Leonardo da Vinci Is The Subject of New Ken Burns PBS Documentary

Italy’s original Renaissance Man will be in the spotlight as the subject of a new documentary, titled Leonardo da Vinci, airing on PBS on November 18 and 19, 2024. The two-part, four-hour special is a biography of da Vinci’s life and career, set amid the wider context of Renaissance Italy.

The documentary is directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns, along with his daughter Sarah Burns and colleague David McMahon. Da Vinci is Ken Burns’ first non-American subject.

Arguably the most famous Florentine in history, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) made his mark on the Italian Renaissance as a polymath with a broad range of interests and achievements—including engineering, anatomy, painting, sketching and philosophy. His most famous paintings are, of course, the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, but his fascinating career extends well beyond his most notable achievements. The documentary explores da Vinci from the perspective of those who admire and study him, shows how he inspired others through the centuries, and delves into the philosophical questions of what it means to be human and to have a relationship with nature.

“No single person can speak to our collective effort to understand the world and ourselves,” Ken Burns said in a recent press release. “But Leonardo had a unique genius for inquiry, aided by his extraordinary skills as an artist and scientist, that helps us better understand the natural world that we are part of and to appreciate more fully what it means to be alive and human.”

This film departs from the directors’ usual filmmaking style to incorporate video, sound and images from different eras to enhance their storytelling and provide a complete picture of the artist’s life. Aided by a team of experts and actors, the directors explore da Vinci’s work through his personal notebooks; firsthand and secondhand accounts of his life; and interviews with experts including scholars and artists.

“Though we follow Leonardo’s personal journey and explore his artistic and scientific accomplishments, we’re also really focused on what went on in his mind and on understanding the depths of his curiosity,” said McMahon.

The special will be shown on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS app on November 18 and 19, 2024 from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern time. Check your local station’s listings for more information. And also always you can watch Dream of Italy, especially our new Season 3, on PBS.

—Elaine Murphy