Da Vinci Dissected As Universal Leonardo Initiative Launches Across Europe

By Richard Moss | 01 June 2006
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a screen shot of a website featuring images by Leonardo

The Leonardo Initiative includes one of the most comprehensive websites ever devoted to Leonardo Da Vinci. © Leonardo Initiative

With the release of the Hollywood blockbuster, the Da Vinci Code, museums, libraries, archives and heritage sites right across the world have enjoyed an unprecedented demand for all things Leonardo.

Now an ambitious programme of linked European exhibitions, together with a state-of-the art website, has been launched that promises to respond to the public demand.

The Universal Leonardo initiative, funded by the Council of Europe and supported by Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, is the most comprehensive set of exhibtions and website ever devoted to the Italian ‘Renaissance Man’. All of it committed to highlighting the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci.

screen shot of a website featuring images by Leonardo

Leonardo believed that emotions were processed in a part of the brain called sensus communis. Find out how this affected Mona Lisa’s emotional side on the Universal Leonardo website

Led by Leonardo scholar Professor Martin Kemp from Oxford University and Professor Marina Wallace from Central Saint Martins the project brings together some of the leadings curators, art historians, academics and scientists from across Europe to stimulate dialogue and discovery around the Leonardo legacy.

“Universal Leonardo is not only an incredible series of exhibitions,” explained Professor Wallace, “it is an in-depth examination of the contribution Leonardo Da Vinci has made to our understanding of the human condition, the world and the Universe.”

The exhibitions take place in five different cities across Europe between March 2006 and January 2007 in venues close to or already exhibiting Leonardo’s work. Each of them will celebrate and explore an aspect of the artist’s work, from his mastery of mathematics and science, to his love of anatomy and design.

a pen portrait of a mans head with long hair

Head of a man with long wavy hair and a long beard, in profile to the left. Below, the words 'Leonardo Vinci'. From the forthcomimg V&A exhibition Leonardo Da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design. Royal Collection © 2006 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

In the UK an Oxford Leonardo Trail begins on August 5 2006 and takes in four of the city’s museums and heritage sites.

At Oxford Botanic Gardens, Leonardo’s Plants runs from August 9 until September 30 2006, whilst Leonardo’s Mathematical Arts will be explored at the Museum of the History of Science from September 14 until November 5 2006. Christ Church Picture Gallery also will hold an exhibition of drawings, whilst the Ashmolean Museum plays host to Imaging Leonardo – again, both exhibtions run from September 14 until November 5 2006.

In London a major exhibition is lined up at the V&A for September 2006. Leonardo da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design will explore how the great man’s mind was able to visualise his incredible theories.

a drawing of a mans head in profile with notes

Just one of the many items in the forthcoming V&A exhibtion is also featured on the website. Vertical and horizontal sections of the human head and eye c. 1489. Royal Collection © 2006 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Curated by Professor Martin Kemp the V&A exhibition will arrange Leonardo’s notebooks, manuscripts and pages together with computer animations and large scale models into four themed displays.

“Leonardo da Vinci's manuscripts reveal to us his thought processes,” explained Professor Kemp. “They have no parallel in any period and anyone wanting to understand the workings of Leonardo's mind should turn to these notebooks.”

“The notebooks question everything and investigate every aspect of nature,” he added. “Unlike other artists of the period, Leonardo used his notebooks not as workings for finished paintings but as a vehicle to understand the world around him.”

a screen shot of a website featuring images by Leonardo

The website also features in-depth content with new research. © Universal Leonardo

It is this world that is further explored on the Universal Leonardo Website, which also provides information about the pan-European exhibition programme whilst exploring key concepts that form the basis of Leonardo’s work.

Core Leonardo ideas and discoveries are visualised on an interactive timeline, whilst a series of trails link key images thematically. The site, which was developed with support from the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation, also carries the results of scientific analysis carried out on Leonardo’s Madonna of the Yanwinder, which was funded as part of the Universal Leonardo programme.

Further physical exhibitions are slated in for the Uffizi in Florence (now until Jan 7 2007), Alte Pinakothek in Munich (September 14 until December 5 2006) and Museum of Fine Arts Budapest (October 5 until December 3 2006).

For further information about these exhibitions and indeed about current research into the life, work and thinking of Leonardo visit the Universal Leonardo website and yes, you may even find a mention or two of the Da Vinci code…

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: