Da Vinci's sketches go on show

Da Vinci's sketches go on show
Drawing of a mechanical wing by Leonardo da Vinci (Circa 1490). Twenty-six original pages from the Codex Atlanticus, Leonardo da Vinci’s largest collection of drawings and writings, will make their South-east Asian debut in November at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands.

Hundreds of years before the Wright brothers glided off a cliff at Kitty Hawk, Leonardo da Vinci was already filling his notebooks with sketches of winged machines.

Those rare early blueprints will make their South-east Asian debut this November at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, in an exhibition titled Da Vinci: Shaping The Future.

Twenty-six original pages from the Codex Atlanticus will go on display, alongside six paintings in the style of da Vinci by Renaissance artists such as Andrea Bianchi's copy of Virgin Of The Rocks.

The Codex Atlanticus is da Vinci's largest collection of drawings and writings, and the pages will be on loan from the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, Italy.

In his lifetime, the Renaissance master produced about 13,000 pages of jottings and sketches, which were collected and bound in book form or codexes.

The Biblioteca Ambrosiana is a library and one of the oldest cultural institutions in Europe. It was founded in 1607 and houses more than a million printed books, 15,000 parchments and 30,000 manuscripts.

Ms Honor Harger, executive director of the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, says the Da Vinci exhibition will "showcase the creativity and interrelation of art, science and technology".

She adds: "Leonardo da Vinci was a visionary ahead of his time and his works brilliantly illustrate the interdependence between art and science."

Mr Franco Buzzi, prefect of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, also emphasises da Vinci's interdisciplinary mastery. "It is a perfect fit with the ArtScience Museum's mission to tell the story of the renowned Renaissance man and his masterpieces through an art-science perspective," he says.

The Codex Atlanticus, which contains pages dated from 1478 to 1519, spans 1,119 pages over 12 volumes.

In it, da Vinci's 100 pages of writing and 1,750 sketches dabble in a multitude of disciplines such as music, astronomy, geology, botany and philosophy.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a sketch of a mechanical wing, which was completed around 1490.

Modelled on the wing of a bird, this drawing bears an uncanny resemblance to the wings of modern aircraft, and is indicative that many of da Vinci's ideas were ahead of his time. He died in 1519.

The 26 codex pages will be set in an exhibition which focuses on five key domains of da Vinci's mastery - music, mathematics, natural sciences, technology and architecture.

The show will combine his original works with reproductions of additional pages of his notebook, video projections, models of his inventions and interactive exhibits.

The exhibition will showcase three paintings and 13 pages at a time, which will be changed midway through its six-month run at the museum here.

Ms Harger says this will "give visitors greater opportunities to explore the depth and breadth of da Vinci's work".

Three years ago, lawyer Xiang Long, 29, saw several of da Vinci's writings and sketches on display while on holiday in Italy.

He says: "I remember that the page I saw was quite small and that he scribbled a lot of notes in the margin. It was very interesting as he drew in a certain style and by just looking at it, you can tell that there are secrets hidden within.

"It was amazing to see. It's definitely a good thing that the Codex Atlanticus is coming here, as more people will have a chance to see it."



The word "codex" refers to an ancient manuscript in book form. It is derived from the Latin word "caudex", which refers to a block of wood.

Da Vinci produced 13,000 pages of drawings and writings, with most of the script written in mirror-image cursive. It has been suggested that he wrote that way because he wanted to write in "code" and also because he was left-handed.

One of da Vinci's most well-known codexes is the Codex Leicester, a collection of scientific writings. It is owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who bought it at an auction in 1994 for US$30,802,500.

The Codex Atlanticus is so named because of the large size of its pages. In the late 16th century, Italian sculptor Pompeo Leoni mounted the pages onto large-size sheets which were typically used at the time for making atlases.

When Napoleon invaded Italy in 1796, he ordered that the Codex Atlanticus be transferred to Paris. It was returned to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan in 1815.

Da Vinci's codexes have made a name for themselves in popular culture. After Gates acquired the Codex Leicester, he scanned the pages and distributed the images to be used as screensavers and wallpapers for Windows 95.

In the video game series Assassin's Creed, the player has to enlist da Vinci's help to decipher encrypted codex pages.

This article was first published on Sep 19, 2014.
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