Augustana marks 500 years since Leonardo Da Vinci's death

The quintessential "Renaissance Man" embodied the idea that disciplines in both the arts and sciences include valid methods of studying and learning about the world-a belief that Augustana Campus holds as well.

Tia Lalani - 26 November 2019

By Andrea Korda

One of the events Augustana has held to mark 500 years since Da Vinci's death: Bodies of Data by Marilène Oliver. Oliver's exhibit draws on current medical imaging technologies to reconsider what we know about our bodies.


When Leonardo da Vinci passed away in 1519, he left behind a large number of notes and drawings. These collected papers, now commonly known as Leonardo's Notebooks, include an impressive range of subjects. Sketches for religious paintings sit alongside hypothetical flying machines and botanical and anatomical sketches based on firsthand observation. Together, these sketches provide a portrait of Leonardo as a quintessential "Renaissance Man," someone whose expertise and interests cut across many different areas, and particularly across the arts and sciences.

Five hundred years later, Leonardo's diverse range of interests seems uniquely impressive, but it is important to keep in mind that 15th- and 16th-century men and women like Leonardo da Vinci did not understand "arts" and "sciences" in the same ways that we do today. The activities that we understand to make up these two categories-drawing and painting, mixing colours, observing, dissecting and calculating-were not divided into discrete disciplinary areas but were all valid methods of studying and learning about the world.

This kind of inquiry is precisely what we want our students at Augustana to pursue, and so we have decided to mark these 500 years since Leonardo's death with a series of events that celebrate Leonardo's legacy.

Our first event is an art exhibition, now on display at the Augustana Campus Library until December 2, featuring the work of internationally-recognized artist Marilène Oliver. Much like Leonardo, who once used the most cutting-edge methods to learn about the human body (in his time, dissections of human corpses), Oliver draws on current medical imaging technologies, such as MRI and CT scans, in order to reconsider what we know about our bodies. Oliver translates these scientific scans into visually stunning sculptures made from a variety of materials, including intricate beadwork, laser-cut masonite, rubber and glass. The resulting artworks prompt us to contemplate the different, though complementary, ways that artists and scientists can help us understand our bodies.

The next event, which took place on November 19, featured Pamela Brett-MacLean, PhD, Director of the Arts & Humanities in Health & Medicine (AHHM) Program at the University of Alberta. The AHHM Program was established in 2006, and its successes over the past 13 years demonstrate that disregarding traditional disciplinary divisions, such as those marking the boundaries between arts and sciences, can result in meaningful learning experiences and innovative practices.

Finally, at 4 pm on December 4, we are hosting Filomena Calabrese, PhD, in the Wahkohtowin Lodge for a talk on Leonardo's Literary Writings. We are excited about hosting these talented women, each of whom embodies the notion of the "Renaissance Man," while also undermining some of its assumptions-that such a figure would need to be a man, for starters.

At Augustana, we aim to help our students embody this notion as well, and we are currently implementing a new curriculum that will help us to do so. As of now, we have approved three innovative multidisciplinary programs of study: Law, Crime and Justice Studies; Ethics and Global Studies; and Creativity and Culture. In addition, we have developed a new core curriculum that places project-based learning at the forefront of the student educational experience. Project-based learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by engaging in the investigation of real-world issues and problems and providing meaningful solutions.

These updated programs and core will emphasize learning through direct experience, much like Leonardo did, while also encouraging our students to embrace a range of methods for learning about the world so that they too can move beyond traditional divisions between the arts and sciences, becoming well-rounded, innovative and flexible thinkers prepared to contribute to rapidly changing economies and communities.

Andrea Korda, Art History, Augustana Campus, University of Alberta. This column was originally published in the Camrose Booster on Tuesday, November 19, 2019.