by Jack Wright


One way or the other, the world is commemorating the 500th death anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci (15 April 1452, Anchiano, Italy – 2 May 1519, Amboise, France), the Italian polymath of the Renaissance whose areas of interest included invention (he allegedly invented the parachute, the helicopter and the tank), drawing, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. He is thus called the Father of Paleontology, Ichnology, and Architecture and, not least, considered one of the greatest painters of all time.

Palacio de las Alajas/Luis Garcia (Zaqarbal) cc by-sa3.0

Joining the commemoration is the capital of the Kingdom of Spain via “Leonardo da Vinci, Los Rostros del Genio (Leonardo da Vinci, the Faces of the Genius),”  a titillating exhibition at the Palacio de Alhajas and the Biblioteca Nacional. First presented in Madrid, the program, the only exhibition in the world endorsed by the Leonardo DNA Project, will tour France, Italy and England. It is curated by Christian Galvez, a da Vinci expert as well actor, television presenter and writer.

The exhibition is an international project involving a team of geneticists, historians, archaeologists and other experts headed up by Galvez. It proposes to unravel the da Vinci mystery by using his DNA on his fifth death centenary.

Through the exhibitions, visitors will discover the unknown details about the artist and his work:  his dreams, achievements and failures as an artist within an apparently unfinished tableau.

The Tavola Lucana portrait, PD

The Palacio de las Alhajas houses prints that formed part of the different books published on the life and works of Leonardo. But the MAIN ATTRACTION is the TAVOLA LUCANA, shown for the first time in Spain. The tempera grassa portrait on a wooden panel was discovered in 2009 by historian Nicola Barbatelli and some experts claim it meets all the requirements (historical, literary, artistic and scientific) for a genuine self-portrait of the Florentine artist.

Not that this is the universal be-all end-all conclusion.

After the painting’s discovery, Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci at Vinci, said, “We need to find out the exact dating of this portrait. I have excluded the possibility that we are dealing with a self-portrait painted by Leonardo himself. Nevertheless, the [Lucan] portrait is intriguing because it adds a new element to the Leonardo puzzle. Here we have Leonardo depicted as a middle-aged, blue-eyed man.”

Much time, energy and all imaginable methods have been applied to prove or disprove that the painting was the work of Leonardo da Vinci. Because its permanent abode is the Museo delle Antiche Genti di Lucania, in Vaglio Basilicata, the Vaglia Basilicata City Council funded an investigation by a team of scientists to report upon anything which could be tested to either support or deny the attribution to Leonardo. Other efforts included cleaning of the painting, researching the physical properties of the painting, carbon dating, energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence analyses, tests with Scanning Magnetic Microscope, graphology, analysis of the soft tissue of the face applying methods used in facial surgery, and  detailed computer analysis and 3D imaging.

It does not matter that the authenticity of the controversial painting as a self-portrait of da Vinci in his old age cannot be established beyond doubt at this time; reputed historians of art attribute it to the artist just the same. Among these are Prof. Hoehnsttatt Peter, University of Parma; Alessandro Tomei, D’Annunzio University of Chieti–Pescara; Maria Cristina Paoluzzi (D’Annunzio University of Chieti–Pescara and Milan; Jan Royt, University of Prague; David Bershad, University of Calgary; and Orest Kormashov, University of Tallinn.

Double manuscrtipt page on the Sforza monument, PD

Back in Madrid, the other venue of “Los Rostros del Genio” is the National Library where the Madrid Codices I and II are exhibited as well as two manuscripts in which the artist left his mark in some of the themes he ended up mastering, such as engineering, mechanics and art.

The codice were brought to Spain by Pompeo Leoni, a sculptor in the court of Philip II (1527 – 1598). They  contain 197 pages in Italian, are bound in red leather and discuss topics on mechanics, statics, geometry and construction of fortifications. There is a list of 116 books Leonardo was using at the time, including some basic Latin grammar books.

The manuscripts are immensely important as they contain about 15% of Leonardo’s referenced notes. They are equally valuable for the quality and relevance of the works therein, which are among the major engineering treatises of their time.

Biblioteca Nacional/Jean-Pierre Dalbera, cc by 2.0

The reconstructions of the machines shown in the codices and one of Da Vinci’s biggest projects, the enormous horse designed for Ludovico Sforz, are part of the exhibitions too.

This is a unique chance to get to know da Vinci just a little bit better!





Leonardo da Vinci, Los Rostros del Genio/Leonardo da Vinci, The Faces of the Genius
>Palacio de las Alhajas, Plaza de San Martin 1, 28013 Madrid
Tuesdays – Sundays, 11.00 – 21.00 hours
Check out price of entry.
>Biblioteca Naciona/National Library, Paseo de Recoletos, 20-22, 28001 Madrid
Weekdays, 9.00 – 21.00 hours
Saturdays 9.00 – 14.00 hours
Sundays 10.00 – 14.00 hours
Free entry

Up to 19 May 2019


Featured image (poster of “Los Rostros del Genio”), Fair use