- On 16 October 2019
Florence, Santa Maria Novella complex from 13 September 2019 to 15 December 2019
Curators: Fritjof Capra, Stefano Mancuso and Valentino Mercati.
The exhibit is sponsored by the Municipality of Florence, created and produced by Aboca with scientific coordination and organisation by MUS.E.
Come, oh men, to see the miracles(Leonardo da Vinci, Madrid Codex I, f.6r)
that such studies will disclose to nature.
da Vinci’s studies and intuitions on the forms and structures of the plant
at the centre of an exhibition in the heart of Florence.
journey through original sheets, natural elements and interactive installations
that become an opportunity for reflecting on scientific evolution and environmental sustainability.
At the end of the celebrations for Leonardo da Vinci, The Botany of Leonardo opens on Friday September 13th in Florence, a major exhibition that explores Leonardo da Vinci’s botanical studies, little known despite the immense fame of the Tuscan genius. And even more importantly, it takes a closer look at his “universal” scientific thoughts, so full of implications for our modern times forced to profoundly rethink the relationship between humans and nature.
Original tables, interactive installations and real plants create a fascinating programme through the intuitions and innovations of “systemic” thinking, able to combine art and science, and to look at life and nature (including humans) as a single entity where everything is connected and everything is moving.
The exhibition, set up in the evocative spaces of the monumental Santa Maria Novella complex, in the former Dormitory and Great Cloister, illustrates and explores Leonardo’s botanical discoveries (for example, he was the one that understood the connection between rings in the trunk and the age of the tree), and it takes us through the extraordinary sequence of his drawings of details, leaves and plants. Above all, it shows and demonstrates how art and science were inseparable for Leonardo: scientific knowledge is never just descriptive, painting is never just aesthetic. In a “systemic” vision where they wondered – and we continue to wonder centuries later – about the complex system of relationships between humans and nature.
This thought was also translated in the set-up of the exhibition, which opens in the Great Cloister with five monumental uniform polyhedrons, drawn by Leonardo for the “De Divina Proportione” manuscript by Luca Pacioli, symbols not just of harmony and formal perfection but also the complexity and mystery of the world. This is accompanied by a parade of real plants selected from those drawn or quoted by Leonardo in his writings, which are interwoven into an introduction of Florence’s philosophical, artistic and technical renaissance in the second half of the 15th century. This is an opportunity for illustrating the complexity of Leonardo’s thinking compared to the alchemical processes and techniques, which explores the great possibilities of “being in nature”. The inside of the exhibition continues with a leap into the magic world of trees, leaves and stories that evoke, in a play between real and virtual, Leonardo’s decoration of the Sala delle Asse (the room of the wooden boards) in Milan. The exhibition continues in the former Dormitory, structured as a “plant organism”, with various sections: digital and multimedia language is a constant underlying feature, which offers the possibility of appreciating Leonardo’s work in a spectacular manner – his drawings, his paintings and his writings – and to experience his important intuitions in the field of botany from an interactive and contemporary standpoint. This is where his studies on dendrochronology become an opportunity for experiencing the history of humanity and its great events by following the rings of trees; those on phototropism or geotropism offer a surprising live opportunity to understand how nature adapts to and dialogues with the environment; the rules of phyllotaxis and continuity of flows inside a tree (not called “Leonardo’s” rule by chance): and the plant anatomy intellectualised by Leonardo, able to understand and render the most minute details of a flower, a branch or a leaf, is proposed in the dialogue with contemporary works, while the marvellous botanical details included in his famous paintings – so realistic they can be defined “portraits of plants” – are offered for public viewing to initiate a path in reverse on the origin of the plant pigments used.The programme, featuring three priceless original sheets of the Codex Atlanticus of the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana (f.197v, f.663r, f.713r), ends with a reworking of the famous “Vitruvian Man”, which becomes the impetus for reflecting on the balance between humans and nature, and with the extraordinary installation dedicated to the connections between all the elements of the living system, well-known to Leonardo and now often forgotten.
“Florence has paid homage to the genius from Vinci in recent months with various exhibitions that have looked into a series of viewpoints” stated Mayor Dario Nardella, “The Uffizi has brought the Codex Leicester back to the city; Palazzo Strozzi has dedicated the main exhibition of the year to Leonardo’s teacher Verrocchio; And Palazzo Vecchio studied the Leopardo’s link with Florence, the city, more than any other, where he learned and created masterpieces with a selection of Codex Atlanticus sheets. We are closing this year dedicated to Leonardo looking at another aspect, his extraordinary intuitions in the history of botany, generated by his sharp spirit of observation and his continuous experiments, that underline a dynamic vision of science, full of food for thought for our time”.
