Meet McGill science professor with a passion for Leonardo da Vinci

France.fr met with Rolando Del Maestro, Professor Emeritus in Neuro-Oncology at McGill University, who has one of the largest private collections of materials related to Leonardo da Vinci. In this in-depth interview, Dr. Del Maestro revealed the origins of his passion and his impressions on this significant year which marks the 500th anniversary of Renaissance and the death of Leonardo da Vinci in Amboise, Loire Valley, France.

What triggered your desire to collect Leonardo da Vinci's work?

Rolando Del Maestro (External link) : I started collecting while a medical student. During this time, I was taking courses related to the psychology of creativity. Having been born in Italy, Leonardo was the symbol of creative expression at the epoch of human achievement. Scientifically speaking, Leonardo’s genius flowed from a special set of cerebral genes able to captivate the human hand into transforming a piece of paper into the emotional splendor capable of holding the human eye enraptured.

Your collection includes more than 10,000 volumes and other items related to Leonardo da Vinci. How did you acquire them and which item is the most memorable in your collection?

Rolando Del Maestro: The majority of the items were acquired at international auctions and from book dealers. Among my favourites is a drawing by Leonardo’s favourite student Francesco Melzi entitled, Caricatured Heads of a Man in Academic Dress and a Woman Wearing a Coif, After Leonardo, which outlines two visi mostruosi figures (grotesque drawings) facing each other. The two images are drawn with a certain gentleness brought about by their positions of closeness, inspired by Leonardo’s original drawing which unfortunately has been cut in half. The first French and Italian copies of Leonardo’s Traité De La Peinture De Leonard De Vinci published in Paris in 1651 are also precious in my eyes.

Rolando Del MaestroDr. Del Maestro has one of the largest private collections of materials related to Leonardo da Vinci

You have visited France on several occasions. What were your impressions, especially on the Loire Valley?

Rolando Del Maestro: I visited France as a 21-year-old medical student and even at that time was focused on following Leonardo’s footprints in France. I have indeed visited Château du Clos Lucé (External link) on multiple occasions and was amassed at the quietness and beauty of the surroundings which certainly gave me pleasure with the concept that after Leonardo’s very turbulent life he would be able to spend his last days in such a lovely home. I would certainly recommend the entire region of Loire Valley as a great place to visit.

Italy, medicine, Leonardo da Vinci, France...your journey makes you an example of the universal experience that the 500 years of Renaissance commemoration program in the Loire Valley wishes to celebrate. What do you think is Leonardo's legacy to France? In what ways has the Renaissance contributed to the world of art and science?

Rolando Del Maestro: The Loire Valley, particularly Amboise represents an important aspect of the 500th anniversary of Renaissance. There is definitely a deep relationship between Italy and France. Leonardo da Vinci spent the end of his life in Château du Clos Lucé where he brought with him four paintings including the Mona Lisa. He was said to have died in the arms of King Francis I and this beautiful Vasarian episode was celebrated in paintings ever since that time. Visitors can walk in Leonardo's footsteps and admire the serenity of the place.

The Renaissance in Leonardo’s studies related to the late 19th century and the early 20th century is very much connected with France. Napoleon transferred Leonardo’s manuscripts to France and many had remained in France ever since. Scholars in France played a very critical part of the 19th century in the restoration of Leonardo’s work including translation of all his writings and careful analysis of his work. In one way, it was a second Renaissance. The more people know about other cultures only makes the world a better place.

The word Renaissance suggests the concept of rebirth and the world certainly needs reminders of the potential of the human mind and the human spirit. The Renaissance symbolizes both.

Mona Lisa©L. de Serres - The Mona Lisa at Château du Clos Lucé

2019 is an important year for McGill University's Faculty of Medicine in relation to Leonardo da Vinci. What can we expect?

Rolando del Maestro : In Canada, this year also coincides with the 100th year since the death of Sir William Osler, Father of Modern Medicine and one of the greatest physicians of all time. Sir William Osler himself was a collector of Leonardo da Vinci’s work as demonstrated in the book Bibliotheca Osleriana first published in 1929, which is one of the major publications associated with the history of medicine. Sir William Osler donated his extensive Library which is now in the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University.

To commemorate this special occasion, an exhibition entitled Sir William Osler's Leonardo da Vinci Collection: Flight, Anatomy and Art (External link) will be presented at McLennan Library Building at McGill University in Montreal until June 28th, 2019.

I invite you to come discover William Osler's collection and part of my own collection. Hopefully this will make you want to learn more about the history of medicine and Leonardo da Vinci.

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©Rolando Del Maestro - Sir William Osler's Leonardo da Vinci Collection: Flight, Anatomy and Art

More about the exhibition:

Vernissage | Sir William Osler's Leonardo da Vinci Collection:
Flight, Anatomy and Art

May 2, 2019, at 5:30 pm

McLennan Library Building
Rare Books and Special Collections, 4th-floor lobby and Colgate Room
3459 McTavish Street, Montreal, QC H3A 0C9

RSVP required. To RSVP, please click here (External link) .


Exhibition
| Sir William Osler's Leonardo da Vinci Collection:
Flight, Anatomy and Art

April 15th to June 28, 2019

McLennan Library Building

Find out more about the Osler Library of the History of Medicine (External link)

Click here (External link) to download the catalog of the exhibition

Not to be missed:

For the first time ever, da Vinci’s L’Ultima Cena tapestry will leave the Vatican to be shown at Château du Clos Lucé from June 6th to September 2nd, 2019. The Viva Leonardo Da Vinci! (External link) program offers a wide range of exhibitions, events, and activities year long for people of different interests, age groups, and cultural backgrounds.