Da Vinci - The genius: ahead of time
Текст: Tatiana Petukhova | 2013-06-21 | Фото: | 11297


As a rule, culturally and historically, scientifically or technically valuable things are unique and located at particular museums, institutions or regions. That’s why only few of us can see them. But, fortunately enough, certain creative people make heritage public. Bruce Peterson is one of them, his research and engineering project made Leonardo da Vinci’s heritage close.


It is amazing: every day, millions people around the world visit different museums, exhibitions and conferences. But only few of them generate original ideas from what they have seen to turn into successful commercial or social projects. And even less manage to realize these projects.

Australian Bruce Peterson was interested in Leonardo da Vinci - the Renaissance artist, scientist and inventor. Probably far distance between Australia and the place great Italian lived and worked encouraged Peterson to arrange ​​a traveling exhibition Da Vinci - The Genius allowing people even from the most remote corners of the world to touch Leonardo’s works.

Exhibition creation turned into the great research and engineering project. In 2005, Grande Exhibitions from Australia, administered by Bruce Peterson, executed an agreement with Anthropos Association and Pascal Cotte, already worked with da Vinci’s archives. To participate in the project, Peterson and his family moved to Italy. The project was launched.

But before we talk about the done, look at some of the moments of Leonardo’s life - facts not well known, but, in our opinion, crucial in the development of his genius.

Leonardo da Vinci was an illegitimate child. That’s why he was not allowed to study Greek and Latin, common language for most books. Unavailable education is an undeniable disadvantage, determining individual’s place in life. However it turned into advantage for da Vinci. Science was not developed. Undoubtedly, the Greeks and the Romans greatly contributed into its development, but their papers contain many mistakes, incorrect hypotheses and conclusions. So da Vinci avoided any awareness of it. But, being curious by nature, he got real knowledge through observation, experiment and research. Leonardo believed this was the only way to know the truth.

Leonardo was a left-handed mirror writer, and his early notes are unclear. But as there were no school teachers, nobody corrected him. It is also important: as we know now that to turn left-handers into right-handers is not useful for kids at all, and who knows how this could affect Leonardo.

Due to his extramarital origin da Vinci could not and did not want to be a lawyer or a doctor, and his father saw him as an artist. Artists were considered as craftsmen not elite. In his childhood Leonardo was brought to Florence. His father gave him to assist Andrea del Verrocchio, leading sculptor and artisan of the time. Leonardo was eager to express himself, and at 20 he took a chance. Verrocchio received a big order for painting of The baptism of Christ, and asked his pupil to paint minor figures. Leonardo painted a small angel. Those days egg yolk was used in painting. But Leonardo mixed his own olive-based paint, providing brighter and saturated colors. Oil paint was invented 20 years ago, but it was poorly known in Southern Europe. Therefore, Leonardo’s solution was risky enough, but completely exceeded his expectations. A small blue dressed angel indeed notified Florence about a new genius. Leonardo’s angel was associated with the famous legend of «defeated teacher» saying, Verrocchio shocked by student’s skills gave up his brush.

Another interesting case with da Vinci occurred in Milan, where he served for Duke Ludovico Sforza, and was commissioned to write the Last Supper at the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. But he was not experienced in working with wall painting. Traditionally frescoes were created by copying the drawings on the wet plaster. So no chance to change something. Leonardo did not want to work like this and decided to paint in his own way. Leonardo coated the rock wall with resin, plaster, mastic, and then painted over this layer with tempera. So he avoided hurrying. To breathe life into each apostle’s face, Leonardo walked around the streets looking for suitable faces and gestures. It took three years to complete this painting and was appreciated by Duke. Unfortunately, few years later tiny cracks in the plaster appeared under painting, due to accumulated moisture, damaging the painting. Today, the chef-d'oeuvre is almost lost - efforts to reconstruct harmed not saved the painting. For example, in 1821, Stefano Barezzi, known for his ability to very carefully remove frescoes from the walls, was invited to the convent to move the painting to a safe place. But he seriously damaged the center part of the painting before realized that Leonardo's work, in fact was not a fresco.

Certainly, it was an experiment. But Leonardo’s ability and courage to break stereotypes, escaping from traditional, imposed rules, standards and approaches to work, impress.

