The Renaissance man comes to life

New exhibit marks 500 year’s since da Vinci’s death

Clarke Reader
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 3/12/19

To-do lists are a fairly common feature of daily life in the 21st century, but it turns out this organizational method has been around for centuries — just ask Italian Renaissance man Leonardo da …

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The Renaissance man comes to life

New exhibit marks 500 year’s since da Vinci’s death

Posted

To-do lists are a fairly common feature of daily life in the 21st century, but it turns out this organizational method has been around for centuries — just ask Italian Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci.

While most of us have things like “do the shopping” or “clean the kitchen,” items on da Vinci’s list involved things like finding a way to measure the size of the sun and study the tongue of a woodpecker.

Insights like these are among things visitors to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s “Leonardo da Vinci: 500 Years of Genius” exhibit can learn about one of humanity’s most adventurous thinkers.

“On one list, da Vinci had written that he should try to buy some corn, which had just been brought from the new world,” said Stephen Nash, curator of archaeology at the museum. “The audacity of these lists is just incredible. It gives you a look into the mind of the man.”

Presented at the museum, 2001 Colorado Blvd., by the Sturm Family Foundation through Aug. 25, the exhibit is one of the most comprehensive about da Vinci that has ever been created. It was made in honor of 2019 being the 500th anniversary of his death.

Today, da Vinci is recognized as an innovator in the fields of art, science, engineering and other disciplines. But examples of his work were mostly scattered or destroyed following his death. The few surviving artifacts are in private collections or permanently housed in museums.

According to information provided by the museum, exhibit creators Grande Exhibitions worked with the Museo Leonardo da Vinci in Rome and experts from Italy and France to build replicas of da Vinci’s inventions and paintings. They also created replicas of his books, notes and sketches, gathered in codices, or manuscripts from that time.

“What creates a person that is so far advanced, perhaps more so than anybody else in history?” asked George Sparks, president and CEO of the DMNS. “Our staff spent a lot of time working to make this exhibit our own at the museum as we thought about these questions.”

Using the man’s notes from his codices, creators were able to build reproductions of about 70 of da Vinci’s inventions, including crude attempts at machines like a helicopter, airplane, car, submarine and military tank. The replicas are made using the materials and techniques of 15th-century Italy. Some of the inventions are scaled down, some are life-sized and others are oversized and some have mechanisms visitors can try for themselves.

As da Vinci is most well-known for his artwork, his creations in the medium take a special place in the exhibit. There are print reproductions of his Florentine oil paintings, like “The Annunciation” and “Virgin on the Rocks.” There is also an animation of “The Last Supper,” which provides a look at what makes it such a unique work.

One highlight of the exhibit is the use of the state-of-the-art SENSORY4 technology, which uses high-definition motion graphics and surround sound, combined with authentic photography and video footage. The end result gives the visitor a feeling of being immersed in da Vinci’s mind.

Unsurprisingly, its da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” that gets the most in-depth exploration. The exhibit provides an analysis of the iconic painting conducted at the Louvre by scientific engineer and photographer Pascal Cotte. According to the museum’s information, the display includes super-magnified examinations, a 13-foot-high infrared print and the only 360-degree replica ever made of “Mona Lisa.”

The museum prides itself on bringing its own touch to the exhibits, and that shines through in the presence of the museum’s enactors, who will be wandering through the exhibit as characters who bring a personal perspective to the story of da Vinci and the age in which he lived.

As da Vinci neared the end of his life, he supposedly said “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” Experiencing the exhibit, it becomes difficult to believe that anyone could have achieved more. Instead, and by design, it invited the visitor to consider what da Vinci would think about modern advancements.

“We want people to ask themselves, `What would Leonardo think?’ about life today,” Nash said. “I think, if nothing else, his to-do list would be much longer and more interesting.”

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