“Rethinking Leonardo now as a systemic thinker, who contributed a profound knowledge of the natural world, and the relationships between all forms of life”, said Massimo Mercati, chief executive officer of Aboca, “is a universal way to refocus attention on the properties of natural complexes and to scientifically confirm what was just an intuition for the genius”.
“We are happy to have been able to contribute to such an ambitious and visionary project,” confirmed Matteo Spanò, President of MUS.E, “a truly captivating exhibition that combines numerous languages and ways of interpreting it. A very priceless opportunity for presenting to the public a little known aspect of Leonardo’s thinking and for stimulating a change of pace in the way of perceiving the relationship between humans, the environment and the entire planet”
The exhibition curators are Stefano Mancuso, one of the top authorities in the world in the field of plant neurobiology; Fritjof Capra, physicist and theorist and Leonardo da Vinci scholar; and Valentino Mercati, founder and president of Aboca.
The scientific coordinator is Valentina Zucchi, MUS.E. Organisation is by Aboca and MUS.E.
The Botany of Leonardowas created and produced by Aboca, a Tuscan healthcare company that has been active in the healthcare field for more than forty years with 100% natural products that respect the body and environment. Aboca is a benefit corporation, constantly committed to the common good.
The events, guided tours and activities.
At the time of the inauguration and during the entire period of the exhibition a programme of meetings will be offered to study Leonardo’s thinking from a contemporary viewpoint. The calendar features many appointments in Florence and various cities in Italy, where scholars and philosophers (among others Giulio Giorello and Massimo Recalcati) will reflect together on the extraordinary work of Leonardo da Vinci, combining the systemic thinking he suggested five hundred years ago with today’s knowledge.
The exhibition also offers other ways for becoming familiar with Leonardo, for everyone, families and children: Leonardo Botanical Walks, around Florence with Aboca botanists to look for “Leonardo” plants that still live and withstand the cement and asphalt, as well as educational workshops – Leonardo did all sorts of them – to let children learn about his soul as a great experimenter.
Guided tours will be available daily in Italian and English for the entire duration of the exhibition, and for individuals (Mon.-Tues.-Wed.-Thurs.-Sat. 10:30 am and 12:00 pm; Fri.-Sun. 2:30 pm and 4:00 pm) and for schools, organised by MUS.E.
To see the complete calendar of events and procedures for participating in all activities see the websitess://www.labotanicadileonardo.it/eventi-a-firenze/.
THE BOTANY OF LEONARDO. A vision of science bridging art and nature.
13 September – 15 December 2019
Santa Maria Novella complex, double entrance Piazza della Stazione 4 / Piazza Santa Maria Novella (Basilica)
Combined ticket Exhibit + Santa Maria Novella complex
Full price €10.00 – Discounted price €7.50 (11-18 year olds)
Free for residents of the Municipality of Florence (an identity document is required) and children under 11.
Guided tours available in Italian and English, with reservations
Full price €5.00
Discounted price €2.50 (residents of the Metropolitan City of Florence)
From Monday to Thursday: 9:00 – 19:00
Friday: 11:00 – 19:00
Saturday: 09:00 – 17:30
Sunday: 12:00 – 17:30
October – December
From Monday to Thursday: 9:00 – 17:30
Friday: 11:00 – 17:30
Saturday: 09:00 – 17:30
Sunday: 13:00 – 17:30
Last entrance and ticket office closing 45 minutes before closing time.
Saturday and day before religious holidays: 9.00 – 17.30
Sunday and religious holidays: 13.00 – 17.30
INFORMATION AND TOUR RESERVATIONS:
+39 055 2768558 / +39 055 2768224
From Monday to Saturday 9.30-13.00 and 14.00 -17.00, Sunday and holidays 9.30-12.30
Tel. +39 055 2616788
From Monday to Friday 9.30-13.00 / 14.00-16.30
“Nature has so placed the leaves of the latest shoots of many plants that the sixth leaf is always above the first, and so on in succession, if the rule is not interfered with.”
