A Renaissance man is defined as a man who is knowledgeable or proficient in a variety of fields. In particular, it refers to a person who excels in science and mathematical fields, as well as in the humanities. There are lots of historical and modern examples of Renaissance men — and Renaissance women too! Keep reading for Renaissance man examples in the past and present and women who qualify as Renaissance women.
So, what is a Renaissance man (or woman)? The term “Renaissance man” comes from the philosophy of the Italian Renaissance, which values education, knowledge and one’s personal development. However, there were plenty of multi-talented scholars long before — and after — the Renaissance period.
Before the Renaissance began in the 14th century, the Greek concept of polymath (“having learned much”) described people who have extensive knowledge in varied subjects. These historical figures ranged from ancient Greece and Rome to the Middle Ages.
Famous historical polymaths who lived before the Renaissance include:
Imhotep (2650-2600 B.C.) - Egyptian priest, engineer, physician, and architect
Pythagoras (575-495 B.C.) - Greek mathematician, philosopher and scientist
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) - Greek philosopher, physician, poet, playwright, politician, and biologist
Archimedes (287-212 B.C.) - Greek mathematician, engineer, inventor, astronomer, and physicist
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 B.C.-A.D. 43) - Roman humanist, lawyer, linguist, orator, philosopher, politician, and prose stylist
Claudius Ptolemy (90 B.C.-A.D. 168) - Roman astronomer, poet, mathematician, geographer, and scientist
Zhang Heng (A.D. 78-139) - Chinese inventor, cartographer, astronomer, poet, philosopher, painter, sculptor, mathematician, and historian.
Hypatia (A.D. 350-415) - Greek mathematician, astronomer and philosopher
Al-Khwarizmi (A.D. 780-850) - Persian mathematician, geographer and astronomer
Al-Kindi (A.D. 801-873) - Arabic mathematician, astronomer, musician, physician, philosopher, geographer, meteorologist, politician, and scientist
Abbas ibn Firnas, also known as Armen Firman (810-887 A.D.) - Arabic aviator, chemist, engineer, inventor, musician, physician, and poet
Al-hazen (A.D. 965-1039) - physicist, scientist, astronomer, mathematician, ophthalmologist, engineer, inventor, philosopher, and theologian
Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (A.D.973-1048) - anthropologist, astronomer, physicist, geologist, natural historian, physician, mathematician, theologian, and philosopher
Shen Kuo (A.D. 1031-1095) - Chinese astronomer, scientist, statesman, botanist, poet, mathematician, engineer, diplomat, inventor, and military general
Hildegard of Bingen (A.D. 1098-1179) - German writer, philosopher, abbess, composer, and mystic
Averroës, also known as Ibn Rushd (A.D. 1126-1198) - Spanish-Arabic doctor, lawyer, astronomer, philosopher, astronomer, theologian, and mathematician
Historians consider Leonardo da Vinci to be the original Renaissance man due to his success in so many different fields and embrace of the Humanist movement. However, there are many prominent scholars during this time period who could also be considered Renaissance men.
Take a look at these men and women who were accomplishing great things in Europe during the Renaissance:
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) - Italian painter, sculptor, humanist, scientist, architect, philosopher, engineer, and more
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) - Polish astronomer, mathematician, artist, physician, economist, military strategist, diplomat, and politician
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) - Italian architect, painter, sculptor, poet, and writer
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) - Italian philosopher, statesman, author, political scientist, historian, and diplomat
Raphael (1483-1520) - Italian painter, architect, and archaeologist
Michel de Montaigne (1522-1592) - French essayist, philosopher, statesman, and early psychologist
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) - Italian astronomer, mathematician, physicist, philosopher, musician, and artist
The influence of the European Renaissance persisted long after it ended. The accomplishments of the Renaissance led to the scientific Age of Enlightenment and many scholarly achievements around the world.
Check out examples of Renaissance men and women who were influenced by the legacy of the Renaissance:
Amir Khusrow (1253-1325) - Indian poet, musician, inventor, mystic, linguist, and historian
Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) - Arabic diplomat, economist, historian, political theorist, social scientist, theologian, demographer, and linguist.
Akbar the Great (1542-1605) - Mogul architect, artist, writer, theologian, carpenter, and technologist
Baha ad-Din al-Amili (1547-1621) - Arabic architect, astronomist, mathematician, philosopher, and poet
Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz (1606-1682) - Spanish architect, astronomer, grammarian, logician, mathematician, physicist, poet, politician, and theologian.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) - French physicist, mathematician, theologian, philosopher, and author
Robert Hooke (1635-1703) - English experimental scientist, architect, natural philosopher, mathematician, and surveyor
Isaac Newton (1643-1727) -- English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, alchemist, and natural philosopher
Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) - German historian, logician, philosopher, physicist, mathematician, and theologian
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) - American scientist, writer, inventor, civil activist, diplomat, and political theorist
Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov (1711-1765) Russian chemist, artist, educator, historian, writer, and physicist.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) - American author, lawyer, musician, architect, botanist, inventor, philosopher, political theorist, and naturalist
Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) - Russian composer, musician, scientist, chemist, and educator
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) - Serbian-American inventor, engineer, physicist, mathematician, and humanitarian
Jose Rizal (1861-1896) - Filipino biologist, volcanologist, ophthalmologist, painter, poet, novelist, and political scientist
Rabindranath Thakur (1861-1941) - Indian poet, musician, playwright, philosopher, author, painter, and social activist
Marie Curie (1867-1934) - Polish physicist, chemist, inventor, and mathematician
The accomplishments of the polymaths and Renaissance men and women have led to a flourishing modern age. However, there are still many of these geniuses in our modern world!
Examples of modern-day Renaissance women and men include:
Mayim Bialik - actor, director, author, and neuroscientist
Bono - Irish singer, philanthropist, investor, businessman, and social activist
Brad Pitt - American actor, producer, filmmaker, humanitarian, and investor
Dorothy Dunnett - Scottish novelist, painter, historian, musician, and linguist
Donald Glover - American actor, musician, rapper, DJ, comedian, and writer
Stephen Hawking - English physicist, mathematician, cosmologist, and author
Mae Jemison - American astronaut, engineer, and physician
Ken Jeong - American actor, comedian, physician, and television producer
Quincy Jones - American songwriter, record producer, composer, music arranger, and television producer
Steve Jobs - American businessman, technician, investor, and designer
Elon Musk - South African-Canadian businessman, computer programmer, engineer, physicist, and entrepreneur
Carl Sagan - American astronomer, astrophysicist, author, astrobiologist, and cosmologist
Chances are, the innovations you enjoy every day came from the time of a talented Renaissance woman or man. These polymaths are different from your everyday geniuses — they flourish in many fields, always working to make our world a better place. To learn more about the inventions that turn the world around, check out these Industrial Revolution inventions that made history.