Living in the greater Atlanta area definitely has its perks. Shopping, restaurants and entertainment go without saying; but I also adore its museums. Coupled with my own artistic background, I guess it’s not surprising that The High Museum of Art is one of my favorite haunts. I am always amazed, not only at the rich spectrum of works they get on loan, but also what they keep on permanent display.
About ten years ago I was privileged to go see the DaVinci exhibit at the High Museum. I was taking a drawing class at a local university at the time – just for kicks – and the professor arranged for us all to go as a class and check out the exhibit. He was excited because it was a collection of Da Vinci’s rough works – sketches and mock-ups and small models. Nothing huge or polished or anywhere near complete – only a collection of hastily noted ideas cast in plaster, or scrawled out on oddments of soiled paper.
I say “only a collection…” when really it was anything but an afterthought. It was a wonderful exhibit, with a rare and privileged glimpse into the mind of one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived. I soaked up every yellowed paper, each lumpy plaster model, and all the explanatory texts that went with them.
If it had been me, I would have told the servant to not worry about it, and gone later myself. But DaVinci must have really been in a pinch for time (or groceries – perhaps he was expecting company?), because he did nothing of the sort. Instead he took back the list and carefully, dexterously, sketched out each item on the list beside its Italian name. He had asked for six eggs — so he drew six little eggs, their rounded forms casting little shadows on each other in the right places. He needed three tomatoes — so he drew three little tomatoes, each with their own stem and scratchy leaves on its indented forehead. He wanted fish and eggplant, and so their distinctive shapes were added to the margin of the list. Every thing that he needed he sketched out, quickly but neatly, in his own masterful hand.
It was this grocery list, scribbled on the backside of an odd scrap of drawing paper, that held my attention far longer than anything else in that exhibit. I loved it because it not only showed that Da Vinci was human, but that his attention to details cascaded into every aspect of life. He drew and painted and sculpted masterfully; his workshop was full of masterpieces, all in progress; and yet he took the time to illustrate his grocery list so his servant could go down to market and not be embarrassed because he didn’t know what was expected of him.