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No. 10, October 2000
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Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.


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 from 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 multi-tier roads.
 
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 other machines.
 
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:
catalogue.

Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomical
studies of a skeletal system,
ca. 1510. Pen and brown ink,
290 x 200 mm. Photograph:
catalogue.
 

Leonardo da Vinci: Design of a gigantic crossbow,
ca. 1485. Pen and ink over chalk. 205 x 275 mm.
Photograph: catalogue.
Biography
 
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. 1515).
 
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 stock.
 
For more articles on exhibitions and art books: Art. For a list of museums such as the Landesmuseum Zurich: Artlinks. For information on the art market check Artprice.
 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 10, October 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.