Another View on the Renaissance: The Relationship between Art and Science


Leonardo da Vinci, a prominent artist and engineer in the renaissance. (Leonardo Da Vinci. File:Leonardo self.jpg. circa 1510-1515. Painting. Royal Library, Turin. Web. 2 Mar 2012 )

The concepts of art and science appear to be polar opposites to the untrained eye. However, I looked closer at art and science in the renaissance and found them to be much more closely related than I previously thought. According to Wikipedia’s article on Leonardo da Vinci, da Vinci both was a prominent artist and an accomplished inventor and scientist. Da Vinci’s paintings include the famous Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. However, da Vinci is just as well known for his inventions, such as 1 theorized 720-foot bridge that engineers today feel would actually support the required weight. What’s more, da Vinci also appeared to be centuries ahead of his time, theorizing such things as the anatomy of the human body and some flying machines that experts today feel would actually work (Wikipedia contributors). Da Vinci is the classic example of a relationship between art and science, but when I did some more research, I found out that they are much more closely related that I thought before.

Although renaissance art appears, at first glance, very religiously oriented, when I researched the topic more in-depth I found that art and science were closely tied together in the renaissance. According to Wikipedia’s article on renaissance art, some of the renaissance’s most famous artists, such as Michelangelo and the aforementioned Leonardo da Vinci, were accomplished engineers as well. Obviously, if the most famous artists are engineers, there is a link between art and science. There was also much art painted on architecture, specifically pillars, suggesting that architecture, which is impossible without science, has a link with art

According to Wikipedia’s article on the history of science in the renaissance, some historians believe that the renaissance was a time of decline for science. If this is the case, which I believe it is, the reasons for which I will get to later, there would obviously be a tie between art and science, as when one grows less prominent, as science did in the renaissance, the other grows more prominent, in this case art. (Wikipedia contributors) This hints at a relationship between science and art. I believe that the renaissance was a time of decline for science because I cannot remember any scientific concepts that were theorized in the early renaissance, which is when art was the most plentiful (Wikipedia contributors). In addition, later in the renaissance when art was losing some of its influence (Wikipedia contributors), more scientific concepts, such as the notion that the earth is not the center of the universe, were being theorized. (Wikipedia contributors).

According to James Ackerman in his book Distance Points: Studies in Theory of Renaissance Art and Architecture, the study of optics was incredibly important to the field of painting. It is not hard to see why; painting uses colors, and optics can determine how a mixture of colors will appear to the eye (Ackerman 60).

René Descartes does bring up an important point in his Rules for the Direction of the Mind, saying that art requires a body whereas science does not. (Rules for the Direction of the Mind) I believe, however, from my experiences, that science does require a body. Without the senses, nothing would be possible, and the body is what gives rise to the five senses. Due to these facts, I believe that renaissance art and science were much more closely tied together than I could have imagined.

Works Cited:

“Rules for the Direction of the Mind.” Wikisource, The Free Library. 14 Jun 2011, 17:06 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 29 Feb 2012 <//>.

Wikipedia contributors. “Renaissance art.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Dec. 2011. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Leonardo da Vinci.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

Ackerman, James. Distance Points: Studies in Theory of Renaissance Art and Architecture. MIT Press, 1994. Web. < art and science&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ZZZNT-2aCIKUgwesodWlAg&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAQ>.

Wikipedia contributors. “History of science in the Renaissance.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 Feb. 2012. Web. 2 Mar. 2012.

McKay, John. A history of Western society. 9th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Print.


  1. vinay1496

    Great post Brian! You discuss the role of engineering in renaissance architecture, but do you think the advancement of math and science also affected paintings and sculptures of this time? Thanks,


    • brianthemathematician

      Hey Vinay, glad you like my post! I believe that the advancement of math and science did indeed affect the paintings of the renaissance. The new advancement of our knowledge of color would easily serve to have an effect on art; artists could now know for sure by using science what would happen if two colors of paint (or more) were mixed. In addition, when other concepts of optics were discovered, they could be used to create a more realistic looking drawing by using the concepts to figure out what the painting would look like in a different lighting setting. With the advancements in engineering, it is likely that art could be based off of more complex structures, which would lead to different kinds of art as well. In short, yes, I think the advancement of math and science affected the renaissance paintings. Thanks again for reading!

  2. becca0906

    Hey Brian! I really liked your post; great info about Leonardo da Vinci’s proposed inventions. As you said in your blog post, architecture requires lots of science and engineering. You write that as Renaissance art increased, science decreased, but I don’t really understand how this could be, as art requires a lot of science (architecture requires lots of engineering, Leonardo da Vinci and other painters needed extensive knowledge of human anatomy). Do you mean that people’s focus was on the artful aspects of paintings/sculptures/architecture rather than on the scientific aspects, or that science really did decline as art reached a climx? Also, I’d be interested to hear what you think about today’s society – is art increasing/decreasing right now, or is science?

    Thanks! Great post

    • brianthemathematician

      Hey Becca, thanks for reading my blog! By “science decreased” I mean that the discovery of new scientific concepts was put on hold throughout the time, as new significant scientific concepts were not thought up Galileo and Copernicus discovered that the earth was not the center of the universe. The arts used discovered scientific concepts, but did not go into new things. As to your other question, I believe that art is currently starting to increase again. I think that it reached a bottom during the time of the quantum mechanical revolution, a time from which I cannot think of any famous art, but it seems to be (slowly) rising again. Painting seems to have completely fallen out the wayside, but other forms, like statues, appear to be rising, judging by what I have seen. Thanks again for reading!

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