Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 23, 2013


Host: Ted Simons

Da Vinci – The Genius Exhibit


  • An Arizona Science Center exhibit titled “Da Vinci - The Genius” is the most comprehensive exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci to tour the world. It shows the full range of his genius as an inventor, artist, scientist, anatomist and more. The exhibit blends science, engineering, art and culture, and features a look at the secrets of the Mona Lisa. Sari Custer, director of guest experience at Arizona Science Center, will tell us more about the exhibit. Robert Bjork, director of the Arizona Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies at Arizona State University and a world-renowned expert in medieval studies, will talk about da Vinci and his work.
Guests:
  • Sari Custer - Director of Guest Experience, Arizona Science Center
  • Robert Bjork - Director of the Arizona Center for Medieval, Renaissance Studies, ASU
Category: The Arts

View Transcript
Ted Simons: An exhibit titled "DaVinci The Genius" is on display at the Arizona science center. The exhibit shows the full range of DaVinci's work as an inventor, artist and scientist, and features a look at the secrets of the Mona Lisa. Here to tell us more are Sari Custer, director of the guest experience at the Arizona science center and Robert Bjork, a world renowned expert in medieval studies, he's a director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at ASU. It's good to have you both here. Thank you for joining us. An exhibition on -- What don't we know about Leonardo DaVinci?
Sari Custer: Well, let me ask you -- What is Leonardo daVinci's most famous work.
Ted Simons: It's got to be the Mona Lisa.
Sari Custer: It is. And most people don't know anything else about Leonardo DaVinci. He was more than just a painter, he was also a sculptor and an engineer, an anatomist, he did work in making war machines, so there's such a range to Leonardo daVinci that people just don't know. He was a true renaissance man.
Ted Simons: Are we getting new information or are we getting the same information but presented in a different way?
Robert Bjork: We're getting basically the same information in a different way. This is the first time that so much of his work has been assembled in one place. And it's taken 10 years to assemble this material. People from all over the world in France, Australia, have put this exhibit together. And what's astonishing about it is the range of this man's genius.
Ted Simons: Take that further. Who was Leonardo DaVinci?
Robert Bjork: He was -- He was an Italian, he came from a little village, so it's -- Called Vinci, and he was pretty instantly recognized as a genius in his own time. So he was patronized by very powerful people who utilized his talents for various projects that they needed.
Ted Simons: So he wasn't one of the legends that had to die before everyone figured out who he was.
Robert Bjork: No, they knew very well who he was. He was courted and given quite a bit of money for his work.
Ted Simons: As far as the exhibit is concerned, we have some items here, I think we have like a perpetual motion machine. We'll look at these as we go on. What do you want people to take from this exhibit? What do you want -- When they walk in, what do you want them to see and think about?
Sari Custer: I want people to think about the range of science that happened. And this is an exhibition showcasing the science that happened 500 years ago. From a brilliant man who started a movement, 500 years ago, we're still using these ideas. Ball bearings, there's a precursor to the current tank, and helicopter. We're talking about innovation, this is a man that was innovating 500 years ago. I think that's great for people.
Ted Simons: Are there misconceptions of DaVinci out there?
Robert Bjork: I'm sure there are, because there's so much of him to misconceive as well as conceive. One might be, and I think everyone is going to be struck by this when they go to the exhibit, that he was just a humanist, just a genius who was working for the betterment of mankind. But he was also interested in how everything worked. He was interested in war machines. So you will see war machines that are absolutely grisly in their effect. But when you see these you recognize that his genius was in seeing how everything worked. Not just human anatomy.
Ted Simons: No one knows the title, but they know the guy standing there with his arms -- Let's talk about the things you brought in. We have a helmet and a sword together. What does this have to do with Leonardo DaVinci?
Sari Custer: We actually think that's a wonderful opportunity to bring in the study of the renaissance, and those in particular, Bob can speak more to those particular items. We love the connection to things people don't really know about that that wartime, building the war machines and just the feel of the times.
Ted Simons: This helmet here and this design by DaVinci?
Robert Bjork: No, actually that comes from about the seventh century, it's from the English area of east Anglia, it was buried in a ship, and so it's a replica of basically a Viking Angelo Saxon helmet. It does haven't anything to do with DaVinci, but he constructed a lot of weaponry and we thought this was a good emblem of what he achieved.
Ted Simons: We also have what looked like old music, some old music sheet of paper. What is this all about?
Robert Bjork: That's a sheet of vellum sheepskin in the middle ages and early renaissance, you wrote on sheepskin which is vellum, or parchment, which is cow skin. And this particular item is vellum, it's from about 1375. It's from the feast of St. Agatha, which is celebrate on February 5th, and it's just the beginning of the song, "let us all rejoice in the lord."
Ted Simons: You do know your stuff. You are a medieval expert. We have what looks like a wheel, is this a -- Is this the perpetual motion machine?
Sari Custer: This is the perpetual motion machine, and it's a great replica of an example of machines that DaVinci built. I mentioned there was a tank DaVinci also built helicopters, gliders, he was considered the father of flight. So there was all of this great, great, great inspiration that was happening from this man's mind that people wouldn't expect.
Ted Simons: That, you look at that and say I think I understand how it's not supposed to stop. Anyway, as far as the DaVinci exhibit, why do you think he still captures our imagination?
Robert Bjork: Because genius transcends all boundaries. Especially chronological ones. So whether it's Stonehenge, or the Taj Mahal, or Leonardo DaVinci, you're just stunned by that production.
Ted Simons: And what kind of response are you getting so far from the exhibit?
Sari Custer: People love it. And although Mona Lisa is the most popular, there are also the secrets of the Mona Lisa that are in there.
Ted Simons: What is that secret, can you give it to us?
Sari Custer: You want me to give away the secrets? That's the best reason to come. You'll learn about whether she had eyebrow and eyelashes, whether or not her hands are in the same place, whether she was wearing a veil.
Ted Simons: I want to know whether or not that's Leonardo DaVinci in drag.
Sari Custer: They start to cover that too.
Ted Simons: Alright.
Sari Custer: We cover that in the end.
Ted Simons: Very good. It's good to have you both. Fascinating exhibit. Thank you for joining us.
Sari Custer: Thank you so much.
Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

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