Leon Battista Alberti: a Renaissance Personality

Sir Kenneth Clark discovers echoes of both ancient and modern in a true Renaissance man.

Many readers of that masterpiece of learning and compression, Jacob Burckhardt’s Renaissance, must have stopped to re-read the passage in which he describes Leon Battista Alberti, the perfect universal man of the early fifteenth century. “In all by which praise was won,” he writes,

“Leon Battista was, from his childhood, the first. Of his various gymnastic feats and exercises we read with astonishment how, with his feet together, he could spring over a man’s head; how, in the cathedral, he threw a coin in the air till it was heard to ring against the distant roof; how the wildest horses trembled under him. In three things he desired to appear fauldess to others, in walking, in riding and in speaking. And all the while he acquired every sort of accomplishment and dexterity, cross-examining artists, scholars and artisans of all descriptions, down to the cobblers, about the secrets of their craft... . That which others created he. welcomed joyfully, and held every human achievement which followed the laws of beauty for something almost divine.”

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