Leonardo da Vinci at City University of Hong Kong

Study of Artificial Wing, circa 1478-80 (Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana via CityU Exhibition Gallery) Study of Artificial Wing, circa 1478-80 (Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana via CityU Exhibition Gallery)

It seems somewhat surprising that not a single one of Leonardo da Vinci’s several thousand drawings had ever been exhibited in Hong Kong, but that was apparently the case until the opening of the “Art and Science, Then and Now” exhibition, running at the City University of Hong Kong Exhibition Gallery through 15 December.

Multiple Cannon Mechanisms, circa 1480-82 (Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana via CityU Exhibition Gallery)
Multiple Cannon Mechanisms, circa 1480-82 (Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana via CityU Exhibition Gallery)

It is, of course, the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death; Europe has been replete with events and special exhibitions. These twelve drawings, transported halfway around the world from the Codex Atlanticus at Milan’s Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, are well-selected, with a scientific focus. They include some that are better-known, such as those of flying machines and military devices.

The exhibition itself is striking: black walls, translucent printed yellow curtains as dividers with considerable supplementary audio-visual material, including some impressive—and rather fun—augmented reality.

A dozen drawings do not perhaps quite an exhibition make, but they are augmented by several scale models, also from Milan. City University has in addition made full use of the opportunity presented to it by commissioning twelve other works of art, largely from its own School of Creative Media, to engage in a sort of visual dialogue with Da Vinci. These have a strong technological component: one is a virtual reality version of Da Vinci’s “Virgin of the Rocks” allowing one, with the help of a tablet, to walk inside the painting. This is, if nothing else, intriguing.

 

There is much to be said for a small, focused exhibition augmented by well-designed, easy-to-understand, explanatory material: Da Vinci’s genius and humanity is arguably better revealed—or perhaps appreciated—by depth rather than breadth. The addition of hands-on, interactive contemporary pieces provide an entree to those—students, say—for whom in this attractive setting, Da Vinci himself might seem a bit dusty.

The exhibition, which kicks off the Italia Mia festival, deserves to be packed.


Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.