What do you think makes the Da Vinci exhibit (through Aug. 25) so popular?
“There are Leonardo exhibits traveling all over the place all the time; I think the difference with this one is the addition of enhancements that we do so well. We are known in the museum world for taking a great exhibition like this one and making it fantastic. First, we add historical reenactors: seven professional actors who have developed characters from Renaissance Italy who would have known Leonardo and stroll the floor engaging people about that era. We also added interactive exhibits, including catapults that people can experiment with, a scale model of Leonardo’s self-standing bridge that people can build, and a drawing exercise in which visitors can use a mirror to outline their faces.”
What are your favorite stops in the exhibit?
“I still think that Leonardo’s paintings are the most impressive. I’m not an art historian, but if you look at what Leonardo was able to do with paint and brushes, it’s nothing short of remarkable. And his anatomical drawings are arguably his greatest contribution to science. He was dissecting human bodies at night, hiding from the authorities and using no preservatives, no safety equipment, and no drainage in his labs. It would have been miserable, and the anatomical drawings he created can still be used for teaching today—they are that accurate and precise.”
What did you learn about Leonardo that you didn’t know before?
“For me, as an anthropologist, I always look at the human side, even of geniuses like him. They are people, just like you and me, who get up in the morning and have to go to work. The context in which Leonardo worked was not a pleasant time: The plague came into Italy two or three times, taking out 30 percent of the population. The day-to-day grind was arduous, and that makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable.”