27 April 2014 by Kate Turkington

Da Vinci – The Genius

If you’re in Johannesburg, then take time to visit the global travelling exhibition, Da Vinci – The Genius, at The Amazing Place in Woodmead. Its run has been extended until 27 July 2014.

I’d read about how more than four million people in over 40 cities worldwide had seen this highly praised exhibition, including 45 000 visitors who saw it recently in Cape Town, so thought I’d have a look myself. Who could resist part of the exhibition titled, 'The Mona Lisa’s 25 New Secrets'? Certainly not me.

When you first enter the exhibition, be sure to check out the replicas of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, so authentically reproduced that it’s hard not to believe these are originals. Then you’ll see rooms full of his inventions – a display of over 200 unique pieces, including 75 life-size machine inventions built by Italian artisans using the Renaissance materials and common techniques that would have been available in Leonardo’s time in the late 1400s and early 1500s.

His 2D sketches have been converted into 3D structures: his ideal city; waterwheels; basic flight machines; a prototype battle tank; a scuba diving suit (didn’t look too watertight to me); an auto-traction car, and many more.

Children, engineers, people of all ages (including me) were pushing, cranking, pulling and interacting with lots of the exhibits, trying to get a hands-on understanding of the scientific principles behind them.

Inside the exhibition Inside the exhibition

Get yourself an audio guide (only available in English) that will enrich your experience enormously as you listen to some of the stories and facts behind many of the exhibits.

Who could resist part of the exhibition entitled The Mona Lisa’s 25 New Secrets? Certainly not me.

But although I enjoyed looking at these amazingly visionary machines (the principles of many are still in use today), it was the drawings and the artwork that interested me most.

I stopped to watch the video explaining Leonardo’s famous The Vitruvian Man: an anatomical study of balance and proportion – you know the one. It’s a man, arms and legs spread wide, standing in the middle of a square and a circle (Dan Brown went to town on this in his bestseller The Da Vinci Code).

The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist

Then I watched a film on Leonardo’s fresco of The Last Supper. I didn’t know that this was the first time in the history of art that the disciples had been painted as real people with genuine human emotions – or that this was the first time that Judas had been shown in the midst of the other disciples and not skulking in the shadows. I also didn’t know that, although Leonardo was a prolific painter, there are fewer than 15 of his paintings in existence.

But you’ll also see here reproductions of Virgin of the Rocks, The Annunciation, Lady with an Ermine, The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist, and The Vitruvian Man.

And the secrets of the Mona Lisa? Aah ...

What I will tell you is that you will be able to see in close-up a sublime replica of the most famous painting in the world (the original is in The Louvre in Paris), as it was when it was first painted. 

The original delicate colours and previously undetected details are all there for you to gaze upon. Engineer optician Pascal Cotte, the inventor of the first multi-spectral high-definition camera, was allowed to photograph and digitise the original painting with revolutionary lighting. The result? An accuracy of colours and detail never seen before.

So if you’re interested in a man who has been described as the greatest genius the world has known, or in art, architecture, sculpture, mathematics, music (yes, Leonardo even designed musical instruments), anatomy, engineering or inventing, or having a whole new look at the Mona Lisa, then be sure to visit this amazing exhibition.

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