Friday, May 19, 2006

Da Vinci---Decoded

The movie version of the megahit novel The Da Vinci Code opens Friday in theaters across the world. Like the book, the movie is causing a stir because of suggestions it makes about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and because of its unflattering depictions of members of the Catholic Church.

We haven't seen the movie, but we've always loved Leonardo da Vinci--the man himself. Why? Well, if Leonardo were a modern-day American, he probably wouldn't be in the movies. He'd be making movies. He might also be an engineer at NASA, and a leading researcher at the National Institutes of Health, and a special advisor to the president on matters of national security--all at once.

Polymathic Man

Born in the town of Vinci (hence "da Vinci") in 1452, Leonardo became the quintessential "Renaissance man." He's been called the first great Renaissance master, the first scientist, even the first modern. His genius reached across a divide that few before or since have succeeded in bridging--the divide between transcendent, visionary, expressive artist and practical, methodical, mathematical scientist.

In addition to creating some of the world's most famous art, Leonardo conducted extensive research into human anatomy, dissecting by his own count more than 30 corpses. He served as a military engineer, preparing plans to overhaul fortifications, divert the river Arno around Pisa, and outfit Venetian "SEAL" teams with primitive scuba gear. And he advised some of the most powerful men of his time--including Cesare Borgia, the notoriously ruthless commander of the papal army, for whom he sketched maps that helped lay the groundwork for modern cartography.

He also endowed posterity with thousands of manuscript pages, written in his famous "mirror-style"--that is, right to left, so that they can be easily read only in a mirror. Within these pages are inquiries into the flight of birds, the construction of military fortifications, hydraulics, optics, human anatomy, perspective (in both art and science), observations on the moon's craters, a design for a flying machine (which looks something like a helicopter), and more. And, of course, there are still those other works--the ones for which Leonardo is most famous.

The Last Supper

Completed between 1495 and 1498, Leonardo's Last Supper may be the world's second-most famous painting. The work reproduces the moment at which Christ, during a Passover meal, announces to his apostles that one of them will betray him. Except for Judas (and Christ, who calmly accepts his fate), each of the apostles displays the confusion and apprehension of the moment--disbelief, anger, frustration, sadness, fear, denial, and exasperation all at once.

Unfortunately, the Last Supper wasn't built to last. Leonardo had invented a new fresco technique for painting the masterpiece, but the technique didn't hold water. The painting began to deteriorate within a few years, and by the middle of the 16th century it was practically ruined. Leo fans have been trying to restore the work for centuries.

The Mona Lisa

Leonardo's Mona Lisa is almost certainly the world's most famous painting. Leonardo completed the faintly smiling lady between 1503 and 1506. Its influence was immediate, setting the standard by which portraits would be judged for centuries to come. In fact, the young Raphael sketched the Mona Lisa while it was still a work in progress and was using it as a model for his own portraits by the time Leonardo was done.

No one knows for sure, but the woman in the picture is generally believed to be "Mrs. Lisa" Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a prominent Florentine of the time. And her smile? Your guess is as good as anyone's.


Soma said...

Oops..How come a man can play cricket like "Don Bradman", Foot ball like "Pele" and Basket ball like "Magic Johnson"?..Some times God is biased…He is giving everything to only one..:)

Yoge said...

It is very unfortunate that DaVinci code is banned in TN-India.

I was very eager to watch the movie. Now I have to watch it in DVD