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ON THE ROAD (Episode 2) The Codex Leicester

Here's another entry about a trip I took with students. Before we saw a Broadway show in 2003, I took my AP classes to the venerable Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a new program about legendary polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

Back in 1994, Bill Gates purchased a famous collection of prints and sketches by the famous artist and inventor and, after a few years, the collection went on a world tour before stopping in NYC. This collection was known as the Codex Leicester, and it was the highlight of an exhibition of da Vinci's drawings, the first ever to appear in New York, so it earned quite a bit of buzz. The exhibition, titled Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman, brought together about 120 works of the giant of the Italian Renaissance.

The collection highlighted all aspects of da Vinci's creative spectrum--as artist, scientist, engineer, theorist, and teacher. Works were culled from two dozen private and public collections in both Europe and North America–including rare loans from the Royal Library of Windsor Castle, the Musée du Louvre, and the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice. Highlights included numerous studies for some of his most famous paintings—including the Virgin and Child with St. Anne, the Adoration of the Magi, and The Last Supper. The exhibition also featured da Vinci's anatomical and plant studies, not to mention designs for machines. Below is a brief video of Bill Gates discussing the Codex.

One of the things that remains with me most vividly is the lighting that illuminated the pages of the collection. As I recall, the backlights would be on for one minute and then off for two minutes because the pages were so fragile and sensitive to light. If we all weren't already convinced of da Vinci's genius, this presentation quashed any doubts. For those who thought of him primarily as a great painter, it was eye-opening to see his military inventions or water systems. For those who viewed him as a scientist, the exhibit forced you to consider the breadth and nuance of his drawings and anatomical sketches. Below is a short video about the man and his works:

I think we all came home that day in awe of what we had seen. The exhibit has toured the world since, and I hope to get to see it again someday. You should avail yourself of the opportunity if you get the chance. I might even wear my special tie if I go!

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