But let’s go back to what we started - the traveling exhibition project.

In the time of Leonardo most his inventions existed only as drawings and pictures. But those rare models created and realized did not survive all the same. Therefore the modern heritage of Leonardo (except his paintings and frescoes) is, above all, his manuscripts. Many efforts were applied to create the exhibit with extant drawings. Many negotiations with the government and different ministries of Italy were conducted. After all da Vinci’s codes are not public - they are stored in the Royal and National libraries, museums and archives in England, France, Italy and Spain, in private collections. At last all was arranged and agreed, and then a great research was launched. First of all, Leonardo’s notes, drawings and writings were to be deciphered. Venetian artisans from ll Genio di Leonardo da Vinci were involved in this process. They were skilled: knew the old Florentine dialect, could interpret Leonardo’s abbreviations, analyze his intricate pictures and read his mirrored letters. They studied about 6,000 pages to get the clue for comprehension of the general ideas and concepts. The point is that Leonardo had his own form of patents - he hid the key elements of inventions in different places of his notes. 


Devices were not able to be developed without these elements. To protect the intellectual property was very reasonable, because many of his inventions were intended for military science. Intentional mistakes and misleading information, unrelated sketches and notes were mentioned side by side in his diary. For example, self-propelled cart wheels were drawn with different drives. And if created according to the drawings, a cart wheels would be spinning in different directions, and would not budge. Therefore, carpenters and historians supposed not just reproduce what they see but catch the general idea and think over what had been missed. Although once diaries have been deciphered much more was cleared up.

Just 7000 of 25,000 pages by Leonardo remained. However they contained so many inventions that if the exhibition included all of them, it would be too  big for travelling. As a result, the project participants faced with another problem - to decide which aspects of Leonardo’s life to demonstrate in detail. The project authors told us - this is the problem was the most difficult. After all, the exhibition idea is not only to implement Leonardo’s inventions but also to give a full description of his multi-talented personality - as an artist, philosopher, sculptor, inventor, engineer, anatomist and even royal fest organizer...

So Italian artisans have created over 130 active models of inventions for the traveling exhibition.

A significant part of the exhibition is an exact copy of the world's most famous painting - «Mona Lisa». Mona Lisa’s Secret project developed by French scientific engineer, expert and fine art photographer Pascal Cotte represents a unique example of how art and history meet with leading technology. The French Ministry of Culture allowed Cotte to thoroughly study «Mona Lisa» at the Louvre. He conducted a scientific analysis of the painting, using his own patented invention - a 240-megapixel multispectral camera.

His work resulted in detailed pictures of the painting from ultraviolet to infrared spectrum range not perceivable for human eye under normal conditions. Using a unique scanner of his own invention, Pascal spent about three hours, taking snapshots of the «naked» painting, without the frame and protective glass. He made 13 240-megapixel shots of the masterpiece. The analysis and verification of the data took two years. But the scientific expertise results greatly enriched the art world. Now, for example, we can see the original pigment colors used by Leonardo. Pictures show the painting in original form, similar to what da Vinci’s contemporaries saw: the lazurite sky, pale pink face skin, clearly traced mountains... Pascal Cotte’s pics revealed that da Vinci did not finish his painting. Being a perfectionist he said that «a work of art can’t be finished, only given up». We can see a changed position of model’s hand. First Mona Lisa was taking the veil with her hand. And her smile was different. A spot in the corner of her eye was damaged paint caused by moisture as the painting was held in Napoleon’s bathroom for a while. Cotte also showed that some painting parts became transparent from the time. Contrary to the modern point of view, the engineer’s findings say that Mona Lisa had eyebrows and eyelashes.

As an expert of «Mona Lisa» Cotte made a unique copy as close as possible to the original from all its sides. It was ideal for the exhibition, as Pascal Cotte mixed art and science as well as Leonardo did it 500 years ago.

The idea to found an exhibition that would have collected the full volume of da Vinci's genius «under one roof» to be seen by anyone at any place of the world was successful. Today the exhibition is traveling around the world: it has been exhibited in over 40 countries at five continents. In Russia, it was held in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The third Russian city for the exhibition was Kazan. From September 15 to January 14, the exhibition was held at the Gallery of the State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Tatarstan.

