Mr. Boiko Borisov, Mayor of Sofia
Sofia Art Gallery
St. Cyril and St. Methodius International Foundation
Institute fuer Kulturaustausch, Tuebingen, Germany
Leonardo da Vinci is one of the greatest figures known to man. His fame throughout the most diverse social classes in all parts of the world is considerable. He is described as a “universal genius” – an attribute which has been ascribed to only a tiny minority of other outstanding individuals in the entire history of mankind. Nevertheless, when members of the public are asked specifically what Leonardo achieved, the chain of association quickly breaks down after the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Yet, as distinct from his artistic legacy, his inventive and scientific work is unimaginably rich and diverse. The exhibition presents Leonardo da Vinci as an inventive genius and scientist far ahead of his time. Even today, 550 years after his birth, not all his ideas and discoveries are fully understood or correctly interpreted.
“Lionardo,” named “da Vinci,” the illegitimate son of a notary and a farmer’s daughter, was born on April 15, 1452 in the small village of Vinci, 50 kilometers to the west of Florence. At the time, Italy had become the centre of a new intellectual movement – the Renaissance. Man and the human mind emerged from the darkness of mediaeval mysticism and superstition into the light of human reason which, as the humanists thought, had been lost since the era of the Ancient World. During Leonardo’s 67 years on earth, normal life was changed forever by revolutionary events.
With the discovery of the New World and sea routes to the Orient, new opportunities for trade arose. Vasco da Gama sailed around the bottom of Africa and discovered the route from Europe to India, while Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci opened up vast new continents to seafarers and mercenaries. In addition to Venice and Milan, Florence in particular was developed by the Medici family into the centre of money dealing and became the most prosperous city in Italy. The period of feudalism was now past, never to return. With the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg, literature and art were now accessible to all. Man was convinced that he could create perfection by using his intelligence. The time and place were thus ideal for the blossoming of this inventive genius.
The advances in natural sciences and the technical revivals of the time made a mark on the mind of the young Leonardo which stayed with him for the rest of his life. He devised a new image of the world, which he saw as a huge machine, driven by the mechanisms of intellectual understanding. In this connection, one of his propositions was “to build machines with which whole worlds can be moved.” He based his theory on the principle that work could be carried out more rapidly and easily by the observance of uniformity and precision.
To this end, he analyzed natural phenomena so that, from the experience thus gained, access to the great machinery of nature – “limitless reason” – would be opened up to him. Man would become the measure of all things, the focal point of all behavior and thought. His famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man of 1490 in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice illustrates this new attitude of mind to superb effect. The proportions of the human body are the axioms of the scientific approach to physics. For Leonardo, even mechanics were determined by the human anatomy.
From his studies of anatomy and the flight of birds, Leonardo realized that everything is connected to everything else in the nature of mechanics. He identified mechanical processes as a reproducible sequence of movements based on precise mathematical and natural events. According to the laws he drew up, when a man moves an arm, as when a bird beats a wing, he is nothing other than a machine. Leonardo understood everything on the basis of this concept of nature, from stage technique to architecture and from weapons to automatons and clockwork mechanisms. Today, his inventions which, at the time, generally failed to progress beyond drawings, are impressive for their modernity, something not recognized by his contemporaries.
The exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci – Inventor and Scientist,” a visual presentation of Leonardo’s ideas, is intended to enable visitors to “grasp” these in the truest sense of the word, to compose questions and to find corresponding answers.
To this end, the exhibits, some 150 in number, are augmented with interactive multimedia computer units. These provide visitors with access to over 8,000 illustrations and a mass of information, enabling them to call up explanations of the ideas and thinking of the universal genius, his school and his time. A similar purpose is served by numerous working models which have been specially made to Leonardo’s drawings since the beginning of the 20th century. They range from basic everyday articles like a bicycle propelled by a link chain to war machines of exotic appearance, such as his proposal for a chariot with sickles, as well as incredibly forward-looking studies for an automobile and an instrument for accurate time-keeping. Visitors may touch these models and make them work and, in so doing, learn about, and come to understand, the “anatomy of machines.”
Over 100 hand-colored facsimiles, produced in a limited edition for the exhibition, afford a deep insight into the wealth of Leonardo’s inventions which, thanks to his dynamic imagination, have lost none of their relevance or fascination even today. On the contrary, in 1993, students at the Technical University of Stockholm discovered from a computer simulation that Leonardo’s boldest plan to build a stone bridge 340 meters long over the “Golden Horn” from Istanbul to Pera (Galata) could actually have been built if the Sultan had commissioned the work to proceed.
The exhibition also builds a bridge, a bridge which spans the time gap between Leonardo’s mechanical marvels of the Renaissance period and their significance for our present-day civilization, which is again undergoing radical changes. The process of digitalization will affect our world to such an extent that its consequences will probably only be fully understood by our descendants in 500 years’ time. We can, however, gauge the extent of this change – looking back in the mirror of time – from the exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci – Inventor and Scientist.”
With the support of: M-tel, Alpha Bank, Schenker, Newspaper 24 Hours, Trud Newspaper, New Television