint. This lecture will explore how the artists measured up to each other, and the search for this lost Leonardo painting in Palazzo Vecchio.


– Lecture 11: The Late Works – Virgin, Child and St. Anne, and St. John the Baptist

Although Leonardo’s Virgin, Child and St. Anne may have been commissioned as early as 1503, it was still in the artist’s studio in 1517. The painting of St. John the Baptist is instead considered the master’s last known painting. This lecture will examine Leonardo’s final years and those few works that were produced during this period.

– Lecture 12: The Controversial Works – Salvator Mundi, Litta Madonna, La Belle Ferronière, La Scapigliata, and Madonna of the Yarnwinder

There are almost as many contested paintings attributed to Leonardo as there are certain attributions. This lecture will examine several of those best-known controversial works, including the controversial and fabulously expensive Salvator Mundi painting which sold for the record sum of $450 billion in November 2017.