The whole exhibition can be hypothetically divided into several parts. The first one - various modifications of mechanisms invented by Leonardo. This include prototypes of aircrafts (airframe, propeller, glider, parachute, predecessor of modern helicopter) and models of devices measuring various parameters (wind speed and humidity), and inventions to facilitate everyday life (bicycle, self-propelled cart, faucets, plumbing), and musical instruments. Special place in the samples is associated with military science. Chariots, cannon, catapult, prototype machine guns, prototype of the modern tank, bridges – all of them were also designed by da Vinci. His bridges are amazing - they were designed so that in case of war they can be mounted quickly and without a single nail.

Where possible, the models were made of materials available in Italy in XV century - wood, cotton, copper, iron, canvas and ropes. Most of the models were made in full size, others were intentionally reduced or enlarged to impress viewers.

The second part of the exhibition - reproductions of the most famous paintings of Leonardo da Vinci - «Mona Lisa», «Madonna of the Rocks», «Annunciation», «Lady with an Ermine», «Last Supper», «The Vitruvian Man».

The third part - copies of his diaries, drawings and images in different science fields and art.

The traveling exhibition is not only a successful commercial, but also social project. The format provides for trainings, lectures. Many mechanisms operate, visitors can touch them, or even trigger. Its interactivity is impressive: informative 3D versions of «Mona Lisa», «The Last Supper», «Vitruvian Man», sculpture «Sforza Horse». Touch screen demonstrate translated codes of da Vinci.

To wind it up, we want to quote Rob Kirk, Grande Exhibitions executive director explaining the project idea:

«We understand very well that we not only educate but also entertain our visitors. Here, they can realize huge influence of Leonardo on our modern life. Our goal is to bring Leonardo da Vinci in more cities to show people what a wonderful man and a genius he was. Many people can not come to Italy to see what Leonardo has created. That's why we created the exhibition to bring a piece of Italy to people».

In 1502, the Ottoman Empire, Bayezid II wanted to build a bridge over the Golden Horn. Leonardo da Vinci presented his design of the bridge, but it was not accepted. And now, in over 500 years, in October 2012, the Turkish authorities decided to implement that project. Bridge of 220m length, of 25m height and of 10m width will be built over the bay, connecting the northern and southern parts of Istanbul. All the structure proportions designed by the Italian master would be followed, however the construction will apply the modern technology.


Da Vinci’s CV


Pascal Cotte, French scientist, engineer, «Mona Lisa’s Secret» project creator, told us about his invention and the results of its application. His invention demonstrates a high level of modern technology. Today Cotte is an expert in the art authenticity research.


Snapping any picture, photo colors are very saturate, but it is a big distortion, colors are false. I wanted to restore the real colors appeared at the moment when the light rays contact the material surface. To design a specific camera did not take much time, but its improving is still going on.

My intuition told me to work in this direction, although nobody believed in success. This exhibition proved it. I do not stop and keep working in this direction. My invention is used at many laboratories, working on other paintings. I'm working on several works by Leonardo, but most thoroughly - «Mona Lisa».

I was allowed to spend the whole night at the Louvre, and this resulted in over 3 billion scientific details of this painting. The exhibition presents only a small part of the work done. Thanks to the special technique I managed not only to achieve natural colors, but had a look into the painting under a varnish layer. Layer by layer, step by step, I discovered absolutely amazing things. You feel like a super-human when using infrared light you can see what is inside, how it was created and evolved.

I did a perfect reproduction of the painting on the front and back side. On the back side you can find history traces: a glued crack, inscription «La Gioconda» and even small holes – insects’ trails. I would say that to see «Mona Lisa» at the Louvre and visit this exhibition - it's completely different things. Here you will see the picture as you never see it at the Louvre. I saw a little boy answered to «What do you like most?». «It is an amazing exhibition, «Mona Lisa» was turned out to be painted on the board! I never known it». And this is true. The painting was not on the canvas, but on a poplar board. It is impossible to see at the Louvre - the painting is enclosed in a frame and protected under glass.

Leonardo da Vinci was characterized by longing for perfection, constant searching - he was never satisfied with his work, always looking for something, and tried to reproduce as closely as possible the world surrounded him. I want all the visitors to notice and remember it.


