NEWSLETTER NOVEMBER 2003
DOWNLOADABLE VERSION OF NEWSLETTER (RTF FORMAT)
RECENT AND FORTHCOMING EVENTS
Thomas B. Settle's paper on the use of reconstructions in understanding the experiments of Galileo also stressed the importance of simulation rather than replication. His reconstructions of Galileo's famous inclined plane experiments made use of components which would not have been found in Galileo's original (a calibrated measuring jug and a flowerpot!) but none the less enabled an understanding of the experimental process. Settle compared this with some ornate eighteenth century wooden devices in the Galileo Room in the Museo della Storia di Scienza in Florence, whose purpose was more institutional and performative than practical. Some video footage of a replication of Galileo's free fall experiments also cast light on the unreliability of controlled conditions in the early modern period. Modern trials had established that variations in measurements had as much to do with physiology as physics, as video recordings detected significant delays between the release of a hand gripping a heavy object as opposed to a light one. Such reconstructions Settle argued could help us to understand how early modern experimenters like Galileo obtained the results that they did. A failed attempt by Professor Settle to replicate an experiment with wave patterns in a wine glass which had worked many times before in public presentations was also a timely reminder of the occasional capriciousness of experimental events.
After lunch David Gooding gave a paper on the experiments of Michael Faraday which showed how reconstructions could help us "full in the blanks" in experimental narratives. Gooding emphasised the differences between the experimental approaches of Humphrey Davy and his younger assistant. While Davy sought to move quickly from experimental data to geometrical models, Gooding argued, Faraday's experiments were more attuned to the complexities of puzzling phenomena, and typical began by trying various methods of modelling the observed phenomena before proceeding to the analysis of the phenomena. Faraday's apparatuses, Gooding suggested were "imaging devices" which allowed him to represent completely novel phenomena and communicate them in "information-rich images". Reproducing Faraday's experiments, he suggested, could help us to come to a closer understanding of Faraday's experimental notebooks, by emulating the interconnectedness of making, seeing and thinking in Faraday's original work the historian of science would be better equipped to advance interpretations of particular experiments.
Tony Sale's presentation and video screening bore vivid testimony to the enormous painstaking undertaking of reconstructing the second world war Colossus code-breaking machine. Like Professor Settle's attempts to reconstruct Galileo's water-clock (only on a considerably largely scale) Sale describes how he used bread-boards, shoe-boxes and MG headlamps to replicate the complex workings of the machine. With a few remaining photographs and scraps of circuit diagrams from the original designers and users of the Colossus, Sale and his colleagues set out to re-imagine the structure of the original machine, which had been completely dismantled at the end of the war in the interests of "security". Again reconstruction was linked to understanding - to reconstruct the Colossus, Sale told us, was to inhabit the mindset of the people who built it. Looking at the video of the machine functioning one couldn't help thinking that the reconstruction took almost as much inventiveness and imagination as the original.
More popular (or populist) notions of reconstruction were
represented by two figures from the world of Television, Tim Hunkin and Adam
Hart-Davis. Hunkin, who introduced himself as "a cartoonist and engineer" was
an endearingly Brawnstawmian character who delighted us (but alarmed the Royal
Institution staff) with various hair-raising experiments involving high voltage
electricity. The "reconstruction" of an electric light bulb using a milk bottle
with a graphite pencil as a "filament" was particularly striking. An attempt at
reproducing magnetic tape using sellotape and powdered rust sadly misfired when
the finished product was snarled up by the machinery of the reel-to-reel tape
recorder with which it was recorded (which, as I remember was always a problem
with this technology)! Adam Hart-Davis's evening lecture was very
well-attended, and although it did revolve around a series of "favourite clips" in a rather too self-congratulatory fashion for my taste, the difficulties
confronted by the programme makers did remind us of some of the themes of the
day on a lighter note. The speakers are: Martin Kempo and Steven Roberts on
'Leonardo's glider', Thomas B. Settle on 'Experimental Research: the Case of
Galileo, David Gooding on 'Faraday', Tim Hunkin on 'Reinventing Electricity',
and Tony Sale on 'World War II Colossus'. After a Reception Adam Hart-Davis
will give a special lecture entitled 'Reconstructions I have known, Loved and
The beautifully designed and produced book that
accompanied 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.
In the first room the exceptional quality of Verrocchio's drawings, for instance his Head of a Young Woman in Three-Quarter View (British Museum) and Sketches of Infants (Louvre), and the extent to which these drawings set direct exemplars to Leonardo for sketching the female face and childrens' bodies in motion has never been so well proven. The second room was largely devoted to compositional studies for The Adoration of the Magi: including studies from Hamburg and Venice as well as from London and Paris. Leonardo's Florentine culture emerges frequently thereafter, for instance in the juxtaposition of Antonio del Pollaiuolo's Metropolitan Study for an Equestrian Monument with Leonardo's Windsor Study for the Sforza Monument. Throughout drawings were wherever possible arranged in relation to specific commissions.
