I recall how my brother Samuel, now living in the US, would sit me down and show me pictures of great paintings, ancient buildings and perfect sculptures. It was the 80’s and I was in grade school. We had an encyclopedia, a 29 volume hardbound Funk and Wagnalls, which my parent paid for in installments. We were the only family in that impoverished Makati neighborhood to own one.
When you’re a child, it is not letters and numbers that attracts you but pictures. I could not forget the images of art works, particularly that of the Renaissance era, these were tattooed on my mind. Of all the great minds that came out of this period, Leonardo, my brother said, is the greatest.
Since then, I became a huge admirer of Da Vinci. Read everything that I could get my hands on about him. Except, Da Vinci Code; I find it too silly.
Last year, I visited Singapore’s Old Parliament building to catch a glimpse of the controversial Isleworth Monalisa. Some expert say it’s a Leonardo original, some say it’s not—I would like to believe it is.
While I was in Germany, three years ago, I tried to make it to Paris. I was staying in the historic Heidelberg town then; the French capital was four hours away by public commute. I could have seen the Louvre, where the Mona Lisa is on permanent display but I have no money for the trip.
The angels, saints or maybe Leonardo himself must have pitied this man and granted his wish. The Isleworth Monalisa was only the beginning.
When I arrived a few weeks ago, I read an on line article featuring the on going exhibits at the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands. What caught my eyes is the one dedicated to Leonardo, entitled “Da Vinci: Shaping the Future.” The show features impressive presentations and actual pages from the Codex Atlanticus, the largest collection of Leonardo’s drawings and writings.
While following the incredibly laid out presentation about how Leonardo inspired countless innovations I was hoping that the original pages (which is at the end part of the exhibit) would include the ones I saw when I was a lil’ lad. I was a bit disappointed that the anatomical drawings was not part of the exhibit (but there were facsimiles complete with annotations) but the giant crossbow and the mechanical wing are there! I recall seeing these!
There were also his studies in geometry, dam, castles, town planning, Archimedes screw, mechanical cannon, theatrical stage and other mechanisms.
The original pages are protected by glass and no one’s allowed to take photos. But when the security was not looking, I touched some of the protective glass— so that I could tell my son one day that I came that close to our race’s greatest genius! You can’t get any closer than that, no, not even in Louvre.
I was told that the museum would bring a new batch of pages from the Codex for February before the exhibit comes to an end. I would most likely go again. There is also a section dedicated to the works of his students. One painting, a rendition of the iconic painting John the Baptist, is from Salaì, believed to be Leonardo’s lover; He used him as model for his John the Baptist.
Seeing this exhibit reminded me of the importance of taking notes, of writing observations and thoughts on a piece of paper.Technology is slowly taking this away and I wonder if the future generation would need to visit museums to see what paper notebooks and writing pens used to looked like.
I must confess that I am addicted to museums. Why not? They are great alternatives to movie houses and malls. As that prominent writer Sionil Jose said, they are practically libraries, “the ultimate storehouse of knowledge, human thought and civilization.”
I regard our museums with great appreciation. I grew up going to the National Museum. I have fond memories of the Ayala Museum and its dioramas—every child should see this. Worthy of mention are the Metropolitan and the Lopez Museums. The former have a remarkable collection of tribal ornaments. The latter have a great and friendly library.
But without a doubt, Singapore’s Museums receives more visitors and funding. Because of this, they’re better in everything; example, the Artscience’s bathroom resembles that of a five star hotel; go just outside, near the main entrance and you’ll find an Anish Kapoor sculpture. Their museums showcases famed international exhibits; programs and exhibits are not static, by doing so, they keep people interested.
I remember seeing that moving exhibit “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” a few years ago. Deep inside I was hoping that they would bring it to our country. But this, as we all know, is wishful thinking as it is unlikely that such an exhibit would generate interest and yes, profit. We’re not known for patronizing museums and art galleries—and this is just sad. To many Filipinos why pay to see a museum when there are gigantic shopping malls and international pop music concerts?