Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 | 11 a.m.
“Perfect, perfect, perfect!”
That’s how art historian Dr. Carlo Pedretti described “Horse and Rider,” the Leonardo da Vinci sculpture whose mold and original bronze cast were put on view to the public for the first time Tuesday inside the Imagine Exhibitions Gallery’s “Da Vinci — The Genius” exhibit at the Venetian.
A renowned expert on the life and works of da Vinci, Pedretti’s words didn’t come easily — particularly given that the work is considered to be the only surviving examples of da Vinci’s sculpture work.
The original sculpture, thought to be a study for a larger equine portrait of da Vinci’s friend and patron Charles D’Amboise, was crafted over 500 years ago from a block of beeswax. While the artist’s casting process was never completed, a mold and bronze cast were made from the work in 1985. “Horse and Rider,” owned by businessman and civil engineer Richard A. Lewis, has only been shown in private gatherings before Tuesday’s unveiling.
“There’s no question that after I determined what I had, my desire was to present this sculpture to the world and allow it to see this magnificent piece of art,” Lewis says.
Several years ago, Lewis reached out to Las Vegas-based art appraisal and consultation service Art Encounter, asking to help share “Horse and Rider” with the public and to harness its value for charitable causes. However, the piece is considered such a rarity that the team at Art Encounter all but laughed when initially approached with the offer.
“We said, essentially, get in line behind the Michelangelo and the Rodin!” says art broker Rod Maly. “You just don’t get Leonardo da Vinci.”
It took two years for Art Encounter and Pedretti to verify the sculpture’s authenticity, after which Lewis commissioned a limited number of reproductions to be made in bronze and silver for sale to the public. The pieces range from $25,000 to $35,000 each.
In keeping with his philanthropic goals, Lewis will donate $1 million of the proceeds to the Salvation Army of Southern Nevada in the name of the organization’s late marketing director, Charles Desiderio.
Looking for a way to both showcase the mold and sell the reproductions, Lewis and Maly saw the Venetian’s newly opened da Vinci exhibit as a perfect fit.
“We’re just so lucky. I could hardly believe they were offering to let us have this in the exhibition,” says Tom Zaller, president and CEO of Imagine Exhibitions.
The mold and casts are placed in creative context within the exhibit, with prints of da Vinci’s contemporaneous sketches of figures and animals adorning the walls around them.
From a corner, Lewis watches as visitors linger around the glass case containing the original cast, gingerly pointing and snapping pictures. He looks delighted, if not slightly overwhelmed, more like a proud parent than a successful investor.
He admits that he’s still getting used to the art world, but has taken great pleasure in discovering its overlaps with other parts of his life.
“It’s been a new experience. You don’t think of a civil engineer as an artist in any way, I laid out subdivisions, I used the undulations of the road and the topography, so I was somewhat of an artist myself in that regard,” he says. “Over the past two years I have tremendously learned to appreciate Leonardo da Vinci and his engineering talents and his artistic talents, so I’m very appreciative of where I’m at in this life and to have this opportunity.”
The exhibition is open daily to the public through Oct. 15. Reproductions can be purchased at “Da Vinci — The Genius” or online at artencounter.com.
In the spirit of Venice, The Venetian is a little piece of romantic Italy right here in Las Vegas. The Venetian is an "all-suite" hotel, with rooms accented with plush linens and Italian marble. The 4,027 suites are divided into two towers: The 36-story Venetian Tower that offers guests a taste of luxurious Las Vegas and the Venezia suites, which guarantee 12 floors of high-end elegance. The top five floors are the hotel's highest level of luxury with its private access, concierge lounge, upgraded features and even a dedicated staff.
The flagship of Venetian nightlife is TAO, an ultra-hip nightclub located inside of TAO Asian Bistro. V Bar is The Venetian's super smooth ultra lounge, made by the owners of New York City's club Lotus and Los Angeles' super swank Sunset Room.
The Venetian features 19 restaurants including Thomas Keller's award-winning French restaurant Bouchon, Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante, Aquaknox for fresh seafood and the 42,000 square foot TAO Asian Bistro. There's also the food court inside the Canal Shoppes for those looking for a quick bite.
Guests can float along The Grand Canal Shops in an authentic Italian gondola ride and pass stores like Burberry and Kenneth Cole along the way. And if you haven't caught a real celeb, on the street in Vegas, you can head over to Madame Tussauds to check out a wax version.