By Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leonardo Da Vinci's sketch for the background of his
painting, "Adoration of the Magi," will be displayed publicly outside of his
native Italy for the first time on Thursday at the Library of Congress.
Measuring only 6 inches (163 mm) by 11 inches (290 mm), the sketch gives
clues to how the 15th-century artist used his mathematics expertise to compose
the entire 9-foot painting on wood.
Da Vinci created a grid of precisely drawn lines using a ruler marked in
millimeters, a pointed stylus and very fine threads. The resulting sketch looks
like an architectural blueprint haunted by ghostly depictions of clashing
soldiers and straining temple workers.
Da Vinci, who is as famous for his thoughts on physics as his work in fine
arts, applied science to art in this sketch, said Stephen Bryen, president of
Fiemeccanica, the aerospace company sponsoring the brief, two-day exhibit.
"What struck me when I first saw it was, well I couldn't figure out how he
did it," said Bryen. "It's tiny. When you get right up against it and look at
it, the precision is stunning."
"Adoration of the Magi," stored in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, has fired
up passions in the art world recently, after conservator Maurizio Seracini found
that Da Vinci may have begun the painting in 1481 but another artist finished
"The monks waited 15 years hoping for Leonardo to come back," Seracini said
about the San Donato monastery that commissioned the painting, only to have da
Vinci leave to work for Ludovico Sforza. They finally asked artist Filippino
Lippi to finish the piece, and Seracini found Da Vinci's original work under
In the painting's foreground the baby Jesus greets the "wise men" the Bible
says were led to him by a star. The background contains symbols of Christian
struggles, such as a new church being built above the ruins of a pagan
The sketch, also kept at the Uffizi, diverges from the painting in many ways,
said Seracini. Near the sketch's top are markings for a large tent that would
have wrapped around the scene to symbolize the universal importance of the new
religion, but the painting does not show a tent. In the sketch, men have
gathered on a balcony and stairs, but they are gone from the painting.
These differences help show how one of art's masters approached the task of
painting and envisioned his work, he said.
© Reuters 2006. All