Friday, June 19, 2009

Da Vinci in Singapore

Last time we were in Singapore M took me to the Science Centre. He had been earlier in the school year on an MUN (Model United Nations) conference and was pretty sure he could remember how to get there. We took the MRT to Jurong East. Easy so far. But then, in the absence of any signage or map what so ever (most MRT stations have huge 'you are here' maps of the vicinity) took off in the wrong direction without any protection from the blazing sun, across two busy roads and ended up in the IMM building, sweat dripping down our backs. After cooling down a bit we retraced our steps through the bottom of a busy HDB and onto another intersection where we saw our first sign, right outside the entrance to the Science Centre. Not very tourist friendly but then I guess most simply take a taxi.

We bought combination Science Centre /Da Vinci Exhibition tickets for 16SD (me) and 11SD (for M) and had a bit of a nosey around the different rooms in the Science Centre, virtually pushing buttons and changing screens, bouncing lights, chasing images.

I think we learned a thing or two too. We ended up at the 'electric chair' which for a dollar will vibrate your clenched hands till they refuse to unclench and produce uncontrollable giggling from M.

Then we headed to the Da Vinci Machines Exhibit.

We couldnt take photos inside the exhibition so I snapped this one of M at the shop.

I was fascinated. There were about 60 models, recreated using the materials of da Vinci's time (wood, cotton, iron, cord and brass) by a team of Florentine artisans in collaboration with academics, physicists and historians accompanied by a series of informative panels some of which included actual images of the original design.

There were war machines, flying machines, nautical and hydraulic machines, life size and models as well as devices made to illustrate the principles of mechanics. Most of the machines had a 'hands off sign' beside them but a small section invited you to try- which of course we did. A man born before his time, not only was he a master painter he was a sci fi freak, able to imagine future possibilities; flying machines, helicopters, scuba divers and automation. Just imagine if he'd been able to make movies!

The second half of the exhibition included digital reproductions of some of his most famous paintings including the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

The Mona Lisa has just been the subject of a rather different research technique called Lumiere technology. The painting was scanned with a 240-megapixel Multi-spectral Imaging Camera, invented by French engineer Pascal Cotte, which uses 13 wavelengths from ultraviolet light to infrared. The resulting images peel away centuries of varnish and other alterations until we are able to see how the Mona Lisa appeared to da Vinci and his contemporaries. You can see an eyelash and some eyebrow hair (apparently it was a cause for concern previously, considering da Vinci's fascination for human biology, that you couldn't in the painting we see today), a finger not completely finished (a painter like da Vinci never completely finished a painting as that would indicate he thought it done when he would always say things could be improved), a blotch on the corner of the eye and chin that were thought to indicate she was sick are, in fact, varnish accidents, a hand protectively over a rounded belly is unveiled to be actually keeping a slipping blanket in place.

There are others too like the fact she was originally painted with a more 'pronounced', although still enigmatic, smile. Da Vinci, with his intimate knowledge of human biology, knew that when a viewer first looked at his famous painting they would most likely look directly at the subjects eyes, as humans are drawn to a persons eyes initially. Their peripheral vision, which is not as fine tuned to detail as the fovea, would distinguish the shadows in the corners of the sitters mouth as a smile. When the viewers gaze moves to the mouth, however, the smile is 'gone' giving the Mona Lisa her mysterious 'is she smiling or isnt she' expression.

As I said- fascinated.

This is a touring exhibition, if it comes to your town go and see it!


Sarah Lee said...

Wow! That exhibition sounds unforgettable! It must have been mind blowing and left you with so many thoughts, as well as questions? Hoping I get to see it one day! Thanks for the insight into the Mona Lisa too - incredible!

Leone said...

totally fascinating - we learn something new every day!!

Pity you did not have my number when you were 'lost' at Jurong East .... am but 3 mins away. :-)

We might have managed a coffee before you headed off for your next adventure.