Leonardo da Vinci Society

NEWSLETTER NOV 2002

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RECENT AND FORTHCOMING EVENTS

The Annual General Meeting and Annual Lecture for 2003
The 2003 AGM will be held on Friday May 2nd 2003, and will be followed by a lecture given by Dr Antonio Criminisi, who works for Microsoft at their establishment in Cambridge (UK). Dr Criminisi has designed a computer method of reading flat pictures in three dimensions. This is a form of artificial vision that makes no assumptions without asking for guidance. It was originally designed for reading photographs, but has been applied effectively to Renaissance paintings, such as Piero della Francesca's Flagellation and Masaccio's Trinity. Further information about the AGM and Annual Lecture will be circulated nearer the time.

Reconstructions in the History of Science and Technology
On July 15th 2003 the Society will present, in association with the Royal Institution, a Symposium on 'Reconstructions in the History of Science and Technology'. The purpose of the meeting is to explore what historians learn from reconstructions of objects or experiments. Speakers will include Adam Hart Davis, Martin Kemp and Steven Roberts on Leonardo's flyer, Tony Sale on rebuilding a Colossus, Thomas B. Settle on repeating Galileo's experiments, David Gooding on repeating Faraday's experiments, and Tim Hunkin on reinventing electricity. The Symposium will be held at the Royal Institution, 21 Albemarle St, London W1S 4BS. Further details will be available in due course on the websites of the Royal Institution and of the Leonardo da Vinci Society or from Matthew Landrus, Wolfson College, Oxford OX2 6UD, e-mail: matthew.landrus@wolfson.ox.ac.uk.

LEONARDESQUE NEWS

An exhibition of 'Leonardo da Vinci: The Divine and the Grotesque'
As was announced in the last issue of this Newsletter, an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci: The Divine and the Grotesque is on display at the new Queen's Gallery at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, from 30 November 2002 to 30 March 2003, and will transfer to the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace where it will be displayed from 9 May to 9 November 2003. Seventy-five Leonardo sheets will be shown in nine sections:
1. 'The Profile Sheet' (RL 12276, which in the sketches on both sides of the sheet present 'a conspectus of many of the themes treated in [the exhibition and its accompanying] book';
2. 'The Divine Body', dealing with the harmony of proportions of the ideally beautiful human and equine body;
3. 'Ideal Types', showing Leonardo's variations on the ideal youthful and mature male facial profiles developed in Andrea del Verrocchio's workshop;
4. 'The Grotesque', in which are collected together a considerable number of sketches by Leonardo and assistants of grotesque types, culminating in RL 12495, often known simply as 'A group of five grotesque heads' but here identified as 'A man tricked by gypsies' (see later in this Newsletter for further discussion of this sheet);
5. 'Portraits',
6. 'Expression', which considers Leonardo's concern in both text and image with conveying human and equine emotion through facial expressiveness;
7. 'The Last Supper', wherein issues of variety of type and expression to capture the range of responses to Christ's words were explored by Leonardo in a series of studies for the apostles' heads;
8. 'Women', in which is explored how Leonardo captured and conveyed the modesty and decorum considered proper to contemporary ideals of female behaviour; and
9. 'Fantasy and Costume', which explores Leonardo's originality and inventiveness in creating fantastical animals and masque costumes. The beautifully designed and produced book that accompanies the exhibition is published by Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd, at £ 30.00. It is lavishly illustrated, largely in colour; the introduction and catalogue entries are by Martin Clayton.

Two recent studies of RL 12495, 'A group of five grotesque heads'
These two studies are contrasting reinterpretations of the celebrated drawing in the Royal Collection showing an ageing man in profile, crowned with a wreath of oak-leaves, and surrounded by four figures with grotesque physiognomies. In an article published in Renaissance Studies 16/2, June 2002, pp. 143-62, entitled 'The signs of faces: Leonardo on physiognomic science and the "Four Universal States of Man"', Piers D.G. Britton proposes that this drawing can be interpreted in the light of Leonardo's 'approach to [the science of] physiognomy - and the related theory of the four humours - [which] was pragmatic rather than idealistic'. For this writer, the drawing 'presents a clever and ambitious realization of the four humoral types' in the heads around the central, ageing, oak-wreathed profile. They are, from left to right, the sanguine (evoking lustfulness, and suggesting that she is a procuress); the choleric (with maniacal expression and wide-open mouth); the 'sourly sneering melancholic'; and finally the 'bovine phlegmatic, to whom the impassive, wreathed "hero"... is evidently in some way affianced'.

