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Dalí and da Vinci:great minds, separated by 5 Centuries

Here is Mackenzie Patel posing with stand-ups of Dal? and da Vinci. She is a teen docent at the museum.
Here is Mackenzie Patel posing with stand-ups of Dal? and da Vinci. She is a teen docent at the museum.
Published May 13, 2015

It's quite the startling affair to witness a Renaissance image of Leonardo da Vinci, the one with his voluptuous locks and thoughtful expression, mixed with the pointed mustache and absurdly wide eyes of Salvador Dalí. Although the two artists may seem on opposite sides of the spectrum, they have more in common than what one might posit.

Da Vinci was the epitome of rational thinking, with math theorems, studies of the human body and impossible machine designs that were beyond his time overflowing from his mind. Dalí was the maverick surrealist that sexualized bread, believed melting cheese resembled fluid clocks and had multiple love affairs with men and women.

Calm versus hyper. Pensive humanist versus obnoxious egotist. The list of disparities could morph into a never-ending stream of differences, but that is not the objective of the "Dalí & da Vinci: Minds, Machines and Masterpieces" show that is on display at the Dalí Museum in downtown St. Petersburg. Fresh off the high of the Picasso, Warhol, and Marvels of Illusion show, this unconventional museum brings yet another highly anticipated and insightful exhibition to the art world.

Da Vinci was a Renaissance prodigy during the 15th and 16th centuries, but his knack for science, religion and new ideas resonated with Dalí (born in 1904). When one enters the gallery, the setup that meets the eye is surprisingly similar to that of the recent Picasso / Dalí, Dalí / Picasso show; a portrait of da Vinci hangs next to one of Dalí, their faces different but their inherent eccentricities strikingly similar. The gallery contains more than 75 works, most of which are print reproductions of da Vinci works and images by Dalí that contain a similar idea or central point. For example, the viewer first encounters a strange photograph of a nude Dalí crouched like a fetus inside a small egg; the image beside it is a sketch by da Vinci detailing a human fetus inside the womb.

There are no actual sketches by da Vinci because those priceless works, many of which are in Europe, are too delicate and revered to travel thousands of miles. Having a real da Vinci would have made the exhibition immensely better, but the paneled prints were sufficient enough to reveal the connection between two brilliant minds separated by centuries.

Calm and colored with cool hues of gray and blue, the next room beckons to the patrons' inner love of rational art by displaying The Last Supper by da Vinci. This massive print, only a few feet shorter than the original one hanging in Milan, instantly mesmerizes the viewer with its linear perspective, psychological reactions of the disciples and the peaceful, almost morose expression on Jesus' face.

On the wall next to this larger than life work is a print reproduction of Dali's version of The Last Supper. Officially named The Sacrament of the Last Supper and finished in 1955, this painting is markedly different than da Vinci's. The disciples' faces are hidden, the rather undefined chest of God rises above the scene like an awkward movie poster background and the face of Jesus resembles an ethereal elf in Lord of the Rings. However, the geometry and mathematical precision directly borrow from da Vinci, as well as the hues of blue.

The exhibition continues with religious and mythological works by da Vinci paired with similar ones by Dali. Both artists had a strange fascination with birds. Portrait of my Dead Brother by Dalí was placed in this gallery next to a print of The Virgin and Child With St. Anne by da Vinci (c.1510). Dalí's image contains a rather foreboding vulture at the top of the morbid scene, while a bird is purportedly hidden within the elegant clothing folds of the Virgin in the da Vinci work. Although it was a stretch using Freudian analysis with da Vinci, it was still entertaining to think that unconscious dreams inspired some of the genius of the Renaissance prodigy.

Beside wacky models of da Vinci sketches and a mannequin aquarium, the most unsettling installation was a makeshift room featuring The Venus de Milo With Drawers, a surreal sculpture crafted by Dalí in 1936.

As if the figure wasn't bizarre enough (Venus has drawers coming out of her body with pompoms for handles), the room she graced pulsated with warm and cool colors and let out extremely suggestive sighs every couple of seconds. The disconcerting conditions were made to make the viewer feel as if he or she was within the living, breathing body of Venus herself. It is extremely creepy. Nonetheless, it is definitely an experience one won't easily forget.

Although this show wasn't as thrilling or "high art" as the Picasso or Warhol shows, it is worth seeing merely because most people do not think Dalí and da Vinci are heavily related. However, Dalí was highly influenced by da Vinci and even appropriated the mastermind's sketches into his own paintings (look out for Enchanted Beach with Three Fluid Graces by Dalí). Da Vinci was probably more mentally balanced and classier than Dalí, but their aptitude for science, innovation, and religion connects them in ways not examined before.