Paul Coster, organizer of the exhibition «Da Vinci - The genius» in Russia, One-Go Events Benelux BV Director


The exhibition «Da Vinci - The genius» allows to find relation between things surrounding us in modern life and the genius’ name, his ideas, thoughts and experiments. This applies to all areas of our life, whether technology or arts and culture. Certainly, people wonder about how the surrounding things work. For example, focusing on birds, Leonardo moved his observations to such invention as a prototype of the helicopter, a glider.

The exhibition is interesting, especially to children, because they can learn something here. The founders and we, organizers, do hope that seeing of the things invented by da Vinci will «reset the mind» and this knowledge will lead to new discoveries in the future. The exhibition can make older generation to stop and think, because in everyday life we hurry and do not have time for this. It should trigger a better learning of something and obtaining new knowledge.


The goal of the exhibition in Kazan and held educational events, we talked to Ilya Zabuslaev, the exhibition curator, One-Go Events manager (St. Petersburg).


Our project is educational. Its uniqueness is that it allows to imagine the genius in full. You will not find it anywhere in the world. Our audience is families with children and students. For students we conduct guided tours. The teachers are provided with an opportunity to use the exhibition as a platform for their lecturers. The importance of interactive elements should be noted: an interactive room for master-classes was specially organized at the exhibition, where every child can listen to and immediately put it into practice: to invent or build something. This approach to working with kids can reveal hidden talents. Leonardo was a practitioner. Only due to experienced learning and knowledge application in practice he was able to implement so many projects, at least, in the diaries.

The task of the exhibition is to show the ability of the human brain, the human potential by way of example of the genius. Unfortunately, our brain is limited by many restrictions. Very often people say - «I can not», «I will fail», «it is impossible», restricting themselves in achievement. The exhibition gives comprehension that Leonardo da Vinci did not have any restrictions. For everyone who comes here, Leonardo could be an example to explore himself: to see and realize that a person is able to develop in many directions, and to project it on himself. I have experienced it myself.


A very interesting document of 1481 remained for us. Thirty years old Leonardo wrote a letter to Ludovico Sforza of Milan. It reveals another talent of Italian genius - his ability to effectively promote his services. Now - in 530 years after this letter issuance many engineering companies may envy a wide list of works for which he applied alone. It would be useful to many modern marketers at the engineering industry to adopt the presentation method used in this letter.

«Your Excellency, since I‘ve studied the experience of those pretending to be skilled in invention of military machines, and found that their instruments do not differ from already known, so, I decided to inform Your Excellency on certain secrets as follows:

1. I know a very simple way to build bridges that can be easily carried to put enemies to flight and pursue them. I also know other methods to build more solid fire resistible and easily raised and lowered bridges. I know the ways of burning and destroying of enemy bridges.

2. In case of siege, I know how to drain ditches, to build folding ladder and other similar machines.

3. In addition, in case of high enemy fire-protected position, I know how to destroy it by mining unless the fortress foundation is not rocky.

4. I can also build non-heavy guns, easy to transport, which can throw combustible materials, the smoke of which would cause terror, destruction and confusion among the enemy.

5. Next: with narrow and winding underground tunnels noiselessly constructed, I can create a passage to the most inaccessible places, even under rivers.

6. Next: I know how to build safe covered carts for bringing guns to the enemy location, even considerable force would be unable to resist, and under protection of which the infantry can safely reach the battlefield.

7. I can build guns, mortars and fire vehicles and other, both beautiful and useful, different from all currently used.

8. Or, if guns unable to be applied, I can replace them with catapults or other throwing machines, unknown yet. In short, I can create an infinite number of guns to attack.

9. And if the fight is expected to be given in the sea, I know many powerful machines both for attack and protection, and the ships that resistible to cannon firing. I also know gunpowder and flammable substances.

10. I believe that in peacetime, I can compete with any in the architecture, as well as in construction of public and private buildings and monuments and canals.

I can create statues of marble, bronze and clay, as for painting, I can compete with anyone. In particular, I can carve a bronze equestrian statue of your father in remembrance of him.

If any of the above said things seem impossible, I am ready to demonstrate it in your park or any other place by Your Excellency’s choice...»


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