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Leonardo da Vinci makes a stop at Winter Games in Vancouver

February 10, 2010 | 10:10 am

Leonardo_da_Vinci-02 Athletes, journalists and sports fans have already begun their descent on Vancouver in preparation for the Winter Olympic Games -- but is there room in the bobsled for art addicts?

It may be hard to discern a cultural scene from the point of view of the sky-high media swarm but those on the ground in Vancouver will be privy to a series of art projects that are being held in conjunction with the Games, which kick off Friday.

Among the most prominent art shows is a rare exhibition of anatomical drawings by Leonardo da Vinci titled "The Mechanics of Man," which is being held at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The exhibition, which began Saturday and ends May 2, features the entirety of Da Vinci's 1510-11 study of the human body known as "Manuscript A."

The artifacts are currently on loan from the Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth II in Great Britain. The gallery said that it is the first time the entirety of Da Vinci's "Manuscript A" has been shown in public.

The thematic tie between "The Mechanics of Man" and the Olympics is an obvious one. "Athletes are pushing the limits of their bodies and here we have the most brilliant and sustained of all of his investigations into human anatomy," said Daina Augaitis, the gallery's associate director and chief curator.

She said the exhibition represents the first time that the English translations of what Da Vinci wrote in the manuscript have appeared alongside the originals. For the manuscript, Da Vinci wrote in Italian and in mirror-image style from right to left -- most likely because he was left-handed and the style was faster for him, according to Augaitis.

Among the part of the anatomy that Da Vinci illustrates in the collection are the vertebrae, the shoulder and the bones of the human foot. The manuscript consists of approximately 240 illustrations on 18 sheets of paper.

For his notes on the shoulder, Da Vinci left many notes, some of which are in question form, such as: "Which are the muscles that are never hidden by fatness or fleshiness?" He also wrote down rather mundane anatomical details, like "All the muscles arising on the humerus serve to move the two lower bones of the arm."

Leonardo_da_Vinci-07Da Vinci is thought to have created the drawings at the University of Pavia in Italy, where he worked with a professor named Marc Antonio della Torre. At the time, human corpses available for dissection were a rare  commodity due to religious practices, and so scientists often had to use the bodies of former criminals and other undesirables, according to the gallery.

"Manuscript A" was never formally published during Da Vinci's lifetime. (The artist died in 1519.) The manuscript is believed to have entered Da Vinci's private papers and were not published until the 20th century.

Because of the rare nature of the work, the gallery said it is taking extra measures to ensure the safety of the artwork while it is on loan. (It declined to elaborate on those added security provisions.) Organizers said the show has taken close to four years to put together with the help of the Royal Collection.

The Vancouver Art Gallery said it will be offering free admission to visitors from Friday through Feb.  28 thanks to an arrangement with the government of British Columbia. The gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The gallery is hosting a companion series of exhibitions during the Olympics that feature works by contemporary artists. Check back with Culture Monster during the Games for our coverage of those exhibitions as well as others taking place around Vancouver.

-- David Ng

Photo (top): The superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck, 1510-1511. Credit: The Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Photo (bottom): The vertebral column, 1510-1511. Credit: The Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

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