A Middle East first: Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus goes on display in Saudi Arabia

Pages from the inventor’s largest and most notable notebook are being exhibited in Dammam

A visitor watches Leonardo da Vinci's "Study for a hydraulic pump, man with a perspectograph (Codex Atlanticus)" during the exhibition "Science Before Science" (La Scienza prima della Scienza) on March 12, 2019 at the Scuderie del Quirinale palace in Rome. / AFP / Alberto PIZZOLI
Powered by automated translation

For the first time in the region, art lovers and history buffs have the opportunity to see six sheets from Leonardo da Vinci's famed Codex Atlanticus, now displayed in Saudi Arabia.

The Italian polymath’s 12-volume, 1,119-page, bound set of drawings and writings is on loan from the Biblioteca Ambrosiana of Milan, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The Codex Atlanticus is an extraordinary collection of illustrations and writings prepared by Leonardo, which demonstrates the depth and richness of his work.

The notebook covers a wide variety of subjects and interests, from mathematics to music, urban planning to botany, and flight to weaponry.

The selected sheets are on show at the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture in Dammam, as part of an exhibition called Through Time and Space, which focuses on the theme of energy.

The papers depict Leonardo’s exploration and study of instruments and tools related to fire and water; opposing elements each as essential to life as the other.

The exhibition, which opens to the public tomorrow and will run until April 14, also marks the 500th anniversary of the great inventor and artist’s death.

Scholars at the Bibleoteca Ambrosiana in Milan, Italy examine geometric designs in the 1200 page Codex Atlanticus of Leonard da Vinci. | Location: Bibleoteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy.  (Photo by James L. Amos/Corbis via Getty Images)

A 1,400 year journey, beginning with wisdom of Arabian Golden Age

The exhibition takes visitors through a 1,400-year journey that begins with the wisdom of the Arabian Golden Age, through Leonardo’s era, and up until present day.

It has been curated by Marcello Smarrelli of Italy. At the entrance of the Great Hall, there is a 30-screen, 20-metre-long video projection that depicts a theoretical path characterising the Golden Age.

Renowned French architect Philippe Rahm has also contributed to the exhibition, inviting visitors to enter a mysterious universe he has created with two suspended spheres, both five metres in diameter, depicting the Sun and the Moon.

It is meant to conjure the atmosphere of a planetarium, and visitors can test their strength, feel the heat and cold and hear the sounds that emanate from these structures, which were created in Dubai.

The exhibition ends with a book, Meteorological Constructions by Rahm, and a video interview with the architect, as he highlights a research method first invented by Leonardo.

“The element that links art to science is the action of looking, the sense of sight,” Smarrelli says. “Leonardo and Rahm both start from the observation of reality to understand phenomena.

"Both used to write, through drawings and written texts, studies and reflections, keeping notebooks that are configured as real artist books.

“In the same way Leonardo da Vinci must find new techniques and means to give shape to his theories, such as the conception of machines for flight or atmospherical painting, for which he invents the nuanced, the chiaroscuro, that was not used before, even Rahm must create new technical tools for his new conception of architecture.”