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Leonardo, Michelangelo, Lucio: A taxonomy of Italian Genius

Thursday, October 16th, 2014


There are three types of Italian genius. Leonardo da Vinci characterized one with his brilliant problem solving, creative innovations in the arts and sciences, diverse dabblings that often left completion dates for commissioned projects as sfumato as his oils, and aggressive self-promotion. An apocryphal testimonial to this last: When he finished the Mona Lisa in the early 1500s, he invited friends and foe alike into his studio to show off what he assured them would be the Next Big Thing. Humility was not in Leonardo’s toolkit.

Born in 1475, Michelangelo Buonarroti exemplified a second type of Italian genius. Intense, focused, gifted with extraordinary talents in the visual arts and architecture, and rumored to be so impassioned by his work as to go weeks on end without sleep, his talent was such that monumental commissions were forced upon him by the political and religious powers of the day, although he argued bitterly against the scale of such assignments. He became increasingly cantankerous with age, and in angry response to criticism of one commission in particular, famously painted himself into his vast Last Judgment as a flayed skin victimized by his patrons. Charm and affability were not in Michelangelo’s toolkit.

Fast forward five centuries and find now a completely different type of Italian genius. Shaped by mid-20th century forces in technology, and brought to full fruition in the fertile fields of Silicon Valley, Lucio Lanza exemplifies a third class in the taxonomy, one that encompasses the upsides of those 16th century icons – intelligence, creativity, a passion for innovation and work, a sense of history – without the downsides – egomania, rough irritability, inability to finish a project, or avoid a project too big to handle.

In the wake of two High-Renaissance Florentians, it took one High-Tech Milanese to fill out the taxonomy of Italian genius. Here in the 21st century, Lucio Lanza is in a modern class of his own.


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