Leonardo: A True Genius

23 Sep

In honor of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, 500 years ago on May 2, his life and works are being celebrated throughout Italy this entire year.

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

Da Vinci was born in a small Tuscan village called Anchiano on April 15, 1452. He was a true polymath, a person whose expertise spanned a significant number of subject areas. Today, we celebrate this genius’ life as a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, musician, inventor, mathematician, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer and writer.

While most people perhaps recognize da Vinci through some of his most famous paintings, such as the Mona Lisa and Last Supper, his study of so many things, including botany, was extensive.

This past week, we were fortunate to attend La Botanica di Leonardo (Leonardo’s Botany) at the incredible Santa Maria Novella complex in Firenze. Len has read the 600 page, Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson, (2017), not once but twice, and often out loud to me, so we were particularly interested in seeing any of da Vinci’s research and exploration.

We entered through the cloister, one of the oldest parts of the complex dating back to perhaps the early 1200s.




We then entered the magnificent Capilla de los Españoles, or Spanish Chapel.



From there, we followed the signs for the exhibit.


Along the way, there were many interesting things to see, such as a mirror placed next to some of da Vinci’s words to make them legible. Da Vinci was left-handed, often wrote in a shorthand he invented for himself, and often mirrored his writing, starting at the right side of the page and moving to the left.

©blogginginitaly.com  ©blogginginitaly.com

He also designed furnaces and ovens for the production of medicines and perfumes, required for his alchemy research.

Leonardo Botanico Exhibit, 2019 Firenze ©blogginginitaly.com

We finally arrived at the elaborate and interesting mirrored entrance.


From the exhibition website:

The Botanical exhibition outlines the philosophical and technological context of the time in which Leonardo da Vinci lived in order to explore his study of the forms and processes of the Plant world in greater depth, through his eyes as a “systemic” thinker, highlighting the connections between art, science and nature and the relationships between the different spheres of knowledge.

The long hall was filled with exhibits on both sides, depicting various aspects of da Vinci’s research. With this animation, we saw da Vinci’s research on the progression of plant formation, one leaf at a time.

While others had discovered that a tree’s age was could be determined by counting the rings, it was da Vinci who discovered that the growth rings told the story of the environmental conditions of each year. These are photos of an animation of the rings of a tree over time and a tree sample.


There was also a large, two-sided screen depicting some of da Vinci’s notes, drawing and paintings.  Here’s a sampling:

And then this, some of his notes:

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Codex Atlanticus, folio 197 verso. Method for making a “positive” print; bottom, a sage leaf printed in negative. Copyright Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Mondadori Portfolio.

At the end of the hall, guests are invited to momentarily become like the Vitruvian man, who for da Vinci, was the proportional blend of math and art during the Renaissance, and a cornerstone of Leonardo’s attempts to relate man to nature.


The final panels, titled Leonardo’s Legacy, leave us with a message worthy of consideration:

Leonardo Botanico Exhibit, 2019 Firenze

And so we see the reason why Leonardo’s legacy is even more relevant today: if our sciences and technologies are ever more restricted in their focus, if they are unable to understand the complexity of problems by taking an interdisciplinary approach and are dominated by companies that are more interested in financial revenue than the well-being of humanity, then we urgently need to return to a vision of science that honours and respects the unity of life as a whole, that recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all natural phenomena and reconnects us with the system of living things. Our needs today are exactly those outlined in the thinking of Leonardo da Vinci five hundred years ago.

Leonardo Botanico Exhibit, 2019 Firenze

Leonardo da Vinci, a true genius, spent a great deal of time in the Santa Maria Novella area in 1504 and 1505. Walking through the exhibit, you sometimes feel as though he just might walk by. 





10 Responses to “Leonardo: A True Genius”

  1. Maureen Lawler September 23, 2019 at 9:51 AM #

    Fascinating!! Thank you for sharing….how wonderful to have read the incredible bio and then see it all firsthand!

    Liked by 1 person

    • blogginginitaly September 23, 2019 at 11:35 AM #

      It really was wonderful, and now Len is planning to read it again!


  2. Royce Larsen September 23, 2019 at 10:02 AM #

    How fortunate! “You” for being there and “us” for the sharing by you and Len I have had the opportunity to discuss Leonardo with Len and he does have a thorough knowledge of the personality. Most appreciative for the educational opportunity. Keep the dialogue open


    Liked by 1 person

    • blogginginitaly September 23, 2019 at 11:37 AM #

      So happy to have the opportunity to share this, and now you and Len have more to discuss.


  3. jeanfromcalifornia September 23, 2019 at 10:54 AM #

    What a wonderful find! An exhibition that hasn’t closed before we get there! It runs to Dec 15.
    Wonderful coincidence – we are exploring painting again and I have been going back to my Art College days and the Golden Section (no doubt Len and you are familiar with it). Art imitating nature’s ratio.
    I will send you a message asking for your advice on getting to the exhibition.
    Yay! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. florence larsen September 23, 2019 at 11:05 AM #

    This is incredibly interesting- wish I was there!!
    Ok- I’m now primed to read the Isaacson book-
    Thanks for the inspiration!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • blogginginitaly September 23, 2019 at 11:44 AM #

      Great idea, unless you have Len reading it to you. He’s about to start his 3rd read, and I love when he shares the book as he reads it.


  5. Sandy Holswade September 23, 2019 at 11:26 AM #

    Beautiful. Leonardo was a true genius. Now I want to read the book. Thank you for sharing Judy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • blogginginitaly September 23, 2019 at 11:45 AM #

      As I’ve mentioned in a few of my replies to others, Len is embarking on his 3rd read! And so worth it. Enjoy.


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