The Leonardo unlocks the mind of its namesake, da Vinci

Exhibit • Mix of art and science called perfect fit for museum.
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Leonardo da Vinci imagined and sketched ideas for such varied inventions as a helicopter, a tank, a car, a parachute and a scuba-diving suit. He also drew detailed studies of human anatomy, and painted more than a dozen masterworks — including the most famous painting in the world, the "Mona Lisa."

Utahns get a chance to peer into the mind of the ultimate Renaissance man, with the opening Friday of "Da Vinci: The Genius," at — appropriately enough — The Leonardo, Salt Lake City's technology, science and art museum.

The traveling exhibit has opened in 40 cities over the past six years and has been seen by 3 million people, said Jason Brown, exhibitions manager for Grande Exhibitions, the Melbourne, Australia, company that created the show. Brown calls it the most comprehensive traveling exhibit of da Vinci's ideas.

"Leonardo's genius, the scope of it, was truly amazing," Brown said at an exhibit preview Thursday.

The exhibit takes "thousands of pages of scribbles and drawings," in the words of The Leonardo Executive Director Alexandra Hesse, and creates 75 life-size machine models of da Vinci's proposed inventions — everything from the "Ornitottero Verticale" (vertical flying machine) to the "Vite Aerea" (the aerial screw). The models, Hesse said, "allow us to understand something that on a two-dimensional piece of paper you might not appreciate."

Video presentations discuss the details of two of da Vinci's artworks. One shows how da Vinci studied his Milanese neighbors to get the facial expressions of the Apostles for "The Last Supper," while the other dissects the symbols of the anatomical study "Vitruvian Man."

The centerpiece display is a detailed look at the "Mona Lisa," based on a 2007 study by the French scientific engineer Pascal Cotte. The Louvre, where the "Mona Lisa" resides, allowed Cotte to examine the painting out of its bulletproof case — and Cotte photographed it, both in visible light and infrared, with a 240 million-pixel multispectral camera of his own invention.

The magnified images Cotte produced, and the exhibit reproduces, reveal many secrets about the painting. For example, Cotte discovered that the "Mona Lisa" did indeed have eyebrows — contrary to historical speculation — but da Vinci painted them with a material that faded after only 20 years.

Brown touted the exhibit's life-size three-dimensional reproduction of the "Mona Lisa," which includes the sides and back of the painting — revealing such details as the repairs done to fix the split in the poplar board on which da Vinci painted the original. The replica, Brown said, allows viewers to "see it as you are unable to do when visiting the original in Paris."

The scientific approach to the "Mona Lisa," Brown said, "gives us a better understanding of Leonardo's processes and influences. … It gives the world a better understanding of Leonardo and perhaps the painting."

Hesse called the exhibit a perfect fit for The Leonardo, and not just because the museum took da Vinci's name for its own. Hesse said she often must explain The Leonardo's mission of melding science, technology and art, and "this exhibit allows us to showcase a mind that was doing that, too."

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'Da Vinci' at The Leonardo

The traveling exhibit "Da Vinci: The Genius." Where • The Leonardo, 209 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City.

When • Opens Friday, Sept. 28, and runs through Jan. 27.

Hours • Wednesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (open until 10 p.m. on Fridays); closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Admission • $19.50 for adults; $17.50 for teens (13-17), military and seniors (65 and older); $15.50 for children (3-12); covers both the "Da Vinci" exhibit and The Leonardo's regular exhibits.