July 28, 2021

Leonardo da Vinci: inventor, artist and ecologist | Culture


An exhibition in Florence, titled Leonardo's botany. For a new science between art and nature, try to correct these days the ignorance about one of the facets that have gone unnoticed by the author of La Gioconda: his contributions to the science that investigates plants, discoveries that opened new fields of research and a way of thinking that, to a certain extent, make him a precursor of modern environmentalism. It is not an exhibition of works of art, it is a sample of ideas.

Italy commemorates this year the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci, 1452-Amboise, 1519) through multiple exhibitions, conferences and publications reminiscent of the Tuscan master as a painter, sculptor, writer, anatomist, inventor, architect, engineer or philosopher. And since last Friday, in the Bedroom next to the great cloister of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, where Leonardo stayed and worked during one of his multiple stays in the city, a complete exhibition (initially open until December 15) tries to reflect, based on recreations of nature, videos and interactive panels, about the importance of their research in the field of botany, their defense of the empirical method and his determination to understand a phenomenon from establishing his relationship with others that show a similarity of schemes. There are experiments that explain the influence of light and gravity on the growth of plants, cuts of tree trunks that show their rings and the information that is extracted from them, transparent panels on plant anatomy, the circulation of the sap .. The exhibition also includes three valuable original folios from the Atlantic Codex. Even the visitor can represent his own version of the Vitruvian Man, the study on the ideal proportions of the human body, thanks to a giant dodecahedron, a figure that, as reflected by another similar polyhedron next to the Vecchio Palace and the Uffizi, Leonardo links to the shape of a fig tree.

In addition, in the gardens of the Grand Cloister there are five other huge regular polyhedra that correspond to those designed by Leonardo to illustrate the work From Divine Provide by Luca Pacioli, which symbolized the perfection and harmony of the universe, but that the wise man born in Vinci also tried to relate to the complexity of nature.

"Leonardo is a man of his time, he does not see differences between the branches of knowledge," says Valentina Zucchi, scientific coordinator of the sample, which explains that one of Leonardo's greatest contributions to science is his commitment to "systemic thinking ", A modern concept but with roots in the Renaissance that sees all the elements of nature and their processes connected to each other:" The artists were painters, craftsmen, engineers, but Leonardo develops all this better than others. Look at the human body, study the plants, the earth, the rocks and establish the relationships between them. It offers an extra quality ”, adds Zucchi, expert of the Italian museum network MUS.E, which has organized the exhibition, sponsored by the City of Florence and produced by Aboca, a Tuscan company that researches and markets therapeutic products from molecular complexes extracted from plants and has organized the trip of a group of journalists to see the sample.

Physics doctor Fritjof Capra, curator of the exhibition together with the biologist Stefano Mancuso and Valentino Mercati, founder of Aboca, explains that you cannot study the phenomena of nature in an isolated way, but are interconnected with others: "When Leonardo I studied the course of water in rivers, I knew that it took nutrients to the earth, to plants, and I knew that blood in the human body did the same, as did lymph in plant tissues. progress in one field of science always returned to the other fields to see the applications. "

Capra does not hesitate to describe Leonardo as a "systemic thinker and an ecologist; he felt a deep respect for all living beings." And develops his statement: "Systemic thinking is now very important because we see that all our current problems, climate, resource consumption, energy, health … are interconnected, and need systemic solutions." Something that Leonardo maybe already intuited five centuries ago.

On contributions to botany, the expert explains that, among other things, Leonardo brings two important disciplines: "Study the shape of plants, is the pioneer of botanical morphology," says Capra. "And then he realizes that form is a consequence of metabolic processes; and studies processes such as plant growth, how they react to the sun (phototropism), gravity (geotropism), the environment, and science calls now to that discipline plant physiology. " In general, he always sees the processes underlying forms, "which gives his science a very modern look," he adds.

The exhibition of Santa María Novella allows us to see another dimension of the author of The Annunciation which looks splendid in the nearby Uffizi Gallery; a scientific dimension different from that of the researcher who made complex anatomical studies, the inventor who imagined flying devices and manufactured weapons that won the wars of his time, or the architect who designed bridges himself, than hydraulic pumps or looms … The sample It teaches a creator who does not want to unlink his art from nature and who already understood that man is irreversibly connected with it.

Capra illustrates that visionary thought of Leonardo with one of his writings: "Will we have to say that the virtues of herbs, stones and plants do not exist because men do not know them? Certainly not, but we will say that the herbs remain noble in themselves. without the help of language or human letters. "

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