Copyright 2000 www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All rights
Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomical
studies of arms, hands and faces,
ca. 1510. Pen and brown ink.
285 x 200 mm. Photograph: catalogue.
Leonardo da Vinci
biography and exhibition
Landesmuseum Zurich, Switzerland,
until January 7, 2001
After a world tour which began
in 1994 and passed through eleven countries, among them Sweden, Germany,
South Africa, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States, the
exhibition Leonardo da
Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist has reached its final destination,
the Swiss Landesmuseum in Zurich. During its five months in Speyer,
Germany, in 1995, the show attracted over 340,000 visitors. In Boston 457,000
and in South African Victoria 570,000 people visited the exhibition.
In total, the works and history of the universal genius Leonardo da Vinci
have attracted more than three million people so far.
In Zurich, 250 objects are on
display. Among them are a few original paintings by Leonardo and some
attributed to him, paintings by his school and his followers, among them Bramantino
and Raphael; drawings by Leonardo and his school and followers such as
Perugino, da Sesto
and da Volterra; sculptures by da Vinci and his teacher Verrocchio; prints
ranging from 1493 to 1724, among them Leonardo's Trattato della Pittura,
the teachings of Vitruvius and
Sandrart as well as the Weltchronik by Hartmann Schedel, Nuremberg,
from the year 1493; over 20 exact wooden and metallic replicas, built
according to Leonardo's drawings, which can be touched; 140 facsimiles
art collections around the world. Several computers with touchscreens
complete the exhibition and inform the visitors in more than 8,000
pictures about the Renaissance and Leonardo's life and work, his
achievements as an artist, inventor, engineer, architect and scientist.
Especially for the Zurich
exhibition, an original page of Leonardo's Codex Atlanticus
was brought from the library of the University of Basle and a Swiss
private collector gave a sketch of Madonna at the Rock Cave.
Leonardo da Vinci was not only an
outstanding artist, but as a universal genius he was also able to combine the
Renaissance knowledge about science and engineering. He
often was far ahead of his time and had ideas about inventions which were sometimes only
realized centuries after his death, e.g. the tank, the
helicopter or the parachute. In 1999, some Englishmen built a parachute
according to Leonardo's indications and tried it out: it worked perfectly. Leonardo
also designed ideal gardens, castles, churches, fortifications, canals and
Leonardo also studied the measurement of time, something the Swiss with their watch industry
have a special interest in. He designed sand and water clocks, dealt with
practical problems regarding the weight clock, developed several types of
springs and worm giers and refined the mechanics of flywheels. A century before
Galileo and two before Huygens, Leonardo was able to find new fundamental
knowledge about time keeping and was able to connect it with
Da Vinci's artworks are remarkable for
their sharpness of observation, a special feeling for nature and
psychological components. His compositions aimed at a classical and formal
harmony. Leonardo's paintings are often bathed in a soft light (sfumato).
The number of paintings attributed for sure to da Vinci is very small and
most of his sculptural projects have never been executed, we only have his
bronze models or sketches.
In the fields of anatomy, botany, zoology,
geology, hydrology, aerology, optics and mechanics, he was far ahead of
his time, the Renaissance. Leonardo combined scientific, empiric and
philosophical approaches with each other. In his research, he was looking
for natural laws and for a comprehensive theory.
Leonardo da Vinci: The human
proportions according to
Vitruvius, ca. 1490. Pen, ink and
light wash over silverpoint.
344 x 245 mm. Photograph:
Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomical
studies of a skeletal system,
ca. 1510. Pen and brown ink,
290 x 200 mm. Photograph:
Leonardo da Vinci: Design of a gigantic crossbow,
ca. 1485. Pen and ink over chalk. 205 x 275 mm.
Leonardo was born in Vinci, near Florence,
in 1452. He is the illegitimate son of the 25-year old notary Ser Piero
and Caterina. Ser Piero takes custody of the child and marries the 16-year
old Albiera Amadori in the same year. Leonardo lives primarily in the
paternal house for seventeen years. His artistic career begins in 1469
when his father moves to Florence as the procurator of the Convent of St.
Martire. Leonardo starts to work in the legendary "workshop" of
Andrea del Verrocchio, together with Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and
Lorenzo di Credi. Da Vinci worked, among others, on the painting Baptism
of Christ (1472). In 1471 Verrocchio erects the copper sphere on the
lantern of Florence cathedral. Leonardo recollects its erection in a
series of studies of parabolic reflectors during his period in Rome (ca.
In 1472, Leonardo is registered in the
Guild of Florentine Painters and becomes the Guild's debtor. A year later,
he paints A Wide View Over A Plain with a view of the Montalbano
towards Valdarno and Valdinievole. It is the first reliable point of
reference in the chronological index of Leonardo's works. In 1476, he is
charged with homosexuality and is released on probation. He continues to
work in Verrocchio's workshop. Two years later, Leonardo creates the first
folios of the Codex Atlanticus. The collection contains over 1700 folios
and fragments, mainly drawn up by Leonardo himself and dating from before
1518, with texts and drawings of a technical and natural scientific
nature, but also concerning geographical and mathematical subjects, poems,
notes on painting and architectural projects, anecdotes and memorandums.
In 1480, Leonardo works for Lorenzo
Magnifico in the garden of S. Marco. He designs weapons, engines of war,
burning glasses and an oil press on Archimedean principles. In 1482,
Leonardo travels to Milan and establishes the Accademia Leonardi Vinci.
Lorenzo Magnifico sends him to the court of Sforza. In 1483, he concludes
a contract for an altarpiece for the Chapel of S. Francesco Grande Milan.
Leonardo creates the Virgin of the Rocks. In 1490 he draws the Proportions
of the Human Body after Vitruvius.
In 1493, Leonardo finishes a clay horse for
a Sforza monument. But then Il Moro sends the pre-prepared bronze work to
Ercole d'Este to have canons made from it. In 1495, Ludovico Sforza
commissions Leonardo with The Last Supper for the refectory of S. Maria delle Grazie
on which the artist works until 1497.
In 1499, Louis XII occupies Milan. In 1500,
Leonardo leaves the city. He inspects and drafts the fortifications in the
Friaul for the Venetian Senate. In 1502, Cesare Borgia issues Leonardo
with a patent as "family architect and general engineer". On the
invitation of the Marshall of France, Leonardo works again in Milan in the
years of 1506 to 1513. On another invitation, this time by Pope Leo X, the
brother of Giuliano de Medici, one of Leonardo's patrons, he travels to
Rome. In 1514, he paints the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, better
known as Mona Lisa.
In 1516, Leonardo notes bitterly: "The
Medici made me, and destroyed me." Together with Francesco Melzi, his
favourite, and Salai, he sets off for France. In 1517, he works for the
court of Francis I, e.g. on a project for the Royal Palace. Leonardo lives
as a guest of the King in Cloux Castle near Amboise, where he paints his
famous self-portrait (cover of the exhibition catalogue). Still in 1517,
the artist suffers from paralysis of the right hand but is still able to
make drawings and to teach others. In 1518, Leonardo carries out
topographical studies in the Loire Valley for a royal fountain. Leonardo
da Vinci dies on May 2 1519 in Cloux, at the age of 67. Melzi is the
executor of his will.
Exhibition catalogue (in English): Leonardo
da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist. Editors: Otto Letze, Thomas
Buchsteiner. With contributions by Nathalie Guttmann, Pietro C. Marani, Carlo
Pedretti, Alessandro Vezzosi and excerpts from Leonardo's Trattato
della Pittura. Verlag, Hatje, Ostfildern, 1999, 221 p. Currently out of