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Leonardo da Vinci: painter, sculptor, Hollywood movie star

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(Read caption) A self-portrait (Lucanian portrait) of Leonardo da Vinci, soon to be a Hollywood movie star. Warner Bros. is casting one of the greatest artists of all time as the lead character in an upcoming Indiana Jones-style action hero film.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Nearly 500 years after the death of Leonardo da Vinci, his memory lives on everywhere in Italy. Rome’s main international airport is named after him. Reproductions of his famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man adorn everything from T-shirts to fridge magnets, and an exhibition of his inventions in a Rome palazzo attracts tourists from around the world. As a painter, sculptor, inventor, scientist, and writer, he was the ultimate Renaissance man.

Now comes a plan to give him an unlikely new incarnation: action hero.

The film, “Leonardo da Vinci and the Soldiers of Forever,” is to be made by Warner Bros. The polymath will be portrayed as a member of a secret society who fights supernatural baddies in a multimillion-dollar, Indiana Jones-style epic that will involve long-lost civilizations, biblical riddles, and secret codes.

All of which, one would think, would have the guardians of Leonardo’s cultural legacy spluttering with indignation.

Oddly enough, however, the world’s leading experts on Leonardo have cautiously welcomed the blockbuster – with a certain wry resignation.

“The silly season for Leonardo never closes,” says Martin Kemp, professor emeritus of the history of art at Oxford University, who has written several books on the Italian genius. “I’m perfectly cheerful about it.... I saw ‘The Da Vinci Code’ twice – once with an academic audience, who laughed, and once with a general audience, who took it very seriously.”

In the Tuscan hill town of Vinci, where the great man was born in 1452, the director of a museum dedicated to his life is equally phlegmatic about the movie project.

“Leonardo’s life was more astounding and fantastical than anything imagined in any of the books written about him,” says Alessandro Vezzosi. “The project is interesting, especially if it encourages people to better appreciate his work.”

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