Leonardo da Vinci in overwhelming view

Leonardo da Vinci in overwhelming view
The master’s name looms over the main hall of The LUME gallery. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

MELBOURNE—These excerpts are from what is believed to be the world’s first résumé on record: “I have plans for light, strong and easily portable bridges… I can give complete satisfaction…in architecture and the construction of buildings public and private; and in conducting water from one place to another…. In case of need I will make big guns, mortars, and light ordnance… Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay; likewise in painting, I can do as well as any other.”

Unbelievable? Not if you know the identity of the writer-job seeker: Leonardo da Vinci, creator of the world’s best-known work of art, the Mona Lisa, and designer of the armor tank and various weapons of war. He was also a sculptor, architect, engineer, scientist, anatomist, inventor—considered the greatest genius in history.

Originally written in Italian, the letter is addressed to “my most illustrious lord,” the Duke of Milan, who eventually employed Da Vinci as painter and engineer. That was in 1482, when Da Vinci was 30 and with experience in painting, sculpture, and technical-mechanical arts, gained from apprenticeships under two renowned artists in his native Florence.  

Today, five centuries later, the polymath continues to astound the world.      

The full spectrum of his genius is on show at the ongoing exhibition titled Leonardo da Vinci—500 Years of Genius. Images of his artworks, original drawings, writings, and machine designs are projected in high definition and colossal scale across a 3,000-square-meter, four-story space. The venue is The LUME, the world’s largest digital art gallery, located in this city known as Australia’s arts and culture capital. 

Man of many roles

Leonardo da Vinci
Art and science come together in the genius’ mind.

Da Vinci’s résumé letter is one of the fascinating artifacts on exhibit. Information plaques, exhibition notes, including his famous quotes, are as riveting as the artworks.  

Designed to be an interactive “immersive and multisensory” experience, the exhibition harnesses AI and VR technology to recreate his life and times. It is presented by the WeBuild global construction group and Grande Experiences, the team behind the Van Gogh Alive and Monet and Friends exhibitions.

Entering the gallery, visitors are introduced to the master through a series of panels with pictures representative of his work in his various roles as artist, inventor, engineer, scientist, anatomist. Also in the room are models of some of his inventions, the vertical flying machine, the aerial screw and the open glider hanging above the panels.  

In the cavernous main hall, a picture show of the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and his other paintings is interspersed with scenery from the places where he lived, worked, and died (Florence, Milan, Venice, and Amboise in France) during the 15th and 16th centuries. 

Likewise in the show are works of his contemporaries Michaelangelo (The Creation of Adam, the Sistine Chapel ceiling) and Raphael (The Sistine Madonna) and two portraits of Da Vinci by Melbourne artist Jim Manton. 

Dwarfed in their surroundings, visitors behold the sweeping views while seated on a two-deck circular bench at the center or reclining on bean bags along the sides, while soaking in the music and opera songs of Puccini, Verdi, Vivaldi, et al. Or they can imagine being in the scenery, enjoying a cappuccino in a corner of the gallery transformed into the Renaissance-styled Caffé Medici.

Flying over Florence 

Author flying virtually over Florence

Teasing the imagination further, the exhibition lets visitors share Da Vinci’s lifelong dream to fly via the Florence Flyover virtual reality experience. 

You mount a contraption in prone position with arms spread, and get fitted with a VR headset. You flap your arms to stay airborne, with the sound of the wind keeping pace as you glide across the Florence skyscape dominated by the cathedral dome.

Da Vinci
The Vitruvian Man scanner

In another ingenious area, you spread your arms as well, this time while standing on a designated spot in front of a huge screen that scans your body, just like in airports. The Vitruvian Man Interactive is a techno interpretation of Da Vinci’s drawing of a male figure in two superimposed positions in a circle and a square.

Inspired by the architect Vitruvius’ measurement theories, the drawing depicts Da Vinci’s own principles of proportions of the human form.  

The Vitruvian Man scan results

This writer’s scan results read: height 1.56m, arm span 1.55m, arm .25m, forearm .21m, thigh .36m, shin .35m—for a score of 99.35% perfect proportions.

Beyond proportion, Da Vinci wanted to understand how the body worked, spending years studying the human anatomy by dissecting corpses in a hospital basement. He recorded his observations, with accompanying intricate drawings of bones, muscles, veins, arteries, nerves, even a fetus in the womb of its mother. 

The ambidextrous Da Vinci wrote with a kind of shorthand he invented. He also practiced mirror writing, starting from the right hand of the page to the left. One theory is that it was a way of coding his ideas; another is that he did not want to smudge the paper with ink if he wrote in the usual direction with his left hand.


