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Leonardo da Vinci the Genius

The Science Museum of Oklahoma showcases the man who brought science into his art, Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci the Genius

Leonardo da Vinci the Genius

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Science Museum Oklahoma

Leonardo da Vinci

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Show 1643: Leonardo da Vinci the Genius
Air Date: October 23, 2016



Rob McClendon: Well, Leonardo da Vinci is the epitome of the Renaissance man. While he may be best known for his great works like the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper,” he brought science into his art. Through Jan. 8, Science Museum Oklahoma is showcasing an exhibit of his work and the ideas he conceived that were well ahead of his time. And curator Clint Stone took me for a look.

Clint Stone: When Grande Exhibitions approached us about an exhibit about Leonardo, it was really perfect for the museum. He is really that STEM or that STEAM artist, that great mind who was thinking so far ahead of his time. And his designs still have a huge impact on what we do today.

Rob McClendon: Yeah, and I want to play off of something you just said. You said STEAM, and really he was one of the very first that showed that correlation between the arts and science.

Stone: He did. During his time, Leonardo was well-known as an artist. He was the artist of his time. He was so well respected that in his journals, in his notebooks, what we call his codices today, he was designing. He was using science. He was naturally curious about birds, flight, how they work, how we work, technology, inventing things that other scientists have thought about before but advancing them. He was thinking about all those things back then, so he’s using science technology, he’s engineering these things, and he was using math to get it all done. And he was using the arts as his entry point to really explore these ideas.

Rob: Let’s go take a look.

Stone: Oh, fantastic, let’s do. We think of Leonardo today as the painter, as this great mind, as the designer of things that would ultimately become the helicopter, his obsession with flight. He had to do things to pay the bills, just like we all do. One of those things he did was basically a stage designer, a party planner. He did whatever he needed to do to appease his patrons at the time. And one thing he was incredibly adept at was stage design and prop design, and what we have right here is a self-propelled car. Now, on cue, this design would drive across stage in a curved or straight path, whatever it needed to be at the time, but this idea of a car that could drive itself on a predetermined path is really not that different than what we’re looking at today where we’re looking at self-propelled cars.

Rob: Yeah, and I am so fascinated not only by this but other things in the exhibit, that these are things that did not exist before he came about.

Stone: They did not exist. And he was not above looking at what other scientists and other minds did before him that he would take that information, advance it, he would look at what’s next. How can this be more efficient? How can this be more practical? How can I look at this thing that does this and make it do this other thing? And he did that through continual research, continual dreaming, looking at what he was doing and advancing that, always thinking. One of the byproducts of this is he didn’t always finish everything he started, but that was just part of the way his mind worked as he was always looking at what’s next..

Rob: So I want to see the things that didn’t work.

Stone: I’ll show you those. There are several things in this exhibit that really didn’t work, but what he came across ended up being great ideas for the next thing.

Rob: OK, let’s take a look. Now, these look like water skis.

Stone: They do, they look a lot like skis we use today. They look a lot like cross country skis with the poles on the side, but his idea here was, how are we going to cross the water? What if we could walk across it? Now, these floats for walking on water didn’t exactly work as planned, but they led to other ideas, like if you can’t walk over the water, maybe you can walk under the water.

Rob: Which is right behind us.

Stone: Yes, and this design here, I just absolutely love, because it didn’t work as is, but it brought us to what we call scuba gear today. And also doesn’t look that much different than a fire suit. So you can see the way he’s got the hand flippers, he’s got the breathing apparatus. It was a great step to the right direction.

Rob: So we’ve done on water, under water, what about up in the air?

Stone: He was very curious about that as well, very obsessed with birds. He would go and he would buy the birds, and there are many stories about him going to the square and just releasing all these birds and watching them fly. He was so curious about flight. He watched those birds, how were they getting lift? How were they flying? From watching those birds he thought, what can I do to help man achieve flight? And so from that step of watching birds and then really not just watching them but figuring out what parts were making the bird fly. As you walk around you’ll see lots of pieces that remind you of birds, from the way that the bones in the wings work and how those make great structures for wings to how the wings operate, what they need to flap. And so he made all these devices to try to help man fly.

Rob: And this reminds me of the modern day helicopter.

Stone: Yes, very much. His ideas were not only obsessed with the glider, not only obsessed with what we would consider being a plane today, but also the helicopter. He had a design called the aerial screw. He wanted man to fly.

Rob: So looking at this exhibit, Clint, you know I’m struck by just how much Leonardo did with the human form.

Stone: He was very curious about the human form, in a time when it wasn’t necessarily encouraged to be real curious about the human form and how everything worked. A lot of the drawings that he did, a lot of the research he did, he had to have friends who worked at hospitals where he was able to see these bodies of the deceased. And he had to do a lot of this in secret. Years later though these same drawings or the drawing style would be used in medical books – things like “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Rob: Well, nothing is more iconic than the “Mona Lisa” but you have a lot of Mona Lisas here.

Stone: We do, we have a lot of Mona Lisas here. When we think about Leonardo, you cannot think of Leonardo without thinking of the “Mona Lisa.” And the word that often comes up when people think of “Mona Lisa” is enigmatic, like from that smile to the lack of eyebrows. People have many questions about “Mona Lisa.” So what we do in this part of the exhibit through the research of Pascal Cotte is we look under all those layers of paint, all those years of history and we get a better understanding of not only the “Mona Lisa,” but Leonardo himself.

Rob: So you have the black and white, the color, the infrared even.

Stone: The infrared even.

Rob: What are we seeing?

Stone: Well, as we go through there, all the different layers, we see different things. We can see under the varnish layer. We can the pigments used. This blue used in the sky here was a very expensive color to be used at that time, comparable to using gold, right there on the painting. So we see that this was a painting that he really treasured, that he wanted to make very special through that use of blue.

Rob: This is a traveling exhibit, so people need to come out and see it while they can.

Stone: People need to come out. They have until Jan. 8 to see this exhibit. And it’s very inspiring. You really see science and art together. This is a great exhibit for the whole family to see.

Rob: All right. Clint Stone, thank you so much.

Stone: Thank you.