What is a Renaissance man? The answer is not simple. In as brief a definition as possible, a Renaissance man consisted of portraying eight qualities: 1) expressing cultural awareness and grace with modesty, 2) being a gentleman, 3) being of noble birth or holding a noble position, 4) exemplifying courage, 5) being well-educated, 6) being articulate, 7) understanding of and contributing to the arts and sciences, and 8) enjoying superior height and physical aptitude.

Sir Walter Raleigh was the English epitome of a Renaissance man. Prominent in the royal court, Raleigh was a well-educated and courageous knight who was known for his leadership. There are even rumors that Raleigh laid his cloak over a mud puddle in order for the Queen of England to cross the road into her carriage. While at Oxford, Sir Walter Raleigh studied law. Later literary accomplishments consisted of writing two books (History of the World and Discovery of Guinea) and some poetry. Raleigh was also a man of arms. Leading an army in Ireland against the Catholics, Raleigh was instrumental in two infamous massacres of Irish Catholics. Later, he also explored North and South America, and is responsible for founding the colony of Roanoke. While in South America, Raleigh was party to an attack on a Spanish settlement during peace time. For this reason, Raleigh was brought back to England and executed. As his last show of power and desire for complete control, Sir Walter Raleigh ordered his own execution.

Italy offered its own Renaissance man--Leonardo da Vinci. Although da Vinci never went to public school, he is known for being one of the greatest minds of all time. Leonardo da Vinci quite possibly made more contributions to art and science than any other man of his era. Philosophy, natural history, anatomy, biology, medicine, optics, acoustics, science, mathematics and hydraulics were all areas of science extensively explored by this eclectic genius. In art, da Vinci painted, sculpted, sketched, and used just about any other medium of art imaginable. On a personal level, Leonardo da Vinci possessed the qualities of "…outstanding physical beauty, infinite grace, great strength and generosity, regal spirit and tremendous breadth of mind," as described by Vasari. The physical qualities lacked were more than made up for by his intellectual prowess.

One of Leonardo’s most famous paintings was The Last Supper, which he completed in 1495 in Milan. The picture vividly captures the emotions and reactions of the disciples as Jesus said that one of them would betray Him. The technique da Vinci used to capture emotion was in body language. Instead of focusing on facial expressions, da Vinci employed hand and limb gestures that more accurately conveyed the feelings of the people in the painting. The paint and the surface da Vinci used was tempera over a ground that was mainly gesso, which was not of the normal material. This change in ingredients has made the painting especially susceptible to mold and flaking. To this day, The Last Supper remains one of the most reproduced works of art.

While studying these men, I began to ask myself, “Am I a Renaissance man?” The important consideration to remember in making comparisons is that some values that were considered culturally acceptable are no longer appropriate. Therefore, according to today’s definitions of the previously mentioned qualities, I believe that I do possess some of a Renaissance man’s characteristics. Although I am neither of nobility (and most likely never will be) nor have I made significant achievements in art or science, I still have hope for what my life will bring.