On Leo: And You Thought You Were Clever

Self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, executed i...

Self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, executed in red chalk sometime between 1512 and 1515 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blitz Magazine, September 1998


Forget Mona. The genius of Leonardo da Vinci (b. 1452) manifested itself in many other ways. He was one of the greatest painters the world has ever produced, but he was also a scientist and an inventor. His paintings are perfect representations because he was a dedicated botanist and student of human anatomy. He was one of the Milan Cathedral architects. King Louis 1 popped his wig when Leo confronted him with a marching robot lion. He studied aerodynamics and hydraulics and, though he hated war, he became a military engineer, inventing the tank, the machine gun, the steam cannon and the parachute — all this while Italians were figuring out what to do with the newly-introduced tomato plant and Christopher Columbus was bobbing in the Atlantic.

          Leo was an odd guy. His students were not allowed to use brushes or colours until age 20 — the number of years it took, he calculated, to learn how to draw perfectly. And he kept most of his ideas secret, going so far as to write his notes in mirror-image. Now, however, an exhibit brings those notes to life, making the Codex look, well, a little lame.

          Leonardo da Vinci, Scientist – Inventor – Artist, which runs at the Royal British Columbia Museum from October 1st to February 28th, explores Leo’s artistic and scientific contributions, and their significance to the modern world. The exhibit consists of 230 objects, including 150 sketches and drawings, a multi-media display with 8,000 photographs and 25 models which the RBCM made using his drawings — of, among other inventions, his helicopter, spring-driven automobile, swivel bridge, paddle boat, chain-link bicycle and a full-size flying machine complete with 30-ft wing span.

          To demonstrate his theories about ‘how to paint’, the exhibit also holds 20 original paintings and sculptures, by Leo (The Kissing Infants, Virgin of the Rocks, Virgin with Child, The Infant St. John, Mary Magdalene, Bust of Christ as a Youth) and by his pupils and contemporaries, including Giampietrino, Bramantino, Raphael (The Young John the Baptist), and Salai (Monna Vanna).

The Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

          The exhibit, which was assembled in Sweden and Germany, has wrapped up in Boston, and Victoria is its only other North American appearance. It is a celebration of the passion, intelligence and inventiveness of a guy who was way ahead of his time. But he clearly saw himself as an artist first, and left behind this statement, which illustrates his dedication and explains his inexhaustible curiosity : “The mind of the painter must transform itself into nature’s own mind, and become the interpreter between nature and art.”



Leonardo da Vinci - Virgin of the Rocks - WGA12694

Leonardo da Vinci – Virgin of the Rocks – WGA12694 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)