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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat eye-opening...albeit in a negative way, May 4, 2012
This review is from: Da Vinci and the Code He Lived By (History Channel) (DVD)
This is a competent program, covering Da Vinci's life from birth to death. There's very little mystery inherent in the coverage of his life - he starts as a frustrated artist, and ends life pretty much the same, albeit with accolades (his role as court artist for Henry of France was largely ceremonial, and Da Vinci was apparently quite frustrated that he was not able to work as much as he would have liked, both due to limitations of his responsibilities and his advanced age). The program serves to demystify much of the current cult surrounding him. He was a humble man - albeit a brilliant and talented artists and engineer - and there is no evidence presented that he in any way participated in many of the secrets ascribed to him in more modern days.
There are dramatic recreations at various points in Da Vinci's life. Personally, I could take or leave them, and I found the heavy modern Italian accents on the English used a bit patronizing. Regardless, one gathers that the History Channel felt they were necessary to maintain viewer interest.
Frustratingly, I have long believed the popular myth that Da Vinci was a man hundreds of years ahead of his time as a scientist and inventor - part of the modern cult of Da Vinci. While this documentary certainly does show him to be a brilliant artist and competent engineer, it goes far to set the record straight, perhaps unintentionally, that the man was no savant in the area of so-called ground-breaking inventions. His "inventions" were, for the most part, already extant in some form or another. Da Vinci's contribution seemed largely to make the item bigger. Much, much bigger. Da Vinci did not "invent" the helicopter, for example - he took a child's toy of the day, made it bigger, and put hand cranks on it so it could be turned by men riding it (practicalities aside).
Even his engineering brilliance is inadvertently put into question marks. When building the bronze statue for Sforza of Milan - planned as the largest of its day, and never actually developed beyond a full-sized clay model prototype - one commentator mentions that, had it actually been produced, Da Vinci could have been responsible for explosions and minor devastation due to the proximity of the water table to the surface during the casting. The commentator seems to regard this as Da Vinci pushing the boundaries of the possible. Another read would be complete ignorance of the potential consequences.
While an exemplary artist and keen observer beyond question, he also seems to be more enamored of the process than of achieving results. His "Last Supper", for example, was painted in an experimental way that severely impeded its longevity. It was a technique he is only mentioned as using once - probably since the result wouldn't even survive his own lifetime due to the technique in question. He was, undeniably, a keen observer. His paintings show a contrast in light and shadow unprecedented in his day, and his anatomical reproductions reflect a level of detail only someone with an artist's eye could possibly produce.
Interestingly, there is a small amount of detail on the rivalry between Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Apparently the two detested one another.
Irrespective of my now changed view of the man, the documentary is a good one - perhaps best illustrated by the fact that I have changed my view of him as a result. There is much information here I have not heard before, presented in easily digested form.
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