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The Mona Lisa is still in Paris; The Last Supper is still in Milan. So what will Winnipeggers encounter at this new show at the MTS Centre Exhibition Hall?
"Da Vinci: The Genius", a traveling exhibition organized by Grande Exhibitions and the Anthropos Foundation, is upfront about not showing original artefacts. What it does offer is information--loads of visual, textual and aural material--about the depth and range of Leonardo's extraordinary mind. There are digital reproductions of his drawings and notes and fascinating, often full-scale models of his designs.
Today we tend to think of Leonardo as a painter--the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world, after all--but as this show demonstrates, much of the man's prodigious creative energy went into his work as an engineer and scientist.
Optics, hydraulics, aeronautics, anatomy, astronomy, geology, cartography, architecture and urbanism--it's all here. Leonardo imagined, within the technological parameters of his day, prototypes for scuba suits, submarines, helicopters, airplanes, parachutes, cars and robots. These designs have been constructed for the show by Italian artisans who have used, as much as possible, the materials available in the 15th century-- wood, iron, brass, canvas, cord and leather.
There are clocks, wind gauges, musical instruments (including a portable piano) and optical devices (including a mind-blowing chamber of mirrors). And despite being a pacifist, Leonardo executed some absolutely diabolical-looking military machines: assault ladders, catapults, cannons, even a tank.
Leonardo also dissected cadavers, which at the time was viewed almost as sorcery. His meticulous and strangely beautiful anatomical drawings depict not just the appearance of bones, muscles and organs but often their functions.
The show finishes off with a look at the Mona Lisa, devoting a whole section to French engineer Pascal Cotte's work with a spectral imaging camera, which allowed him to peel back centuries of damage and attempted restorations to see what the original painting actually looked like. (It might be different from what you expect.)
Of course, any talk of the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper, which is also explored, can't help but lead back to Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code. The show has a very tricky relationship with the fans of the bestseller. It's interesting that the exhibition's title is "Da Vinci: The Genius", but inside the usage switches to "Leonardo," which is the correct first-name format for all the Renaissance superstars. (Think Michelangelo and Raphael.)
So yes, the exhibition organizers are probably building on the buzz created by the book and movie, but they're also distancing themselves from Brown's overheated theories with a lot of sober factual evidence. The official line seems to be that they will present you with the historical and scientific info and let you make up your own mind.
Alison Gillmore, CBC Reviewer