Leonardo da Vinci Anniversary Events in Florence

Adoration of the Magi by Da Vinci in the Uffizi Gallery

Although 500 years ago Leonardo da Vinci died in Chateau Clos Luce in Amboise, France where King Francis I offered him a country manor and the title of “Painter, Architect and Engineer to the King,” 2019 celebrates the Tuscan roots of Renaissance genius with a multitude of events.  

Thanks to his unsurpassed use of chiaroscuro (light and shadow) and his uncanny ability to portray the soul of his sitter on canvas, Da Vinci (1452 – 1519) is known primarily as an artist, with the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper recognized worldwide.  

Despite this, numerous exhibitions also strive to portray the other aspects of his interests. Only about 15 of his paintings, in fact, survive, but the artist, inventor, engineer and botanist left thousands of pages of drawings for futuristic inventions.  Among the myriad of original designs are a calculator, a solar power concentrator, a parachute, a theory of earth’s plate tectonics and an automated bobbin winder which altered the world of manufacturing. 

Besides visiting the Uffizi Gallery to see Da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi, the following is a preview of special events in Florence for Da Vinci anniversary year.  

Palazzo Strozzi and the Bargello: “Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo,”

At age 14, Leonardo was apprenticed to Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading Florentine painter and sculptor of his day.  Recognizing young Leonardo’s talent, he invited him to collaborate on numerous works until Da Vinci, at the age of 20, qualified as a master in the artists’ and doctors’ guild of St. Luke.

The show, opening on March 8, displays 120 paintings from museums and collections throughout the globe including pieces by Verrocchio’s other pupils Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino.  The exhibition, in collaboration with the National Gallery in Washington, DC, will be housed in Palazzo Strozzi with a special section at the Bargello National Museum.  “Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo” at Palazzo Strozzi will be open daily 10 am to 8 pm, Thursdays 10 am to 11 pm; admission €13.  Entrance to the Bargello is €9 or €6 with the Strozzi ticket.

Palazzo Vecchio, Sala dei Gigli: “The Codex Atlanticus”

An exhibition dedicated to the Codex Atlanticus, specifically 12 sheets of the 1119 pages of original manuscripts and drawings, details Da Vinci’s creative genius and foresight.  The Codex, found in the Ambrosiana Library in Milan, contains designs depicting his visions of helicopters and armored tanks, centuries before they were actually built. 

One sheet contains a note to Sandro Botticelli about his use of perspective, recalling the period when both artists were part of Verrocchio’s workshop. Other sheets illustrate his long-time fascination with flight and birds, including a childhood memory of his dream of a kite.  The inventor’s flight experiments from Monte Ceceri near Fiesole date from this time, further demonstrating his connection to Florence.  Another page details his witnessing his mentor Andrea del Verrocchio’s golden copper ball placed atop Brunelleschi’s dome.  “The Codex Atlanticus” can be viewed from March 29 through June 24 and entrance is included in the ticket to Palazzo Vecchio.

Palazzo Vecchio: “Traces of the Battle of Anghiari”

There’s a game of Where’s Waldo that has been going on in Florence for years without end. Instead of Waldo, though, the subject of the search is for the “Battle of Anghiari” by Leonardo da Vinci in the Salone dei Cinquecento in Florence’s town hall, Palazzo Vecchio.

During the fifteenth century, Florentine forces defeated an army from Milan at Anghiari, and in 1503 Da Vinci received a commission to depict this important victory. Infamous for not completing works he became disinterested in or was dissatisfied with, as was the case of the “Battle of Anghiari,” Leonardo was a perfectionist at heart and that is not to the benefit of modern day historians.  While preparatory drawings and instructions have survived in his journals, the artist decided to try out a new kind of oil paint that he had developed himself for wall murals and, when it didn’t work the way he planned it, abandoned the unfinished 20 x 10 ft. work completely.

National Geographic funded Maurizio Seracini in 2012 to find the lost painting which is believed to be underneath Vasari’s “Battle of Marciano” in Palazzo Vecchio. Seracini used multispectral imaging and analytical technology—ironically reflecting Da Vinci’s use of science, art and engineering in his work—that could scan behind the Vasari “Battle of Manciano” fresco on the wall to detect the specific chemical makeup of da Vinci’s unique paint.

With these tools, Seracini discovered a brick wall with possible traces behind Vasari’s fresco.  There is an air gap behind the wall, leaving a possibility that da Vinci’s painting is behind it. Work, however, was halted also because of possibility of damage to the Vasari fresco, which also contains a green flag inscribed “Cerca, trova,” or “Seek, find.

On the trail of the artist’s most famous unfinished work, a tour route begins in the Salone dei Cinquecento.  A video with 3-D models tells the story of the Battle of Anghiari and the transformations that the Palazzo Vecchio has undergone down the centuries.  “Traces of the Battle of Anghiari” begins February 23 and continues through January 12, 2020.  Entrance is included in the ticket to Palazzo Vecchio. 

Santa Maria Novella: “Botany and Leonardo: The Synthesis Between Art and Nature”

Further exploring Leonardo’s interest in the relationship between art, science and nature, the complex of Santa Maria Novella presents his studies of botany from September 13 to December 15.  The refectory will host pictures of his sketchbooks featuring drawings of plants and research on flora.

This event is thanks to the efforts of Aboca, a company that produces organic plant-based pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.  Both Abaco headquarters and the firm’s museum, which illustrates the therapeutic properties of herbs and plants, are located in Sansepolcro. The exhibition is linked to a book by Fritjov Capra and Hazel Henderson about Leonardo da Vinci and his scientific pursuits in botany that was translated into Italian by Aboca. There is also a special focus on the research of Capra about the different disciplines that da Vinci employed in botanical research, including mathematics and biology.   (rita kungel/additional reporting by katy rose sparks)