Alibi V.27 No.6 • Feb 8-14, 2018 

Culture Shock

Renaissance Man

Leonardo Da Vinci makes an extended stay in Albuquerque

Mona Lisas
Visitors uncover the Secrets of the Mona Lisa in an exhibition making a stop at the Natural History Museum
Courtesy of Grand Exhibitions
Standing in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre was such a nonevent in my life that I barely remember it. I do remember being elbowed, jostling for position to stand before Da Vinci's iconic masterpiece, but I can barely remember actually seeing it with my own eyes. I recall more strongly the feeling of smallness, being one insignificant number among hundreds peering through the glare of the protective glass obscuring that iconic smile.

Margie Marino—the Executive Director of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (1801 Mountain Rd. NW)—has her own, similar recollections. She was 21, traipsing—as she described it—around Europe on her own. She arrived in Paris, and took her self to the Louvre—heading straight for the heart of the museum to see the painting. Finally, she got it within view and then—the lights went out. The workers of the Louvre were going on strike, and she and the throng around the Mona Lisa were all shepherded out the door.

“If you haven't seen the real Mona Lisa in the Louvre, then you don't know how much better this is,” Marino laughed, describing the upcoming two-part exhibition that the museum is hosting under the name Da Vinci, the GeniusSecrets of the Mona Lisa and Da Vinci: Inventions. The former examines the Mona Lisa, unpacking the forensics of the piece gleaned through the work of French scientist Pascal Cotte, and reveals new information about the process of its creation, and, of course, the woman behind it all. “It's a beautifully painted thing. Some of our banners, they just have her eyes—and people know it immediately. I feel very close to that work,” Marino said.

Mona Lisa eyes
"People know her eyes immediately," Director of the Natural History Museum, Margie Marino said of the Mona Lisa
Courtesy of Grand Exhibitions

What stands out about these exhibitions, which have previously traveled all over the country, is that they illuminate something compelling about Da Vinci the man, by illustrating his breadth of interest and talent. “This is about the human being,” Marino explained. “If you read about him, you know that he was very charismatic—very charming, brilliant. He was a bon vivant.” He was involved in theater, he was a chef, he was a talented artist, scientist and inventor. He lived an exciting life, splitting his time as a child between his wealthy father's home, and the home of his mother, who was not married to his father. He was jailed for being gay, and he always had a cast of characters living with him at his home because “he took care of people,” Marino said. “While there are many other geniuses, they are not as easy to relate to as Da Vinci.”

Yet—he is still most definitely a genius. He understood the workings of the human heart 300 years before modern medicine did. He designed airplanes and scuba gear in the 16th century. His hand gave us not just the Mona Lisa, but The Last Supper and the Vitruvian Man. He was an anatomist, a city planner, he studied plants, and deeply spiritual, to boot. Apparently he was even very handsome, and some people believe that the Vitruvian Man is a self portrait. “He really was considered the Renaissance man,” Marino said.

In understanding Da Vinci as a person, Marino hopes that these exhibits will provide inspiration for visitors to the museum. “In New Mexico, we have such wonderful access to amazing art,” she described, “but we're not as exposed to what inspired the art.” Science—she suggested—underpins so much of what makes the world beautiful. In fact, the intersection of science and the art is a vital and even necessary space to work in. “In the sciences today, people have to have multiple disciplines in order to make something that is creative and new—you have to have a creative aspect to do scientific research. You have to think about what's already known and where you can make a contribution.” Yet, many of us—especially children—don't realize how creative and exciting the sciences can be. “We need to show that. Museums don't teach as much as they inspire a spark. An interest. Hopefully this exhibition will motivate us to do more—to be more curious.”

With its amazing breadth—examining the art, the inventions and the life of such a compelling person—few exhibitions have the power that this one does to engage and inspire curiosity about the wonders of the world around us. As such, Marino advises visitors to approach the exhibitions with an “open mind and a sense of discovery and adventure.” That's such a gift, she said, to be fascinated by this amazing world that we live in.

And Da Vinci can show us how to live in a way that speaks to that wonder. What he left behind—his art, inventions and his delight in being alive—provide the exact inspiration that we all sometimes need. “He put so much joy and intensity into his life. He puts us all to shame,” Marino summed it up.

Discover Da Vinci's life and his creativity at this two-part exhibition, Da Vinci, The Genius. The exhibition opens on Saturday, Feb. 10, and runs until July 29. There are a host of events happening in conjunction with the exhibition, including $5 off admission on every First Friday and three adult nights—including “Date Night with Da Vinci” on Friday, Feb. 16. Admission to this exhibition is $20; the small up charge for this temporary exhibition helps to provide access for school-age children across the state at reduced rates.