One group of drawings reunited for perhaps the first time was the Rotterdam and Chatsworth Kneeling Ledas together with the Louvre standing Leda and the Swan after Leonardo. In the final room, eight spreads of the Codex Leicester were handsomely exhibited; throughout, Leonardo's several sheets with drawings both on the recto and verso were shown to full advantage in glass cases. Even in the company of the Codex Leicester and many fine late drawings, Leonardo's followers appeared better than ever before, especially in a wall of pastel portraits by Boltraffio, Solario and others.
Edited by Carmen C. Bambach of the Metropolitan Muaseum of Art, with contributions from Martin Kemp, Carlo Pedretti and many other leading Leonardo scholars, including for instance Claire Farago on the Codex Leicester, the catalogue is big and generously illustrated (almost all of the Codex Leicester is replicated). Nor are the authors scared of new hypotheses: for instance that Leonardo executed two versions of Leda and the Swan. At $65 the hardback is a bargain; at $55, because almost as heavy and expensive but fragile, the paperback is less so. Leonardo da Vinci, Master Draftsman, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Jan. - March 2003. Catalogue, ed. Carmen C. Bambach, Metropolitan Museum/Yale University Press 2003, 800pp., 515 illustrations including 333 colour plates; ISBN 1-58839-033-0 (hc), 1-58839-034-9 (pbk).
For the duration of the exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum ran an extensive web site connected with the exhibition. Fittingly given Leonardo's own technical inventiveness, this site pioneered the application to art historical ends of 'zoom-in' technology, which allows the browser to magnify the whole or a selected part of any image.
A further by-product of the
exhibition was a CAA conference session at the Metropolitan Museum. Ingenuously
entitled 'The Timeless Genius of Leonardo da Vinci: New Research', it was
chaired by Bambach, who opened with the rhetorical question whether there was
room for new Leonardo studies? To this she gave a resounding if qualified yes:
there is more to be said on broader questions such as that of Leonardo's
relationship to science. Dennis Geronimus, on Leonardo and the expressive
landscape in Florence, argued that Leonardo, Piero di Cosmo and Filippino Lippi
together formed a triad 'antithetical' to the decorative landscapes of
Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and their schools. Geraldine R. Lampke Bass suggested
that the exhibited St. Jerome was commissioned by a Florentine Hieronymite
Confraternity. Denise Budd's argument that the Belle Ferronière is a
betrothal painting of Ludovico il Moro Sforza's daughter Bianca Maria was
well-supported by documentary and heraldic evidence as well as by comparison
with portraits known to be of the same sitter. Joanna Woods-Marsden objected to
the identification of the old-fashioned composition as chronologically between
the Ginevra de' Benci and Cecilia Gallerani. In short, while the identity of
the sitter now seems all but resolved, there remains a shadow of a doubt that
the Belle Ferronière is by Leonardo. That said, one explanation given
for the Belle Ferronière's awkwardness within the chronology of
Leonardo's work was precisely its distinct context as a betrothal painting.
Some areas of the display were somewhat cramped: a group of early studies for the 'Madonna and Child' were set out in the narrow but cavernous second room, and an excellent (though not fully comprehensive) group of drawings for the Adoration of the Magi occupied a corridor-shaped space in which circulation was further impeded by the necessary display cases for double-sided drawings. By contrast, drawings by Leonardo's Milanese followers, which tend to hold the attention of fewer visitors, were shown in more open spaces. The room devoted to 'Portraits' included the celebrated cartoon for the portrait of Isabella d' Este, the small panel showing the Head of a young woman, known as 'la Scapiliata' (Parma, Galleria Nazionale) which may seem to some a questionable attribution to Leonardo himself, and some ten smaller sheets of which one or two might be portraits but most are studies of facial types. These led towards an extensive display of 'Les grotesques', based around four groups of postage-stamp sized sketches of grotesque types loaned from Chatsworth, and examining their later history through copies by Leonardo followers and others in the seventeenth century (the so-called 'Album Mariette', with drawings perhaps by Constantin Huygens the Younger) and engravings after these, dating from 1730, in the 'Album Caylus'.
The finest groups of Leonardo da Vinci drawings were those for the Battle of Anghiari and for the Madonna and Child with St Anne. To the extensive Anghiari group shown in New York, which included the sketches in Venice and Windsor Castle and the two head studies in Budapest still together in this exhibition, was added the brief black-chalk sketch for the soldier to the right in the 'Fight for the Standard' made by Leonardo on f.14v of Institut de France Ms K. Perhaps the richest collection, however, is gathered around the Louvre's own Madonna and Child with Saint Anne, brought down for this exhibition from the Italian Renaissance galleries to the below-ground display space. A group of preparatory sketches for this and related multi-figure compositions was followed by two Windsor studies of geological formations that are related to the foreground and background of the painting, and by four of the refined and technically complex drapery studies which may be directly compared with passages in the painted figure-group.
