Leonardo Da Vinci Laid Bare at the Louvre

Leonardo Da Vinci Laid Bare at the Louvre
Ever heard Leonardo da Vinci’s prediction that one day humans would master flying and be able to sail through the sky like birds? If not, perhaps you should head to the Louvre for the biggest ever Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in history before it closes on February 24th – and see for yourself just what his feverish imagination compelled him to sketch. With completely free late night opening slots scheduled for the last three days, there’s no excuse not to check it out. The uninitiated dismiss Leonardo da Vinci as a painter alone, but he was also an inventor, a military engineer and a royally commissioned entertainer for the French King — not to mention, of course, a fantasist of comedic proportions, tightroping that fine line between genius and insanity. One of his favorite inventions, for example, inspired by the anatomy of birds and bats, envisaged men launching themselves into the air strapped to a giant pair of mechanical wings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this particular “flying machine” prototype quite literally never got off the ground, although his failures never dampened his fiery imagination. After all, every part of modern life initially began as an idea in someone’s mind, from the architecture of a house to the design of the shoes on our feet. As the adage goes, without the dreams there is no reality — and Leonardo da Vinci was a perfect example of this. He designed an early version of the scuba suit back in an era when few had ever contemplated breathing underwater. He created a prototype for a robot which would later be brought to life, based on his exact sketches, by a NASA scientist. He even turned his talents to warfare, planning logistics for tanks and a machine gun before such weaponry had ever existed. The exhibition at the Louvre takes a closer look at Leonardo da Vinci’s life and legacy, with paintings and sketches that depict everything from the aforementioned inventions to scenes of political life in his native Florence. Adding a touch of technology to the displays, a feature enables guests to see the Mona Lisa’s every detail projected through a virtual reality headset. Arriving hot on the heels of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, there could scarcely have been a better time to launch the tribute, which has been 10 years in the making. However, owing to fierce Italian opposition, it almost never went ahead. Paintings that would have played a starring role in the exhibition were withheld and loan agreements cancelled, while tensions between President Macron and nationalist groups across the border reached an all-time high. Those seeking symbolic possession of his legacy had argued that Leonardo da Vinci belonged to Italy and had “merely died in France”. Plus in those all-important final years before he captured the heart of the French King and was summoned to the Loire Valley, carrying the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper in his battered satchel, it seemed as though he had been an Italian loyalist too. A former friendship with the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, had led to the pair plotting how best to annihilate the French in battle. Consequently, some 400 years before armored tanks were first introduced on the battlefield, Leonardo da Vinci produced sketches for them — chariots shrouded in sheet metal, with slits in the sides from which to fire. On another weapon-led occasion, 80 tons of bronze — originally intended for use on a horse statue that the Duke had commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to create — ended up being misappropriated by the royal for the construction of weaponry instead. This led to taunts from art rival Michelangelo, mocking the perception that the royal family had rejected his work. ‘Make Art, Not War’ seemed to have fallen on deaf ears in this case. Ultimately, the seemingly bloodthirsty friendship between the genius and the Duke ended when the latter was handed over to France in 1500 during the Treason of Novara. Amusingly, however, King Louis XII seemed to hold few grudges. He offered Sforza a soft imprisonment in a chateau in Berry, with free reign of the grounds, access to a royally approved doctor when he fell ill and permission to receive visitors too. The former Duke was perhaps regarded as more of an ornament for his collection than a genuine prisoner of war. The King’s successor, Francis I, was equally liberal about the then deceased, recalling gratefully how Sforza had commissioned the legendary Last Supper. By 1517, military affiliations seemingly firmly forgotten, Leonardo da Vinci would end up living on French territory. Fast forward to 1911 and political tensions over Leonardo da Vinci would rise between France and Italy yet again, when a fellow Italian, Vincenzo Peruggia, seized the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, smuggled it across the border and attempted to sell it. When he was caught red-handed, the burglar was defiant and unapologetic, calmly stating that he had simply brought the masterpiece “back home” where it belonged. Although reclaiming a Renaissance treasure for his homeland saw him sentenced to jail time, some saw him as a patriotic hero who had not deserved capture at all. A sample of Leonardo da Vinci’s…

Lead photo credit : Facade advertising the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the Louvre

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Chloe Govan is an award-winning writer and channel-hopping Francophile with a penchant for Parisian life. After achieving degrees in Psychology and Magazine Journalism and working as a travel editor and columnist, she developed her freelance career, during which she authored 11 books. Whether she is sleeping in a bubble under the stars in the forests around Marseille or horse-back riding with the chateaux of the Loire Valley as a backdrop, her heart can often be found somewhere in France.