The divine Leonardo da Vinci: Art historian offers lecture series at Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla

Art historian Linda Blair will present a lecture series about Leonardo da Vinci's genius in January and February 2019, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St., La Jolla. The lectures will attempt to encompass the genius of da Vinci, present new research into his life and art, and place him within the context of the Renaissance.

Due to high demand, the same lecture will be offered two nights per week, on Mondays and Thursdays (except the second lecture, which will be on Monday and Friday).

"How can we stretch our mere mortal minds to grasp da Vinci's genius in so many areas — science and art, engineering, mathematics, optics, geology, anatomy?" Blair poses. "Attentive parenting in a stimulating environment? Education (or the lack thereof)? Genes? (Is it true his mother was a Middle Eastern slave?) Was he liberated by living on the margins of society, given the intellectual isolation of a mind centuries ahead of its time and his homosexuality?

"We will grapple with these conundrums at the same time we lose ourselves in his art."

• Jan. 14 and Jan. 17, 2019: Emergence of Realism, Giotto. The Renaissance is not a gentle easing from one century to another, as history usually is, but a radical departure — humanism overtakes medieval piety, otherworldliness retreats before materialism, and spirituality bows to worldly concerns. It all begins where we will begin, with Giotto. Ever innovative, Giotto designs real human beings acting out divine dramas, injecting a psychological depth entirely new to art.

Jan. 21 and Jan. 25: Tracing the Arc of the Renaissance. Donatello opens the 1400s with sculpture that promulgates the humanist concept of man, discoveries which were carried forth by Masaccio, a painter of unprecedented originality. We conclude the Renaissance with the art of the saintly monk, Fra Angelico, followed by Fra Filippo Lippi — "the healthy monk," as a shocked Victorian called him. Botticelli will bring the 1400s to a close.

Jan. 28 and Jan. 31: Leonardo, Capstone of the Renaissance. Whether a newly designed city with underground pipes to dispose of waste; submarines and diving suits in Venice to repel sea invaders (followed by the decision to not disclose his plans because "man is evil"), or creating a model glass aorta to study the functioning of the aortic valve, using water containing grass seed to observe the pattern of flow ... he had so many ideas ... just too early, too out of his time.

Feb. 4 and Feb. 7: Leonardo. The last three weeks will be devoted to an in-depth look at his paintings, taking note of his distinguishing characteristics in preparation for discussion of disputed works.

Feb. 11 and Feb. 14: Conclusion and Connoisseurship. The ancient Greeks believed that if one excelled beyond all others, he must have been personally chosen by the gods. Touched by divinity, the victor — athlete, playwright, sculptor — was elevated to a plane of existence beyond mere mortals. And the gods bestowed one other gift: immortality. Leonardo da Vinci would live forever in the minds of man. The gods touched him.

IF YOU GO: Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St., La Jolla. Series (5 lectures) cost $60 members, $85 non-members; individual lectures $14/$19. (858) 454-5872. ljathenaeum.org

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