Leonardo da Vinci – Among the Most Extraordinary, Curious, and Creative Minds in History – Was a Star in Producing Plays, Pageants, Exhibitions, and Events

(Header photo: Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper – a painting which shows the influence of Leonardo’s work in the theater and exhibitions.)

Willwork Global Event Services is an international leader in exhibition services and event project management.

A major component of our business is art and design: art and design in the form of exhibits, structures, props, and interiors we install, maintain, and dismantle; and art and design in the form of multimedia production and storytelling we create and produce.

As well, it is our privilege and good fortune to work, from coast to coast, in buildings and other spaces that are architectural and design masterpieces, many which are historic and iconic.  Day after day, Willwork performs its trade within and amid excellence in structure and design.  

On this blog, from time to time, we herald and exalt the sublime and brilliant, the magnificent, in architecture, design, and engineering, and how it is all tied together and integrated.  We present examples of how the study of, and what is learned in, one discipline can be applied to and improve another discipline.

Examples of this heralding and exalting published here include the post about the history of the arch (January 26, 2018) – and the post, published on December 7, 2016, about the World’s Columbian Exposition, also called the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

On April 15, 2016, we celebrated in this space the 664th birthday of Leonardo da Vinci, who is, just maybe, the most creative and intellectually curious person in history, and also one of its most sensitive and observant. Please click here to be taken the post. 

Leonardo fully and completely exemplified and demonstrated the life of the polymath, accomplished in, and making great and important and valuable contributions to, the study of nature, engineering, architecture, study of anatomy, sculpture, painting, mechanics, weaponry … and much more.

Leonardo da Vinci achieved mightily, and in epic dimension, in the pursuit of learning … of breadth and depth of disciplines and subjects studied, and ability to amalgamate what he learned and how he saw and envisioned various subjects and disciplines to create, to invent, beauty and efficiencies and new forms of art.  His mind was always imagining and fantasizing.

In the Leonardo da Vinci birthday post, we suggested and put forward for consideration just how magnificent would Leonardo have been as a designer of tradeshow exhibits.  

Yes … for sure … exhibits that Leonardo designed would have incorporated his vast intellectual library, all his areas of study and interest and invention, and applied the knowledge and inspiration to design and create remarkable, stunning show exhibits.

May 2 of this year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo. In commemoration, events are being held across Europe. Clicking here takes you to a story, “Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of Leonardo: The death of the Italian Renaissance master is being marked by exhibitions and tours in 2019.,” by Nora Walsh, published in the New York Times on February 12.      

Now, while Leonardo da Vinci did not design tradeshow exhibits, he most certainly planned and produced exhibitions, theatrical performances, and plays … and designed and invented stage props and entire stage sets that drew immense awe and admiration for their beauty and majesty, and also for the mechanics and movement that Leonardo engineered into the props and sets.

Leonardo planned and directed theatrical scenes and the movement of actors.

Show business started for Leonardo in 1482, when he was 30 years old and in the service of the court of Ludivico Sforza, the Duke of Milan.  Leonardo had just arrived at the court after he, in search of a commission and income, pitched Duke Sforza on his ability to engineer buildings, bridges, waterways, and machines of war.

It was curious that da Vinci emphasized to the duke his engineering skills, for while he was a talented carpenter, he had also shown exceptional abilities in painting, sculpture, metalwork, and crafting of leather.

That the duke hired Leonardo was almost certainly owed in major part to the strong recommendation of Lorenzo de’ Medici , the de facto ruler of Milan and a powerful and wealthy sponsor of artists and the arts. 

Duke Sforza was not envisioning putting Leonardo da Vinci to work, at least not right away or primarily, as an engineer.

He planned to employ Leonardo talents and energies in the theater and dramatic arts.

Duke Sforza assigned Leonarda da Vinci a grand title, one that history would only make more fitting: The Arbiter of all Questions Relating to Beauty and Elegance, Especially in Pageantry.

