The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

By Griffin, Gretchen | American Theatre, November 1993 | Go to article overview

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci


Griffin, Gretchen, American Theatre


If you are alone you belong entirely to yourself; if you are accompanied even by one companion you belong only half to yourself, or even less in proportion to the thoughtlessness of his conduct," expounds Leonardo da Vinci in his copious notebooks. Despite his dogmatic espousal of solitude, the doyen of the Italian Renaissance wasn't immune to the human desire to communicate with others. From 1482 until his death in 1519 he channeled his social impulses into the private act of writing, sharing with the anonymous reader his thoughts on anatomy and love, painting and dreams, engineering and the afterlife.

Over 5,000 pages of prose and sketches remain as testimony to one of the most brilliant minds in human history--the mind whose fantasies of flight approximated the contraption launched by the Wright brothers 400 years later, and whose primitive renderings of the bicycle and the armored tank similarly predated their actual invention by centuries. Da Vinci's paintings and sculptures hardly require description--the impenetrable gaze of Mona Lisa pervades Western culture, observing us from museum walls, postcards and insurance ads.

Meditations on flight

Isolated contemplation has yielded many a creative masterpiece, but loneliness lurks in its shadow. In The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, adaptor and director Mary Zimmerman illuminates the poignant undertones in da Vinci's writings, shaping direct quotes from contemporary translations of the journals into a surreal movement-theatre production which opens the Goodman Theatre of Chicago's 1993-94 Studio season, running through Nov. 28.

"This is definitely not a historical piece about the life of da Vinci;" acknowledges Zimmerman, who staged an early version of the play in 1989 uptown at Lookingglass Theatre. …

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