Cast & Crew
Francis Henry Taylor
Francis Henry Taylor, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, introduces the film, describing the environment into which Leonardo da Vinci is born: On the day da Vinci is born, 15 Apr 1452, the Hundred Years War between France and England has come to a close, and Constantinople has fallen to the Turks. These events end the rule of the Roman Empire, and allow da Vinci's native Italy to grow into "the cradle of modern Europe." An offscreen narrator then explains da Vinci's life and the many facets of his genius. At the age of seventeen, the artist moved to Florence, where the glorious architecture inspires him further. After Lorenzo de Medici becomes his patron, da Vinci explores the fields of architecture, engineering, painting, poetry, science and music, writing his copious notes backwards so no one else can read them. The sketches and calculations in his notebooks of the time foretell many of today's wonders. In 1447, da Vinci moved to Venice, then Mantua and Florence before finally settling in Rome. On 2 May 1519, da Vinci dies and is buried in an unmarked grave. The narrator then explains each subset of da Vinci's explorations, beginning with anatomy. Through his artistry and scientific rigor, da Vinci drew perfect X-rays of human and animal anatomical systems and figured out the way the eye lens captures images. In geometry, he declared that the circle was the key to the system of the world. With his conception of the telescope, he was able to discover that the Earth moves around the sun, decades before Galileo was imprisoned for the same idea. Da Vinci was often accused of practicing "black magic" during his life, especially after creating instruments played by air or water, rather than human effort. By comparing humans and machines, da Vinci studied dynamics and motion, resulting in the invention of a rudimentary automobile, plane and parachute. He was also a master military engineer, conceptualizing massive "super machines" with bombs and shells that self-destructed. As an artist, he expressed spiritual beauty through physical attributes. The paintings discussed include The Last Supper , The Baptism of Christ , The Adoration of the Magii , The Mona Lisa and The Virgin of the Rocks . The record of da Vinci's accomplishments is, according to the filmmakers, a "statement of belief in freedom and in the power of the human mind."
Robert S. Robinson
Francis Henry Taylor
The opening credits include the following written acknowledgments: "For their generous cooperation and aid in planning and producing this film grateful acknowledgment is made to: The Louvre, The Uffizi, The Vatican Galleries, The Castello Sforzesco, Museum Collections, International Business Machines Corporation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Italian and French Ministeries of Fine Arts." Metropolitan Museum of Art director Francis Henry Taylor's opening credit reads: "Research advisor, Francis Henry Taylor, with the cooperation of the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art."
Leonardo da Vinci consists of a series of images of his sketches, notebooks, models and paintings, photographed in color and sepia. The images are accompanied by a voice-over narration, spoken by Albert Dekker, which the New York Times review called "a rich and poetic estimation of the quality of the great man's mind and soul." According to an April 18, 1952 Daily Variety item, Aldous Huxley was originally sought to write the narration. The article also mentions that the film had been shot over a year-long period and was at that time "near completion." In February 1952, Hollywood Reporter reported that the film was produced partially in America, and a April 30, 1952 Variety item noted that filmmaker Leonid Kipnis shot the images in Milan, Florence and the Louvre in Paris. That article adds that the filmmakers could work with the original artworks for only a few minutes at a time, because longer exposure to the hot lights used to photograph them could cause damage. Although a January 1953 Daily Variety item identifies the production company as Manor Films, that company is not mentioned in any other source.
The film was released in New York on November 20, 1952, at which point the copyright statement listed a running time of 70 minutes. Its official release date, however, was January 1953, and when it played in Los Angeles on May 14, 1954, the film included a new introduction by Taylor and ran for 106 minutes. The May 1954 screening commemorated the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's birth. Pictura Films Corp., which in 1951 produced the film Pictura-Adventure in Art, in 1958 also produced a series of short films based on da Vinci and his works.