CULTURE

A journey into the mind of Leonardo da Vinci

“To write a book about Leonardo da Vinci without once using the word ‘genius’ would be a feat worthy of the French author Georges Perec, who contrived to write a book without using the letter e,” the biographer of the Italian Renaissance artist, Charles Nicholl, argued.

Indeed, it is extremely hard to pen a piece about Leonardo without wandering into hyperbole. For how can you remain sober when you sketch the profile of a man who was an exceptional painter but at the same time a great sculptor, an engineer, a biologist, an inventor, a musician, an architect and a philosopher? It is only natural that we admire the brain of a 15th-century man who would circle his multiple interests like a predator, along with his ideas, his lucid observations and bright achievements.

Now the exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: The Man, the Inventor, the Genius,” on display at the Hellenic Cosmos cultural center until February 16, 2014, offers a journey into the spirit of the Italian artist. Flying devices, parachutes, military designs (army tanks, cannons, catapults), the early samples of a car and bicycle, helicopters, and constructs based on hydraulic and mechanical technologies are only some of the 40-plus 3D models which are on display throughout the exhibition, which covers 600 square meters. All exhibits have been carefully reconstructed to scale at a traditional family laboratory in Florence, Italy, based on Leonardo’s personal notes and using materials that would have been available during that era: wood, metal, fabric and rope.

Visitors interested in his famous paintings will not be disappointed. High-resolution digital copies allow the public to take a close look at most of his famous works, including “The Mona Lisa,” “The Last Supper” and “The Lady with an Ermine.” One can see here the close connection between his drawings and his love for science and nature.

“Works of art are displayed in real size and in chronological order,” Sophia Charokopou, head of business development at Hellenic Cosmos, told Kathimerini in a recent interview.

“With the help of technology – installations, multimedia etc – visitors can enrich their knowledge, find out details about the techniques and the materials used in the works and the constructs, and learn about the mythology which accompanies his most important creations,” she said.

Leonardo was a true Renaissance man.

“Born in an age in which only an elite few had even seen a book, he drew together many confused strands of human knowledge and lent a logic and cohesion to what he understood of the world,” says Michael White in “Leonardo: The First Scientist.”

Was Leonardo unique in all that? Did he know everything in depth? The answer is no. The generation before him had managed to excel in many fields, such as the architect, poet and philosopher Leon Battista Alberti, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, or the humanist Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.

“We understand this Renaissance man better if we see him also as a trader in doubts and questions, and with them self-doubts and self-questionings,” writes Nicholl in his “Leonardo da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind.”

Teukros Michailidis, an author and mathematician, is clear on Leonardo’s command of mathematics.

“He had a keen interest in mathematics, which was closely linked to his drawings. You can see it in his works and his research, like, for example, in his perspective and vanishing point,” Michailidis told Kathimerini.

Leonardo prepared the drawings for Luca Pacioli’s math encyclopedia “Summa de Arithmetica,” which for Michailidis indicates that he knew its contents in depth while he also had a good command of applied mathematics, engineering and Euclidean geometry.

“I repeat that he was interested in math to the extent that it served his art,” Michailidis said.