When it comes to the works of the great Leonardo da Vinci,
separating his authenticated art from the "might be authentic" has
never been easy. In 15th-century Italy the custom for artists was
to collaborate in a workshop under a master's direction. Works were
The issue of authenticity was raised again as Boston's Museum of
Science this month opened the only United States venue for a major
touring exhibition, "Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor,
Although some art historians say that at the turn of the century
nearly 100 works were considered to be Leonardo's, experts conclude
that only five have earned near unanimous agreement and another six
are in doubt.
Two small sculptures and several paintings in the exhibition
were questioned by experts in a Boston Globe article, though the
labels in the exhibit identify the works as "attributed to," and
include comments that Leonardo and his pupils may or may not have
completed some of the work.
"I am completely satisfied with the labeling," says David Ellis,
director and president of the Museum of Science. "We were aware of
the questions, and we felt we addressed those in a way that was
appropriate to this institution." Less than a third of the exhibit
focuses on Leonardo's art, and the rest explores his extraordinary
work as a scientist and inventor.
First shown in Malmo, Sweden, the exhibition has already been
seen by more than a million people in six European cities. It is
sponsored by the German automobile maker Mercedes-Benz and the
International Watch Company (IWC) of Schaffhausen, Switzerland.
In Boston, the exhibition has been expanded by the museum to
include a dazzling array of hands-on activities, experiments,
computerized information, and a multimedia show that reveal the
work of a man considered to be a prophetic genius, and the spark of
the Renaissance. Twenty-five models, built from Leonardo's sketches
and plans, can be operated throughout it.
A wide scope of works
What few experts dispute, and what the exhibition celebrates, is
the scope of Leonardo's imagination and interests. From anatomy to
architecture, from his quirky, left-handed, backward writing in his
voluminous notebooks to his interest in how and why birds fly, this
exhibit details a man with a blueprint for the future.
His inventive curiosity created an early form of bicycle,
automobile, helicopter, military tank, steam-powered cannon,
submarine, and parachute. Most of the drawings of these machines
were done in his notebooks and were centuries ahead of the
successful development of the inventions.
Not long after Leonardo's death in 1519, scholars and art
historians began the debate over authenticity of nearly every work
of art, notebook page, or sketch believed to have come from his
extraordinary imagination. …