However, the drawing is not an 'Allegory' of the four humours, its 'burlesque theme... of implied sexual misadventure is self-evident without reference to humoral theory'. The central figure perhaps embodies 'all that in the human being is peccable - everything that is susceptible of (humorally governed) deviation from bodily and spiritual perfection'. Nor, for Piers Britton, does it necessarily have any narrative content: it is perhaps 'an impromptu extemporisation around an initial drawing of one or two "free-floating" heads'.

In an article in Apollo, August 2002, and in condensed form in his entry on the drawing in the catalogue for the Leonardo da Vinci: The Divine and the Grotesque exhibition, Martin Clayton offers a simpler, more pragmatic interpretation. For this writer, the drawing does have narrative meaning. Despite being trimmed at the right, so that some detail is missing, the woman at the right can be understood as reading 'the palm of the man in the centre while her accomplice [at the left] steals his purse'. The surrounding figures are therefore gypsies, groups of whom 'arrived in western Europe from the Balkans in the early fifteenth century... and soon acquired a reputation for the two activities which have remained a stereotype of their behaviour to this day - fortune-telling and theft'. It is suggested that the drawing might be a pictorial response to the edict of 13 April 1493 by which gypsies were banished from the Duchy of Milan; and further that 'it is not impossible that Leonardo himself had fallen victim to the stratagem depicted in the drawing'. If so, the central figure may 'at some level [be] a likeness of Leonardo' himself, wearing an oak wreath to make him 'appear more dignified, thus effecting a still greater contrast with the perfidious Gypsies'.

It is a tribute to the mysterious ambiguity of this drawing that it can call forth simultaneously two such different interpretations.

Ten Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. A Golden Jubilee Celebration
As announced in the last issue of this Newsletter, a touring exhibition of Ten Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci was shown in Swansea and Sheffield, and as this issue goes to press has just come to the end of its tour, at the Ulster Museum, Belfast. Your editor was able recently to visit the exhibition in Belfast, and can report that the group of drawings displayed shows remarkably effectively the range of Leonardo's techniques, graphic handling and uses of drawing. The exhibition comprised ten of Leonardo's finest drawings in the Royal Library: the drapery study for the Virgin of the Rocks; one of the studies for the Sforza horse, the map of Valdichiana, the 'mortars bombarding a fortress' drawing, the study for the Neptune drawing for Antonio Segni, the study of a blackberry plant, a red chalk profile of a youth (one of the drawings sometimes regarded as portraits of Leonardo's vexatious but beloved apprentice Giacomo Salaì), the large double sheet of studies of optics, the anatomy of the shoulder; and one of the late Deluge studies. The handsome catalogue A Golden Jubilee Celebration, is written by Martin Clayton with an preface by the Prince of Wales, who observes that 'I am sure that everyone who visits this exhibition will be as inspired as I always have been by Leonardo's genius and skill'.

Further on the exhibition of Leonardo and Music in Madrid
In the May 2002 issue of this Newsletter it was announced that to coincide with the 550th anniversary of Leonardo's birth an exhibition about the relationship between 'Leonardo da Vinci and Music' is in preparation at the Biblioteca Nacional of Madrid. We have now learned from Dr Marta Pirez de Guzman that the exhibition, which has become a considerably larger project than had originally been envisaged, will be shown at the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, from 11th March until the end of April. It will then travel to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, to inaugurate a new Auditorio, and will probably go to Brussels as part of the Europalia exhibition. Dates are under negotiation for showings in six cities in Japan and in venues in Italy. Since the exhibition has generated considerable interest in the international academic community, it is planned to keep it travelling during the next five years. A report on the exhibition and its catalogue will appear in the next issue of this Newsletter.

'Outsiders at home: a meeting of minds?'
A discussion between Annie Cattrell (Artist in Residence at the Royal Institution, London) and Daniel Glaser (Scientist in Residence at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London). Dr J.V. Field writes: The discussion, held on 28 November at the Royal Institution, was chaired by the Director, Baroness Susan Greenfield (a neuropharmacologist). Ms Cattrell, whose residency was funded by the Leverhulme Foundation, had earlier worked with a brain surgeon, and Dr Glaser, whose residency was funded by the Wellcome Foundation and the Gulbenkian Foundation, works on functional magnetic imaging of the brain. The degree of symmetry was, however, less than might at first appear. The Royal Institution stages lectures and other educational events but is also an active scientific establishment, that is scientific research is done on the premises, whereas the Institute of Contemporary Arts deals only with communication, not with the production of artworks. Thus Ms Cattrell met Science but Dr Glaser largely met Arts-related events. It is perhaps indicative that Ms Cattrell was given a studio in the RI whereas Dr Glaser did not have a laboratory in the ICA. The discussion left me with the impression that the former interaction was considerably the more fruitful one, at least for the individual concerned. What the effect is on the institutions is perhaps a matter for review at a higher level.

