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The Leonardo da Vinci Art School

Updated: Feb 17

NOTES FOR A DOCUMENTARY FILM | The 1920s marked a period of artistic ferment characterized by a departure from traditional styles, the influence of avant-garde movements, and a pursuit of social and political ideals. The emergence of art schools in various parts of the world reflected a shared desire among artists to explore new avenues of expression and engage with the evolving socio-cultural landscape.

From The Italian Factor
The Leonardo in the News

In 1923, Attilio co-founded The Leonardo da Vinci Art School with his friend and prominent Italian sculptor Onorio Ruotolo. The Leonardo, as it was affectionally known, was a low-tuition art school for the working poor and the immigrants who attended class mostly at night after work.

From The Italian Factor
The Leonardo in the News

Thousands of students learned from a select faculty of volunteers, and students at the Leonardo included Isamu Noguchi and Esther Shemitz.   

A resent discovery of multiple documents allowed us to look deeply into the scope of the academic program and the links between The Leonardo and distinguished personalities of the arts and sciences.

Heritage Film Project
The Leonardo. Curses and Instructors

The Italian Factor
Attilio Piccirilli and Fiorello LaGuardia at The Leonardo

The collapse of the global economy and the Great Depression drove the school to bankruptcy in 1929, only to be reopened under the auspice of "The New Deal" in 1934 with political support from Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and union backing. For the occasion, Conrad A. Albrizio painted a fresco representing the alliance between FDR and Attilio, a portrait of Leonardo da Vinci.


Encourage Self-Expression


The Leonardo was organized on the precept that the study of art is best fostered by encouraging self-expression on the part of the student. Piccirilli and Ruotolo believed that art instruction was based on individual requirements, not generalized academic doctrines. The function of the instructor is to guide the student to better self-expression.


The Leonardo da Vinci was the only school in New York City teaching the technique and practice of fresco. Among other classes were drawing and painting from still life and composition, freehand drawing, and mural painting. fresco and tempera, applied design, textile designing, etching, commercial art, cartooning, lettering, sculpture and modeling, wrought iron, wood carving, pottery and ceramics, art history, interior decoration, art appreciation, English and Italian literature, music and drama.


From The Italian Factor
Faculty and models. Joseph D'OronzioCollection

On December 11, 1941, four days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Italy declared war on the United States. Suddenly, sympathies towards Italian Americans were challenged, and contributions to The Leonardo diminished significantly, forcing the school to close on April 28, 1942.


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