Friday, January 15, 2010

On-line Exhibition: The Mind of Leonardo

Posted by Darin Hayton on 01/15 at 10:13 AM

Leonardo da Vinci continues to fascinate people. The current wikipedia page opens by claiming “Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance man, a man whose unquenchable curiosity was equaled only by his powers of invention” and includes a whole section on the “Leonardo the Legend.” Discovery channel and the History Channel are regularly airing programs that construct Leonardo’s inventions and propagate the Leonardo myth.

A recent History Channel program claims: “He builds an extraordinary legend. In a place where life is cheap. … He creates the timeless masterpiece, the brilliant invention, and survives another day, to build in secrecy. …” (The hagiographic tone is cloying.) The History Channel has a whole host of programs and material on Leonardo for sale in their shop.

The homepage for the new Leonardo exhibit(Source: The Mind of Leonardo)

It is, consequently, no surprise that the Institute and Museum of the History of Science has a new traveling exhibition on Leonardo and an on-line exhibit: “The Mind of Leonardo.” The exhibition continues the genius myth: “The Mind of Leonardo offers its visitors a different point of view, inviting them to explore the genius’ very mode of thinking and his unitary conception of knowledge as the effort to assimilate, through bold theoretical syntheses and inventive experiments, the laws that govern all the wondrous operations of man and nature.” This new approach is supposed to “dissolve the aura of mystery.”

The on-line exhibit is here. There is a nice collection of Leonardo’s machines that the museum has constructed: Index of Models.

Despite the museum’s expressed hopes of dissolving the aura of mystery, the exhibition reinforces Leonardo’s quasi-divine status. Leonardo, too, must stand with Newton and Einstein as one of the saints of science.

Tags: hagiography, institute and museum of the history of science, leonard da vinci, on-line exhibitions, renaissance science