Human body and all its works laid out, as seen by Leonardo

Of all Renaissance artists, it was perhaps Leonardo da Vinci who helped overturn the notion of the painter as a craftsman and accord him the role of a creative individual and the status of Homo liber. He thereby helped raise the fine arts to the high level of the the liberal arts: arithmetic, music, geometry, astronomy, grammar, logic and rhetoric. Although artists and humanists before him had been recognized as intellectuals, it was Leonardo’s diverse interests and his experimentation with the sciences and engineering that made the strongest connections between the world of art and science. This connection is revealed in «Leonardo e lo Sport,» an exhibition organized by Athens Municipality together with the region of Tuscany and the Italian Embassy in Athens. The exhibition helps put across the creative genius of Leonardo, his talent as a draughtsman and his imagination as an inventor of strange apparatuses and machines. Mostly based on reproductions of his drawings and constructions of the machines he designed – the famous Flying Machine that is based on the flight of Icarus is an example – the exhibition also addresses the interest that Leonardo seems to have taken in sports. This interest is revealed through studies and drawings that Leonardo made of the human body, its anatomy and movement. The study of the human body, which was actually at the core of Leonardo’s work, is also the exhibition’s unifying theme. A series of drawings show successive bodily movements during the playing of ball games and sports that resemble fencing or archery. The reconstructions of Leonardo’s imaginary machines, which take up another large part of the exhibition (most of them from the Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci in Florence), are based on the artist’s writings; they include a rotating hydraulic device, a device to enable walking on water, a conically shaped parachute, a wooden odometer (a device for measuring distance), a «perspectivegraph» (a device that resembles the modern camera), a device for transmitting sound between two faraway points, and an imaginary musical instrument which looks like the head of a horned animal. The exhibition also covers the post-Renaissance period and reaches up to the late Baroque. It presents several drawings, watercolors and engravings that hint at sports as a subject for art and the role that they played in the social life of the Tuscany region. Apparently, artists were often commissioned to design athletes’ costumes and orchestrate the spectacles that took place both before and after the games. Evidence of artists’ involvement in sports events come from two early 17th century watercolors by Baccio del Bianco from the first half of the 17th century. The watercolors depict the costumes worn by athletes in a game that looks like a version of the football of the time. There are also engravings that show architecturally designed parades that took place at central squares before the athletic contests and were attended by the nobility. A variety of images provide the viewer with a general understanding of sports as a contemporary activity in Renaissance and post-Renaissance Tuscany. However, it does not specify the exact role that sports played nor does it make clear which were the games played at the time. The exhibition’s strongest message concerns the central role that Renaissance humanism accorded to the human body, its anatomy and motion. Leonardo’s drawing of «Vitruvian Man» (the famous image of a human figure inscribed within a square and circle), which suggests the use of the human body as a standard of measurement, is probably the most representative work of that idea. It is included in the exhibition, among other, rare images from the Renaissance. At the Melina Mercouri Cultural Center (66 Irakleidon & Thessalonikis, Thiseion, 210.345.2150) through September 28.

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