Vol 3 No 2 | Jul-Sep 2023

Behind the Scenes

Story and art Anupam Arunachalam


Leonardo da Vinci’s theatre days

Leonardo da Vinci was renowned as an artist, polymath, inventor and scientist. But there is one often overlooked title: theatre producer.

In 1490s, Leonardo was hired to stage plays by the Duke of Milan. Leonardo was captivated by theatre and meticulously created elaborate sets, designed ingenious costumes and envisioned innovative stage effects to bring the performances to life. His productions featured a combination of art, science, and technology, pushing the boundaries of theatre during his time.

Biographer Walter Isaacson, author of the bestseller, `Leonardo da Vinci’ says, “Leonardo loved the theatre. In the play `The Feast of Paradise’, there were elaborate costumes. People emerged from Hades. People were flying down. It had mechanical devices where the earth is opening up and people coming out of it. Leonardo designed the mechanisms and machinery that moved the scenery on the stage.” He compares Leonardo’s props and showmanship to a Lady Gaga concert, saying, “People were totally awed by it.”

Leonardo’s pursuit of perfection and thirst for knowledge compelled him to experiment with new lighting techniques, acoustics, and perspective, elevating the theatrical experience to new heights.

In later years, he applied his knowledge of human anatomy and his understanding of theatre to his paintings, creating some of the most iconic works of art which embodied the Rennaissance ideals of human potential and curiosity.

This podcast is a good summary of Leonardo da Vinci’s days in theatre and how the period shaped his future as one of the most renowned painters:


The Renaissance man

Leonardo da Vinci is one of history’s most celebrated figures. His artistic prowess was exceptional. His paintings, such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, epitomised the Renaissance’s pursuit of realism and captured the depths of human emotion with unprecedented skill. His scientific investigations revolutionised fields like anatomy, optics, and engineering. He recorded his findings, producing detailed drawings that continue to inspire and inform scholars today.

Beyond his artistic and scientific achievements, Leonardo’s visionary ideas and inventions were far ahead of his time. From conceptualising flying machines and armoured vehicles to designing intricate canal systems, his imagination knew no bounds.

He was a true Renaissance polymath. His exceptional talent, relentless curiosity, and pioneering spirit made him into an icon of creativity and intellect.

To get an understanding of Leonardo’s life and works read on here:

Insights into the mind of a genius and the scientific and artistic principles he discovered:

An old TV mini-series about his life and works in the Renaissance period:


The Renaissance period

The Renaissance, spanning roughly from the 14th to the 17th century, was a transformative era in European history. It marked a rebirth of knowledge, art, and culture, and brought about profound changes in various aspects of society.

During the Renaissance, there was a renewed interest in classical antiquity. Scholars and artists delved into the study of ancient texts, exploring new fields such as humanism, philosophy, and science. The development of the printing press enabled the dissemination of knowledge on a wider scale, spreading ideas and facilitating intellectual exchange.

Artists of the period, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, created masterpieces that reflected a newfound appreciation for realism, perspective, and human emotion. Architecture witnessed remarkable achievements, with grand structures like the dome of Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome serving as testaments to human ingenuity.

The Renaissance also witnessed the emergence of prominent thinkers, such as Niccolò Machiavelli and Thomas More, whose works shaped political and philosophical discourse. This period of cultural flourishing set the stage for the Enlightenment and laid the foundation for modern society.


More about the Renaissance: