What would it be like to meet Leonardo Da Vinci? Would he be a regular guy? Quietly intense? Did he have the first genius-level case of ADD? “Da Vinci — The Genius,” on display at the Venetian, not only contains replicas of his inventions, sketches and paintings, it also aims to shed light on the man himself, with informative texts, quotes, and little-known facts and secrets throughout.
A sonorous hum permeates the air as you examine Da Vinci’s sketches of birds in flight, hydraulic components and plans for cathedral steeples. All around the first room swoop the arched canvas wings and wooden skeletons of his flying machines. “Aliante,” the first hang glider. “Vite Aerea,” a nonworking ancestor of the helicopter, with its corkscrewed canvas blades. In a study of a man-operated “Flapping Wing,” Da Vinci reveals his pragmatic, dry humor: “Be sure the force is rapid, and if the above effect is not achieved waste no more time on it.”
Visitors marvel at the revolving cogs and rolling corkscrews of some inventions. “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing,” Da Vinci explains. “Knowing is not enough; we must apply …” His drive to experiment led to numerous advances in mechanical and civil engineering. A text panel reveals that his mechanical interests stemmed in part from his perception of the “human body as a complex and advanced machine,” and his curiosity as to “how humans express their feelings; what were the hidden mechanisms which govern vitality and life itself?”
These concerns led him to explore anatomy, secretly dissecting and sketching human beings, a practice forbidden at that time. Enlargements from his notebooks display wonderfully detailed sketches of skulls, hand bones, tendons and an unborn fetus. Nearby, a video breaks down his exploration of the golden ratio of human proportions found in his renowned sketch, “The Vitruvian Man.”
Lastly, we encounter Da Vinci’s artistic and musical sides, with a modified “double flute” and a portable piano. In addition to his many other talents, Da Vinci was a musician, playing violin and lira da braccio; he was said to have a “beautiful singing voice.”
However, Da Vinci held painting first among the arts. The exhibit’s final chamber delves into the mysteries of the “Mona Lisa,” including a few things you won’t see at the Louvre. Infrared photographs let you see layers beneath the surface, searching for missing eyebrows and other creative misadventures. Pigment identification made a true color reproduction possible, allowing modern viewers to see the original vibrant blue sky and peach skin tones Da Vinci intended.
We will never know exactly what Da Vinci was like. But this display of his musings, quotes, sketches and devices offers a glimpse into this singular man — a man whose intelligence was tempered by a sense of humor, a mechanical genius who also took time to paint and sing.
DA VINCI — THE GENIUS 10 a.m.-8 p.m., through Oct. 15, in the Imagine Exhibitions Gallery at The Venetian, www.venetian.com, $27