It’s hard to say what Leonardo da Vinci, born more than 560 years ago, would have thought about a gift shop thousands of miles from his home in Italy, filled with mugs bearing the image of his “Mona Lisa” or throw pillows emblazoned with what is believed to be his self-portrait.
But Da Vinci – an artist, inventor, sculptor, architect and musician, among his many professions – knew his fair share of fame during his lifetime in the 15th and 16th centuries.
“People loved being around him,” said Margie Marino, director of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. “He was like a rock star in his day.”
Albuquerqueans may be the most recent additions to Da Vinci’s fan club, as the museum on Saturday celebrated the opening of a highly anticipated exhibition, displaying reproductions of his artwork and life-size models of his inventions detailed in hundreds of journals.
Dozens of visitors of all ages showed up at 9 a.m. to be among the first to see the two-part exhibit, titled “Da Vinci – The Genius.”
On the first floor, the exhibition focuses on Da Vinci’s artwork, especially the iconic “Mona Lisa.”
Imaging tools have allowed researchers to look at every detail of the painting’s surface – and previous renditions underneath.
“He couldn’t leave it alone,” Marino said. “He was always trying to perfect her.”
Marino said it was common for Da Vinci to work that way, since it seemed he was more interested in the process of creating art rather than the finished product.
One of the large displays shows a barely recognizable version of the Mona Lisa, found in a lower layer, that most people have never seen.
Large, high-resolution photographs of every aspect of the painting, including her famous smile, are hung throughout the room.
Reproductions of “St. John the Baptist,” “Lady with an Ermine,” “Portrait of a Musician” and several other works are also on display.
“I’ve been through so many different art classes, but actually seeing them right there is way better than seeing them in a book,” said Tasha Becker of Albuquerque, a photographer.
Upstairs are dozens of Da Vinci’s inventions, brought to life from the pages of his journals.
From a bicycle to a military tank to a model of Da Vinci’s “ideal city,” one is struck by the vastness of his interests and knowledge.
Though most of his inventions were never widely used, they often inspired later ones that were.
“I heard some engineers … looking at the models going, ‘Well, we can see why that didn’t work,’ ” Marino said with a laugh.
Marino said more recent research has indicated that some of his inventions were meant to be more theatrical than utilitarian.
He may have even intentionally included flaws in the designs to deter plagiarists, she said.
Dakota White, 14, was especially taken by the military portion of Da Vinci’s work, which included body armor and chariots equipped with whirling scythes.
“I thought the military stuff was awesome, because a lot of people didn’t start thinking about that stuff until later on,” he said.
Regis and Elena Delmontagne traveled from the Washington, D.C., area to see the exhibition.
The pair recently saw an exhibition of the work of a Da Vinci contemporary – and bitter rival – Michelangelo at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“I’m not sure this will ever be duplicated,” Regis Delmontagne said. “Two of the greatest minds on earth were working at the same time.”
Marino said she hopes the exhibition will serve as an inspiration for today’s young people who are “always being managed.”
“There was just nothing that didn’t spark his interest. If he wanted to learn how to fly like the birds, he studied the birds. When he wanted to understand geology, he studied landscape,” she said. “He had a heightened awareness of everything around him. It’s a real lesson for us today where we get distracted all the time.”