Ms. G, f.16v
From the marvellous drawings of Windsor to the delicate sketches in his notebooks, from the notes on botanical morphology and physiology to the specific writings in his Treatise on Painting, from the accurate depiction in his paintings to the reflections compared between various living species, Leonardo left us numerous traces of his interest in plants and they offer a completely new viewpoint both on his thoughts and his legacy.
Leonardo conducted many, many studies on the plant world over the course of his life and they reflect his personal scientific approach; an approach so that a careful observation of the shapes and experimental verification of the data are interwoven with studies on the structures, processes, patterns and models of growth, in an attempt to identify certain, but also uniform, rules or differences between the various species or different environments. Leonardo studied both the organic shapes and patterns of plants as well as the metabolism and growth processes, heralding important intuitions in the field of botany in both the field of morphology and physiology. His noteworthy observations include: phyllotaxis, i.e. the set of rules that guide the arrangement of leaves on a plant stem; the flows of the humerus, the vital sap that nourishes them, distributed based on a law of continuity that does not take the name “Leonardo’s rule” by chance; the geotropism and phototropism, phenomena that study how a plant responds to the laws or gravity and the presence of light; dendrochronology and dendroclimatology, that correlate the number and characteristics of the growth rings of a tree to the chronological time and atmosphere.
“If painting itself embraces all forms of nature.” (Cod. Urb. Lat. 1270, f.8v).
Leonardo da Vinci had an extraordinary capacity for observation and visual memory. He was able to draw complex vortices in turbulent water, rapid movements of a bird and the shape and growth of plants. He was very aware of this exceptional talent and considered the eye as his principle instrument, both as a painter and scientist. Leonardo’s approach to scientific knowledge was visual. Leonardo repeatedly underlined the close connection between artistic depiction of natural forms and the intellectual understanding of their interior nature and underlying principles. For Leonardo drawing was the ideal means for expressing his conceptual models, a perfect “mathematics” for his science of organic forms. Painting for Leonardo was the highest synthesis between art and science, a science of natural forms, i.e. a science of qualities, far from the future mechanical science of Galileo Galilei, René Descartes and Isaac Newton.
The exhibit offers a new opportunity for understanding the knowledge of Leonardo’s eye and hand in relation to the plant world, that he carefully observes, analysing every single detail resulting in the truth of an absolutely realistic depiction. Leonardo renounced the stereotypical depictions for visually describing plants, leaves, flowers and fruit how they are. His works, very high artistic expressions and together instruments for scientific investigation, show us why his science cannot be understood without his art, nor his art without his science.
“[…] I first arrange several experiments, and then show with reasons why such an experiment must necessarily operate in this and in no other way; and this is the method which must be followed in all research upon the phenomenon of nature.”
Ms. E, f.55r
Science in the modern sense of the word, i.e. an empirical method for acquiring knowledge on the natural world, did not exist in Renaissance Florence. The knowledge of natural phenomena was still highly based on studies by the ancients – first of all of them, Aristotle – and medieval studies. Leonardo radically innovated this tradition.
One hundred years before Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon, Leonardo developed an empirical approach, that included systematic observance of nature, reasoning and mathematics, i.e. the characteristic principles of what we now call the scientific method.
Leonardo’s science is a science of living forms, continuously modelled and transformed by innate processes. For his entire life he observed, studied and depicted the earth’s rocks and sediments that had been moulded by time; the form and growth of plants, shaped by their metabolism; the anatomy of animals and humans in their dynamism and their evolution. He tried to understand the nature of life at the deepest level: a nature of life that today, after having been defined in terms of cells and molecules, is being studied once again in terms of transformation processes and organisation models.
Leonardo even studied alchemical processes as a new science to be conducted within the laws of nature. Scorning those who tried in vain to replace him or break his laws, Leonardo asks us to learn about and test the alchemy techniques “being in nature”: humans, in relation to the foundations of nature and their infinite varieties, can work for the combination and development of its processes thanks to their own instruments, achieving useful and effective results (the thinking of Paracelsus, 1493-1541, is the opposite and can be linked to the beginning of reductionism).
“So when we say that the earth has a spirit of growth, and that its flesh is the soil; its bones are the successive strata of the rocks which form the mountains; its cartilage is the tufa stone; its blood the veins of its water; the lake of the blood that lies around the heart is the ocean; its breathing […] is the ebb and flow of the sea; and the vital heat of the world is fire which is spread throughout the earth[…]”
Codex Leicester, f.34r
Leonardo da Vinci was that which current scientific language would call a systemic thinker. Understanding a phenomenon meant for him making a connection with other phenomenon through a similarity of patterns.
