The Huntington Library and Garden in Pasadena excels at collecting and displaying all types of art and landscape architecture which accent its superb collection of traditional fine art. Its goal is to show how textiles, tiles, fixtures, floral arrangements and dozens of other handcrafted creations reinforce the context and artistic details of traditional fine art.
An exceptional and equally large display of this approach to showing art and teaching art history is on view at the Chateau de Clos Luce, the last residence of legendary Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci lived and worked here in the Loire Valley of France from 1516 until his death in May 1519. His patron, King Francis I of France, enabled da Vinci to apply his accumulated wisdom to create an idealized artistic environment within the chateau and the surrounding gardens…This success story later inspired many “artist-in-residence” programs.
Handcrafted and meticulously carved masonry and carpentry frames the entire chateau and extends into landscaped gardens similar in size and grade to the Huntington gardens. The gardens massive trees and flowering shrubs accent the details of shading, color and depth in the artwork shown in the chateau. Mirrors and stained glass reflect and reinforce the artistic dimensions and match reflections from the shimmering waterways in the landscaped gardens.
Taking the time to appreciate the taste and themes reflected in these foundations of art shows another da Vinci trademark that has distinguished master artists from Archimedes to Alexander Calder. That is works of art that can also be expressed as mathematical formulas or equations from the science of physics. One of the artworks is actually named after Archimedes. Many of the works show precisely calculated distances between different elements. These are easier to appreciate after viewing the large collection of precision measurement instruments invented by da Vinci on display in the adjacent museum. The flooring of the chateau, the formal gardens, and the bridges and staircases throughout the estate are composed of complex geometric shapes and sequences. These are accented by a polyhedron in the gardens. If you have been looking for the perfect parabola, you will find it in the courtyard fountain of Chateau de Clos Luce.
Similar to Huntington Gardens, Chateau de Clos Luce incorporates botanical science with the appreciation of art. The surrounding gardens emulate da Vinci landscapes and include two footbridges and mechanical rowboats based on his engineering drawings. The gardens enhance appreciation of da Vinci’s traditional fine art with contours and native plants from da Vinci’s longtime home in Tuscany. The micro climate of the hill country north of Florence is similar to the fabled loire Valley, where Chateau de Clos Luce is located. Carefully engineered waterfalls and brooks show fine distinctions of moisture and crystalline reflections that also accent many da Vinci artworks. Garden fragrances show how scent adds artistic dimensions and the cascading artificial waterfalls add the dimension of sound to the artistic environment.
An important part of the Los Angeles creative community will want to see Chateau de Clos Luce on site or online – the “imagineers” who design exhibits for our local theme parks and other “edutainment” complexes like Universal Studios. In its current role as a tourist attraction, the Chateau is the center of an edutainment campus called “Parc Leonardo da Vinci.” Contemporary exhibits about da Vinci technology, scientific studies and his impact on other creative geniuses, plus a museum chronicling da Vinci’s experiences in France round out the historic exhibits. Is there more to come? It is possible. Visitors will also observe forensic art historians working on site to determine if there are any murals painted by da Vinci which were subsequently painted over in the following five centuries. They have not yet found any murals, but it is fascinating and inspiring to watch them try.