Dr Glaser did not approach the ICA as a complete novice in Arts matters: after two years of Mathematics, he switched to studying English, and then went into brain research. This kind of trajectory is allowable at Cambridge. The ICA likes to see itself as involved in literature and the performing arts as well as the traditional fine arts. Indeed, Dr Glaser described it as a soft target, very open to new ideas. He introduced some scientific ones, for instance having dancers show the process called 'emergence' whereby a global effect is produced by purely local rules, without an overall plan. The classic example is the Mexican wave, where each person copies a gesture made by his immediate neighbour. Dr Glaser also introduced the 'Café scientifique' in which a distinguished scientist gives a twenty-minute talk, which is followed by a break for drinks, then a discussion among members of the audience, the scientist's presence validating the discussion since he or she is free to break in if there are errors in scientific fact. This format was designed to avoid members of the audience thinking of good questions only on the way home afterwards.

Ms Cattrell had a relatively conventional art education, but her father was a medical physicist and she had a long-standing interest in the brain. She had worked with neurosurgeons on making three-dimensional models of the areas of the brain that deal with sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. She described her interaction with the RI as largely a matter of finding out about some scientific ideas about structure and, most of all, finding out about the processes of scientific research, seeing them as human activity. Whereas Dr Glaser is in a profession where giving a good clear talk is of the essence, we shall of course need to wait and see what Ms Cattrell (literally) makes of her experiences. She said that her notebooks were full of ideas but that one needed a distance for making things. While at the RI, she had made a glass sculpture: a three-dimensional network. Dr Glaser was much vaguer about what he had gained from his experience of residency, but agreed that distance was required. The visitor was in the institution not of it. However, both speakers - and, it seemed, the audience - were agreed that the boundary between art and science was simply a coarser version of the boundaries between subdivisions within science and art, and of no greater importance as a cultural barrier.
An exhibition of 'Leonardo da Vinci, Master Draftsman'
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is mounting an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings in the new year. The exhibition, which is sponsored by Morgan Stanley with additional support provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, will open on 22 January 2003, and will run until 30 March 2003. It is the first comprehensive, international loan exhibition of Leonardo drawings ever mounted in America, and it is among the largest exhibitions of Leonardo's work ever attempted. It comprises 117 Leonardo sheets, one painting - the unfinished St Jerome Praying in the Wilderness loaned from the Vatican Museums - and 30 further drawings relevant to Leonardo's formation in Florence and his career in Milan. The exhibition favours drawings that are less familiar, and that have seldom been exhibited or seen together. The aims of the curators, Carmen C. Bambach and George R. Goldner, for the exhibition are that it should
  • offer a unified portrait of Leonardo as a draughtsman, integrating his diverse roles as an artist, writer, scientist, inventor, theoretician and teacher;
  • present his drawings not, as has often been done, in a thematic manner, but within a chronological framework that can shed light on his development; and
  • provide a reassessment of Leonardo's draughtsmanship against the practical background of 'the material, businesslike world of the Renaissance artist's bottega', and in the light of issues around the technique and function of the drawings.
The exhibition brings together groups of drawings related to several of Leonardo's major pictorial projects, the S. Donato a Scopeto Adoration of the Magi, the Last Supper, the Battle of Anghiari, and the Paris Virgin and Child with St Anne. It opens with a group of drawings from the Verrocchio bottega as a workshop context within which to see Leonardo's early studies of draperies and figure sketches. Among the important loans are the several pen and ink sketches for the Battle of Anghiari now in the Accademia, Venice, which are brought together with the two sheets of studies of warrior's heads in Budapest and other Anghiari-related drawings; eight sheets from the Codex Leicester; studies for the lost Leda and the Swan loaned from Chatsworth, Rotterdam and Windsor Castle; and an eclectic group of other Leonardo drawings in the Royal Collection. The exhibition closes with a series of drawings by Milanese leonardeschi as an indication of 'the great artist's legacy'.

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