The observation and study of the plant world are part of a general and systemic reflection. For Leonardo, nature as a whole was a living entity, with similarities between processes, structures and patterns. The manifestations of the natural world, today studied in the separate sciences of geology, biology, fluid dynamics, botany and ecology, are threads of a single cloth in his thinking, with profound analogies with the human body.
Leonardo did not study the infinite possibilities of science and techniques to dominate nature. Even if he did not always understand its mechanisms and reasons, he had a deep respect for its complexity and remained always convinced that the intelligence of nature was superior to that of humans and intuited the wisdom that lies in respecting nature and learning from it. This is a profound ecology, that considers the world interconnected and interdependent, recognising the intrinsic value of all living beings.
This is why Leonardo’s legacy is even more relevant today: if our sciences and our technologies have incredibly narrowed their areas of research and action, Leonardo asks us to recover an interdisciplinary viewpoint, to look at all the facets of nature in a unitary form, and to acquire an attitude that looks at the whole: in short, to “become universal”.
What we need know is exactly the thinking that Leonardo da Vinci underlined five hundred years ago.
One of Leonardo’s most famous drawings depicts the human body harmoniously drawn inside a circle and a square. Leonardo rediscovered the study of proportions created by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio during the Classic age focussing on relations measured in the natural world, in this case represented by the human being.
The symbol of the exhibition – a dodecahedron with a mulberry tree drawn inside – plays with the idea that the tree takes the place of man in the centre of natural harmony. The Mulberry (Morus Alba L.) is one of Leonardo’s best-loved plants, which he depicted, as the sole subject, in the Sala delle Asse of Castello Sforzesco in Milan.
Other than a series of complementary events, “The Botany of Leonardo” involves the city of Florence with the installation in the Great Cloister of Santa Maria Novella and in some other city squares of five geometric solids which in the visions of the ancient Greeks and Neoplatonists represented the elements of the universe: the cube for the earth, icosahedron for water, octahedron for air, tetrahedron for fire, and precisely the dodecahedron as the synthesis and symbol of the entire universe. Leonardo designed the polyhedra for Luca Pacioli’s manuscript De Divina Proportione. Thanks to this fruitful familiarity Leonardo developed profound reflections on arithmetic, proportions and Euclidean geometry, constructive elements in the world, based on a systemic vision that interweaves science, philosophy and art.
Thus these uniform solids still serve as symbols not just of harmony and formal perfection but also of the complexity and mystery of the universe and, thus, of our knowledge.
Aboca and Leonardo
The relationship between humans and nature is a focal point of Leonardo’s studies as it is in the research Aboca has always carried out. Aboca was founded more than forty years ago with the project to understand medicinal plants and study the scientific bases for their use for human health and completely respecting the environment.
Aboca’s thinking is based on the understanding of a symbiosis which revolves around the system of relationships between humans and the environment. The same thinking is surprisingly found in Leonardo’s work that, more than 500 years ago, posed the same questions outlining a path that still seems coherent and current.
Leonardo tried to understand the nature of life: a nature that today, after having been defined in terms of single elements, cells and molecules, is once again being studied by looking at its transformation processes and organisation patterns. This is what Leonardo explored during his life, curious and enthralled by the infinite variety and diversity of living things. For this reason his botany became the most concrete example of research which, by bridging art and nature, lays the foundations for a new science of qualities, where intuitions take shape still able to open a new path for the progress of humanity.
Leonardo’s systemic vision, thanks to the evolution of scientific research and possibilities offered by new technologies, becomes a priceless element for observing and reinterpreting our contemporary period and helps us to become aware of the place of humans in the world and the great opportunities of a new way of considering the relationship between science and nature and in particular our health.
The principles of systems biology and “systems medicine” explain how the human body is a complex network of relationships between organs, cells and molecules, interconnected with each other and with the environment. This complexity finds a correspondence in the complexity of nature and for this reason we can find answers to our ailments in nature. Indeed, only complex substances can respond to the body’s complex needs and respect our physiology and the environment where we live. Thus for Aboca, reinterpreting Leonardo as a systemic and ecological thinker in Florence, a person with a profound respect for nature, for all forms of life and relationships between them, means giving life to a new Renaissance where humans are still the protagonist but they do not dominate, instead they are part of a harmonious universe aimed at a truly sustainable development.