Leonardo’s “initial role at the court was not building weapons but conjuring up festivals and pageants,” Walter Isaacson explained his brilliant biography Leonardo da Vinci  (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

Mr. Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci is, as explained at the Simon & Schuster website, “Based on thousands of pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work …. “

In his book, Mr. Isaacson gives considerable attention to Leonardo’s work with festivals and the dramatic arts.  This was work that Leonardo enjoyed and felt fulfilling, and also work that kept his patrons, Ludivico Sforza and Lorenzo de’ Medici, happy.

Actually, it is arguable that Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci revealed more and made more known about Leonardo’s work in and contributions to show business than has any single biographical treatment of the artist-inventor to date.

When talking about Leonardo’s development of dramatic special effects, Walter Isaacson invokes the images of the extravaganzas of light and sound and movement of Madonna and Lady Gaga performances.

On January 25, 2018, first broadcast was Leonardo da Vinci: Theater impresario, an episode of the Public Radio International (PRI) podcast series Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen.

In the podcast, Mr. Anderson talks with Walter Isaacson about Leonardo’s work in the theater, about his theater productions and creations, about what Mr. Anderson calls the “madcap show business part of da Vinci’s multifaceted genius life,” and how it influenced and improved his contributions in other disciplines.

“Kind of a day job for the painter of The Last Supper,” is how Mr. Anderson … mirthfully … describes Leonardo da Vinci’s work in the theater.  And of the link between that work and The Last Supper, Mr. Anderson then explains that “… it turns out that if Leonardo had never created those spectacles, the single most arresting visual aspect of that famous painting, the way that Jesus and his disciples are all one side of the table facing out, wouldn’t have been there.”

Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch of a revolving stage

In the podcast, Mr. Isaacson says that The Last Supper is “done as a theatrical stage set.  It’s almost like, okay, everybody get on this side of the table if you want to be in the picture.  Well, the place you would do that is on a stage, where you’d tilt the table, and it’s angled.”  

Leonardo da Vinci and show business and events and spectacles paid the bills early on. 

Before da Vinci’s The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, his Vitruvian Man and Aerial Screw, his anatomical studies and drawings and revolving bridge, his influence was found and manifest in the theater.

 “You didn’t get paid to invent flying machines, you got paid to make props for the stage,” said Mr. Isaacson.  “It wasn’t just he did it for the money. He loved the theater and you just see all these drawings in his notebooks.  One of the first, thee first drawing, I think, Leonardo does is a silverpoint of … beautiful ornate helmets and costumes.  And then you realize, well that was done for a pageant for the visit of an important duke.”

Leonardo employed his genius and eye for design in creating costumes, and, also, along with his genius for engineering and mechanics, in the designing of stage props and sets.

Among Leonardo’s theatrical work at the court of Ludivico Sforza was directing a play La Festa del Paradiso (Feast of Paradise).  For this production, as Walter Isaacson explained, Leonardo built machines and devices that had “people coming up from Hades, and flying down” and the “earth opening up.”

“He loved having things like a stage that was two hemispheres, and it would turn around mechanically in the middle of the performance.”

In discussing Leonardo da Vinci’s work in show business, Mr. Isaacson corrects a long-held misconception.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Aerial Screw

“That helicopter; that famous drawing he has, it looks like an aerial screw, and everyone says it’s the first helicopter. What surprised me is when I looked in the notebooks, it was part of the props to bring angels down from the rafters in a play.”

Perhaps later in life, Leonardo may have considered how that aerial screw could be adapted and fashioned to fly. Actually, we are sure of it.

This is what Leonardo da Vinci did: he was multidisciplinary and multi-genius.

It must have been truly awe-inspiring and a privilege to witness a dramatic performance that Leonardo da Vinci helped create.  

Willwork Global Event Services hopes that the study, inquiry, and interest will grow in the ways that Leonardo da Vinci brought his genius to the performing arts – and … yes … to the business of exhibitions and events.

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