Da Vinci
Visitors stand by a composite of The Virgin of the Rocks.

Around the main hall are several sections featuring specific aspects of Da Vinci’s work. One is where his résumé letter is displayed under the heading “Résumé of a Genius.” He starts the letter by establishing his “purpose of unfolding to you my secrets” and “offering them at your complete disposal.” He then proceeds to present his skills, numbered 1 to 10, with an additional paragraph on his artistic talents. 

More “secrets” are revealed in another section dedicated to the Mona Lisa and the research conducted by French optical engineer Pascal Cotte, a consultant to The Louvre.    

Da Vinci
Mona Lisa, in original and later appearances, with tank and other machines. —GRANDE EXPERIENCES PHOTO

For generations, questions and theories have hounded the world’s most famous painting, from its setting to the identity of the model (Lisa Gherardini, wife of the merchant Francesco Giocondo of Florence). Perhaps the most widely discussed are her facial features, her missing eyebrows and eyelashes, and her smile.  

The “25 Secrets Revealed” panel tells how Cotte got to the bottom of things. He scanned the painting with the 240-megapixel multispectral camera he invented, and for a decade “peeled back layers” of the painting, examining it in exhaustive detail. 

The results of his research “shatter many myths and alter our vision of Leonardo’s masterpiece.” His work revealed, among other things, that the original color of the painting was lighter and brighter, not predominantly gloomy brown and green as it appears. The sky in the background, for instance, is light blue.

The Mona Lisa was painted between 1503 and 1519. In the original, the model’s smile is more expressive, but “probable restoration to cracks on the eyes and lips changed the facial expression.” 

On the missing eyebrows and eyelashes, Cotte theorized that “the fine paint used for the eyebrows and eyelashes—earth mixed with oil—blended with the undercoat and over time became transparent.” 

Cotte’s research debunked the theory that the model suffered from high cholesterol. An Italian academic was reported to have detected signs of fatty acid build-up caused by too much cholesterol under the skin, particularly in the right eye. 

However, Cotte explains that “the blotched mark on the corner of the right eye as well as one discovered on the corner of the chin, is revealed to be a varnish accident.”  Other “revelations” include lace on the dress and a veil, which was painted over the landscape.

‘Patrimony of humankind’

For the first time in Australia, original pages from Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus notebooks are on display at The LUME. It is the largest collection of manuscripts and drawings, which is preserved at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. 

“It gathers all the knowledge in Da Vinci’s mind,” said Monsignor Alberto Rocca, Biblioteca director, in a TV news interview. While it is in the library’s safekeeping, he said “it is patrimony of humankind.”  

The “ancient sheets,” however, can only be on display for three months at a time, after which they will be returned to Milan where they will be kept in a dark room for three years for conservation.

The writings are on geometry and algebra, physics and natural sciences, architecture and applied arts, tools and machines, and human sciences. 

Rocca said the notebooks reveal amazing insights and ideas that were way ahead of Da Vinci’s time, but because there was no technology then, he was not able to turn all his ideas into actual objects. 

Machines and more

Among these are Da Vinci’s designs of flying machines and weapons of war. But where he failed, artisans at the Museo Leonardo da Vinci in Rome took over, crafting 40 machine inventions from his sketches. These are on loan to the exhibition, including the flying machines in the first section of the gallery.

The entire array is laid out on the mezzanine of the main gallery hall. 

Among the machines are an armor tank, self-propelled car, paddle boat, giant crossbow, emergency bridge, covered cart for attacking fortifications, multidirectional gun-machine, mowing wagon, diving and breathing equipment, lifebuoy, and skis. 

Visitors, including children, are welcome to touch the machines, turn a cog-wheel, or peep into the tank. You can even enter the eight-sided mirror chamber Da Vinci designed to be able to view an object from different sides.

Da Vinci
A portrait of Da Vinci by a local artist

Just when it dawns on you that there is probably only one thing that this man could not do or had no interest in, you discover his little-known accomplishments in yet other art forms. Displayed in a glass case among the machines is an item shaped like a slingshot—his model of the double flute. 

Da Vinci played the flute and lyre, and would listen to music while painting. He had a good voice, and would sing at social gatherings. Among his manuscripts are musical compositions. 

Farther into the section are two mannequins dressed in what look like costumes from Da Vinci’s time. Indeed, they are costumes—designed by Da Vinci for theater. It turns out that he also designed stage sets.

It has been 500 years, and still there is more to learn about the genius. Perhaps more secrets to uncover, too?

Angelina G. Goloy is a former journalist and PR consultant in the Philippines, and frequent Melbourne visitor. The exhibition was a treat from her perennial host, former Manila-based foreign correspondent Emilia Tagaza Bevege.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.