Since it is 500 years after the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, Italy is celebrating the anniversary with exhibitions, pageants, and local theatrical performances. The country is floooded with events and is encouraging all of us to explore new places and lesser known facts about Leonardo.
I had taken up the opportunity to combine my love of hiking on an easy trail between Anghiari and Sansepolcro to follow the itinerary of the Florentine soldiers in the crucial BattleofAnghiari of 29 June, 1440. The Battle, played out on the plain between the two towns, was to be colorfully recounted by various local actors along the trail. Unfortunately the performance was cancelled due to stormy weather predictions.
However curiosity had got the better of me and I drove to Anghiari early morning well before the storm and spent a very pleasant few hours exploring the nooks and crannies of this beautiful medieval village. Along the way to set the mood I stopped at Ponte Buriano bridge to contemplate the scene with Da Vinci, since it is this bridge which features in the background of the MonaLisa.
Da Vinci contemplating Ponte Buriano
Garibaldi welcomed me into the historical centre of Anghiari, a popular statue in towns all over Italy. Shortly after I was to cross the moat, or where it was once, through the drawbridge gateway that protected it from foreign invaders.
I had stepped back in time; winding alleyways, opened onto intimate piazzas, overlooked by medieval buildings now incorporated into Renaissance palaces. It was beautiful!
The sound of water flowing, amid digital images of Florence at the time of Leonard da Vinci welcome visitors into the stimulating exhibition of Da Vinci, The Scientist – ‘Water as Microscope of Nature’ The exhibition is a temporary one in the Uffizi Gallery till the end of January 2019, and one not to be missed.
The exhibition displays original pages of Da Vinci’s Codex Leicester written between 1504-1508 focusing on water – “investigating its elementary structure, vortex movements, and mechanical and optical properties, as well as the technical solutions for exploiting it to the benefit of humanity…….exploring the analogies between water and air, and between the movements of fish and birds.” (Info at Exhibition)
Pages from Codex Leicester
Scribbled in Da Vinci’s unmistakable left handed scrawl from right to left, that exudes an intensity of concentration and precision. Meticulous designs of water flows, rock stratifications, light reflections, birds in flight and more. Precise drawings of machines – an odometer to measure distance, a centrifugal pump for draining marshes, underwater foundations for bridges and weirs, solutions to regulate the quantity and velocity of water drawn from siphons, riverside constructions to combat erosion….the list was endless and fascinating.
Da Vinci’s Odometer
‘He takes the human body as the model for elucidation of the physiology and dynamics of the Earth…. he speculates on the dynamic balance of the earth’s gravity….and offers practical advice to seamen from his understanding of hydrodynamics’
The digital presentations of his various machinery are mesmerising in their originality and creativity, providing us with the basis of many modern machines. He was interested in, and obsessively drew, the bit by bit analysis of every moving part in the machine and its contribution to the transfer of motion. The man was a true genius!
His theatrical mechanisms for court pageants, ‘allowing actors to rise and descend and float as if they were flying’ (Walter Isaacson) and from his studies of physics he truly believed that it was possible to build a winged mechanism that would allow humans to fly.
He was known to always carry notebooks which hung from his belt, constantly collecting ideas and scribbling observations of his surroundings from a technical, scientific and artistic point of view. His notes were transferred to the various manuscripts – Codex – of which more than 7200 pages exist today, considered to be only one-quarter of what Leonardo actually wrote, and which he had intended to publishing. “The most astonishing testament to the powers of human observation and imagination ever set down on paper” (Toby Lester “Da Vinci’s Ghost”)
His paintings elicit his geological theories on rock stratification as seen in the background of the Mona Lisa, and his studies of the impact of solar rays on the tint of the sky or secondary light he uses on the cheeks of Ginevra de Benci and The Virgin.
Leonardo was known to be slow and methodical in his artistic life, leaving many works of art, as well as machines and instruments unfinished or never started beyond a few draft etchings in his notebooks. After all, he took 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa, carrying it with him on his travels outside of Florence and Italy, constantly adding finishing touches!
Uffizi proudly displays another masterpiece, his unfinished, ‘Adoration of the Magi’ 1481-1482
Having just finished reading Walter Isaccson‘s biography on “Leonardo Da Vinci” the exhibition was in perfect timing to explore more and see the real documents of the Codex Leicester. An exhilarating experience and a super presentation of the Scientific mind and genius of Leonardo da Vinci.
I’m not kidding! There she was standing next to the famous painting, about to recount her escapades in the year she was stolen from the Louvre in 1911. Who would have believed it, the last living relative of Mona Lisa – Natalia Guiccardini Strozzi. Actress, ballerina, marketing and export sales director of her family’s prestigious wine estate and Princess to boot!
Natalia is used to the limelight and her curriculum boasts 4 languages, tutored by Nureyev for many years, as well as being a choreographer and pianist. And her performance was about to begin in room 15, Leonardo’s room in the Uffizi gallery of Florence.
I have delighted in many productions’ by the Compagnia delle Seggiole, an itinerant theatre group who perform in museums, monasteries and the like, bringing back to life the characters that were so much a part of the building in its heyday. The extra twist that Natalia was a direct descendant (together with her sister Irina) of Mona Lisa took me by surprise. You may make comparisons but Natalia has more than an enigmatic smile, a truly warm welcoming one and an engaging twinkle that exudes fun and fantastic energy.
She transformed into the painting itself, describing her excitement at being outside of the gallery, travelling in the arms of her thief sounded more like being in the arms of her lover, being hidden in various dubious places brought a thrill to her voice…it was freedom after the dreariness of the gallery!
The Cellar -Tenute Guicciardini Strozzi
Who had been the culprits? None other than 3 Italians, one of whom had worked as a handyman in the Louvre. They had hoped to sell the painting but it was obviously to hot to hock and when eventually one tried 28 months later he was arrested and the precious Mona Lisa returned to the Louvre.
And would you believe, on my way to the Uffizi who should come round the corner but Leonardo da Vinci!?
And then when I was on my way home I almost tripped onto Mona Lisa by talented chalk artist, Matteo.
And just in case you were thinking of buying the beautiful villa in Chianti where Mona Lisa was born, I’m afraid your too late as it has been recently snapped up. By who? We’re not sure, maybe a South African diamond dealer, or a group of Chinese investors, but if you want to see what you missed out on….www.vignamaggio.it