Finally the visitor reached a large exhibition space in which a grand-scale powerpoint display provided an inch-by-inch survey of the restored state of the Last Supper. This was perhaps included in lieu of drawings for that composition, most of which were included in the concurrent display at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace. However, given the cramped conditions in the first four rooms of the Louvre exhibition, the visitor might have felt that the display spaces had been somewhat eccentrically allocated.
The catalogue, edited by Françoise Viatte with
the assistance of Varena Forcione, approaches in scale that of the New York
exhibition. Léonard de Vinci. Dessins et manuscrits, Paris (Editions de
la Réunion des musées nationaux) 2003. 495pp. ISBN 2-7118-4589-3.
Other events associated with this exhibition were an international congress
revolving around Leonardo's thought and his relationship with music; a concert
of music by contemporaries of Leonardo and played on instruments conceived by
him; and a Renaissance banquet with a menu designed by Veronique Gladstone, a
chef who specialises in historic cuisine, and based on reinterpretations of
The central aim of the Leonardo Laboratory for Scientific Research and Analysis, based at the Opificio delle Piere Dure in Florence, is for those institutions holding paintings by Leonardo to be involved in an intense visual and technical analysis of Leonardo's means and ends. The work will involve the coordination and execution of a programme of scientific research and non-invasive analysis using x-ray and ultra-violet examination, x-ray fluorescence, fibre-optic reflectance spectroscopy, Fourier Transfer and infra-red Spectroscopy, and sub-atomic analysis using the PIXE system and CAT scan. The Opificio has already carried out these examinations on one painting by Leonardo, in a private collection, with spectacular results. The ambition is to produce as far as possible commensurate results from all the paintings anaysed, by using the same (or very similar) equipment which will be for the most part mobile, and employing a core group of people for all the examinations.
It is hoped that this scientific research will be completed by the time that a series of exhibitions, as yet at a preliminary stage of preparation, is mounted in 2006 at various venues in Europe and North America. In the UK there will be exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert Museum, on 'Leonardo: Imagination, Experiment and Design' in which drawings loaned from the Royal Library and the British Museum will be displayed alongside the V&A's Forster Codices, and a series of small exhibitions in Oxford. Exhibitions in Italy will centre on Milan, at Santa Maria delle Grazie and at the Castello Sforzesco, and Florence. It is also hoped that elsewhere, at Krakow, Munich, Paris, St Petersburg there may be exhibitions that document the results of the scientific analysis of other paintings by Leonardo.
An important meeting that brought together many interested parties and placed the project more fully in the public arena, was held in London from 29 September to 1 October. Detailed presentations were made about the series of exhibitions planned for 2006, and the progress made on these thus far; and on the techniques of scientific analysis to be used by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (outlined above). More definition about the plans for exhibitions in Italy was provided. In Milan the Soprindente per il Patrimonio Storico is planning an exhibition exploring Leonardo's and others' work at Santa Maria delle Grazie; a video exploration of the Last Supper focussing on Leonardo's pictorial technique; and the creation of an electronic archive on the history of the Last Supper. At the Raccolta Vinciana a display will trace the later history of the Trattato della Pittura; the Museo di Storia della Scienza in Florence will mount an exhibition of 'Leonardo: Science and Technology; and at the Palazzo Strozzi (or some other Florentine venue) there will be a major exhibition of 'Leonardo and the Cirty of Florence', concentrating on the periuods 1472-81 and 1500-07. It is also proposed that an exhibition of 'Isabella d'Este and Leonardo da Vinci' should be mounted at the Palazzo Tè in Mantua, to follow the planned display there in 2005 of the Codex Leicester. Finally, it is hoped that there will also be an exhibition, at a venue yet to be determined, on 'Leonardo: Making a Madonna', based around the group of Madonna and Child with a Cat drawings held at the British Museum. The inaugural Project meeting also provided the opportunity of a private viewing of the Victoria & Albert Museums's Codex Forster, presented by Rowan Watson (Head of Collection Development, National Art Library) and Martin Kemp; and to hear a remarkable lecture given by Francis C. Wells (a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge) on 'Leonardo's Anatomy through the Eyes of a Surgeon: Conundrums and Revelations'.
A second 'Universal Leonardo Project'
conference was held recently (10-11 December) in Paris. Dedicated to the
scientific work of the Leonardo Laboratory, this meeting established a new
level of collaboration betwen the scientific bodies involved in the programme,
and amongst institutions that hold paintings by Leonardo. A further report will
appear in this Newsletter in due course. Meanwhile, the 'Universal Leonardo
Bureau' has been set up at Central St Martin's School of Art, staffed by the
Project Director, Sandy Mallet, and his team. Dr Robert Anderson, formerly
Director of the British Museumn, has been appointed to the Project as
Exhibitions Advisor. News of further developments of this ambitious project
will be published in future issues of this Newsletter.