Food was also fresh, whole, organic, local, free-range, antibiotic-free, pesticide-free, unprocessed and nutrient-dense. General dietary patterns at the time reflect what I've now worked out as Golden Ratio proportions: carbohydrate based and balanced by moderate protein intake and the inclusion of healthy fats -- Leonardo's lunch of bread, cheese and vegetable soup. For these reasons, I initially thought of the system I was working out as "the da Vinci diet," referencing not only the man and his math, but also the time (fifteenth century) and place in which he lived. His home village (Vinci) in the Tuscan hills was once ancient Etruria, a cultural and culinary center of Italy even before Roman civilization developed.
That seemingly simple meal fueled not just Leonardo's genius but also the genius of his whole era. He lived during the Renaissance, which saw unprecedented changes to Italy, Europe and the world. It was an awakening unlike any before or since; literally (in French, via Latin) a rebirth. The fifteenth century was a maelstrom of rebirth of human aspirations, values and visions, a time of unrepentant inquiry in science, perspective, sociology and theology. It saw perhaps the biggest paradigm shift of all time, and everything was in play. It was a rebirth following a millennium of church domination during which scientific learning was suppressed and a dark age marked by traveling laborers, serfdom and ignorance was spread. It was also a rebirth after the Black Death wiped out one-third of the population of Europe.
Father of the submarine, bicycle, automobile, flying machine and computer, along with his fine art legacy, Leonardo da Vinci was the ultimate Renaissance man. The author Maria Costantino wrote that he was "possibly the most versatile genius in the history of mankind, consistently demonstrating ideas far ahead of his time... Today both his scientific vision and his skill as an artist seem breathtaking."
Leonardo as a Renaissance man has particular personal meaning for me not in what he invented (wondrous though those are), but rather in what he ceaselessly strove to apply anew -- having inherited knowledge from a long chain of people who'd gone before him. In the age of intrigue, suspicion and unrest in which he lived, everyone was on the move, often for their very lives. Counts and dukes wrangled for alliances; artists migrated from region to region seeking paying patrons. Little wonder Leonardo encoded and secreted his occult knowledge in enigmatic works that baffle us today.
Having struggled myself for decades against indoctrination and cultural biases to keep methods and teachings of the ancients alive amidst a fast-paced consumer-oriented present, I have come to respect Leonardo's persistence as much as or more than his creative genius.