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battle to repair a 16th-century masterpiece



(Sydney Morning Herald)

Beastly battle to repair a 16th-century masterpiece

By GERALDINE O'BRIEN, Heritage Writer

In 1516 a ship carrying a rhinoceros to Pope Leo X sank off Italy and
the rhino - like most of the people on board - went to the bottom. But
rough sketches and descriptions survived - good enough for Albrecht
Du=A8rer to draw a rhinoceros and later (in a century when plagiarism
was not a problem) for his version to be redrawn by Conrad Gessner,
for his Icones animalium. This rare book, published in 1554 and
expanded in 1560, will go on display this weekend in the Australian
Museum, with most of its 140 hand-painted woodcuts on show for the
first time. During more than 70 years in the museum's collection, the
book suffered considerable damage to its binding and some pages and
has been "pulled down" into separate plates for treatment and
rebinding. Gessner also drew mythical creatures such as unicorns and
mermaids, still believed in by many in the 16th century (although,
according to Carol Cantrell, the museum's curator of rare books,
Gessner included some sceptical footnotes). Swiss-born Gessner was
hailed as the greatest naturalist of his time - a physician,
bibliographer and zoologist, who published widely in botany, zoology,
medicine, theology and linguistics. A $40.8 million Leonardo da Vinci
manuscript, Codex Leicester, would be on display in Sydney in 2000,
the Premier, Mr Carr, announced yesterday. The manuscript was
completed by Leonardo in 1506, shortly after the Mona Lisa, and
contains over 300 ink sketches illustrating his theories on the
movement of rivers and seas and the properties of rocks, fossils and
light. Interactive computers will highlight and expand upon material
in the document.
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