Leonardo and Art and Science in the Renaissance Is Focus of U.Va. Institute

September 26, 2011

September 26, 2011 — The original Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci's intellectual interests and works are imbued with curiosity and imagination that highlight his interest in art and science. 

"Leonardo da Vinci: Between Art and Science," a three-week University of Virginia institute to be held June 25 through July 13 in Florence, Italy, will focus on art and science in the Renaissance. The institute is funded by a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"The institute recognizes the growing international role of the University," said art history professor Francesca Fiorani of U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences, who will direct the endeavor.

An expert on da Vinci, Fiorani has compiled a major digital archive through U.Va.'s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities devoted to his treatise on painting that will debut later this year. Her forthcoming book is an interpretative work on shadows and optics in da Vinci's paintings.

Next summer's institute is designed to attract a maximum of 25 art historians, historians of science, scholars of literature, professors of architecture and graduate students in those fields, and will explore how polymath da Vinci moved among artistic, literary, intellectual and scientific circles in a time when disciplinary boundaries were not as clearly distinct as they are today.

"Throughout his life, Leonardo recorded his observations in notes and geometrical diagrams in order to translate the knowledge derived from them in his own painting and drawing techniques," Fiorani said.

"It is this endless research to transfer observations from one system of representation – geometrical and scientific diagrams – to another – painting and drawing – that defines the relations between art and science in the Renaissance."

The institute will take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how da Vinci connected his investigation of the world with his painting; the relation between words and images in his notes, and his legacy. It will explore the construction and transmission of knowledge, observation and representation in 16th-century philosophy and art theory through his works and writings.

"Ultimately, the institute will engage with the investigative process at the root of modern science: how to record, visualize, abstract and circulate firsthand observations," Fiorani said.

Visiting scholars leading the institute are noted historians of art, science and literature whose work focuses on some aspect of Leonardo's various explorations. They will conduct sessions on three major themes: art and science, word and image; painting and drawing; and craftsmen and scholars.

The Max Planck Institut's Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, which will host the da Vinci gathering, is at the heart of the intellectual life of the city. With access to the resources of other research institutions, museums, libraries and archives, plus original works by Leonardo, the endeavor will provide valuable research opportunities, Fiorani said.

Participants are expected to pursue individual research projects based on their interest and training and closely related to the topics discussed in the institute.

"The importance of these individual projects cannot be overstated," Fiorani said. "Through the development of their individual projects, participants will master the skills taught during the institute, but they also will cultivate possible long-term collaboration with other participants and the visiting scholars."

During the institute's first week, two scholars will lead sessions on the relationship between word and image in Leonardo's writing.

Oxford University professor emeritus Martin Kemp will teach strategies to reconstruct Leonardo's thought process from his notebooks, drawings and paintings. A trained scientist as well as art historian and author of innumerable books, articles and exhibitions about Leonardo, Kemp will focus on Leonardo's process and connections among art, machines, the human body, the earth and the cosmos.

Carlo Vecce, professor of literature at the University of Naples "L'Orientale," the leading authority on Leonardo's literary writing and editor of some of his manuscripts, will explain how Leonardo compiled his notebooks and how they were rearranged after the artist's death.

Week two will be devoted to examining Leonardo's paintings and drawings with curators and restorers to explore a fresh understanding of how Leonardo imbued his paintings and drawings with scientific knowledge.

Uffizi Gallery director Antonio Natali's research combines the study of iconography and religion with technical analysis. He will lead institute attendees in an in-depth examination of Leonardo's paintings that will include a private tour of the Uffizzi Gallery, including the rare opportunity to follow a planned analysis of one of Leonardo's works.

Alessandro Nova, director of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence and professor of art history at the University of Frankfurt, has written extensively on Leonardo and anatomy. In his presentations, he will address Leonardo's explorations of anatomy as they relate to word and image in art and science, and also how the artist represented what is seemingly impossible to represent – the wind.

Cecilia Frosinini, vice director for painting restoration at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence, will lead a tour through the Opificio's state-of-the-art laboratories and share issues, debates, decisions and technical analysis surrounding conservation and restoration of Leonardo's paintings, as well as knowledge gained from such investigations.

An expert on Renaissance drawing, Marzia Faietti, director of the Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe at the Uffizzi Gallery, will discuss Leonardo's drawing technique in relationship to his contemporaries. Participants will have an opportunity to examine works on paper by Leonardo and his contemporaries.

Syracuse University art history professor Jonathan Nelson, assistant professor for programs at the Villa I Tatti, Harvard's center for Italian Renaissance studies in Florence, will discuss Leonardo, mythology, women and femininity, showing the role of ancient art and culture in Leonardo's art and thought.

Pietro Marani, professor of art history at Politecnico di Milano, was responsible for overseeing the 1980s restoration of Leonardo's "Last Supper" painting in Milan. His presentation will focus on relationship between art and science in the painting.

The second week will conclude with a trip to Milan to study works there by Leonardo and his contemporaries.

The institute's third week will be devoted to craftsmen and scholars during the Renaissance and the transmission of information and contacts between workshops and universities, academies and courts, with a focus on the theoretical foundations of Leonardo's investigation of the natural world.

Paolo Galluzzi, director of the Museo Galileo in Florence and professor of history of science, will present problems pertaining to Leonardo's machines, his technical drawings and issues surrounding modern attempts to reconstruct the machines from his drawings.

Cultural historian and scientist Sven Dupré, director of the Center for History of Science and professor of science at the University of Ghent in the Netherlands, will explore networks for the exchange and dissemination of scientific knowledge and Leonardo's participation in them. He has worked extensively on material culture and science, optics, instruments and experiments and wrote a seminal essay on Leonardo and mirrors.

Domeinci Laurenza, professor of history and science and researcher at the Museo Galileo, will discuss Leonardo's anatomical projects and drawings and the place of anatomy within Leonardo's vision of art and science.

Frank Fehrenbach, professor of art history at Harvard, will focus on Leonardo's knowledge of optics and his interpretation of well-established religious subjects.

The institute's application website will be available in late October.

— By Jane Ford

Media Contact

Jane Ford

Senior News Officer U.Va. Media Relations