Welcome by the Organizing Committee
A welcome to ICCAI’17 in Milano is not trivial at all. I should address scientists who are experts in the study of complexity, or just curious about, starting from very different disciplines. I could obviously stress the high conference level and its unique combination of clinical problem solving and scientific speculation, but this is already in SCAI credentials and in the conference home page, both by the forward and the outstanding speakers announced there.
So, I decided to switch to a short story relevant to the venue and tell you some aspects of complexity I’m seeing in some artwork to be seen in my hometown. Nothing directly linked to SCAI’s focus on acute illness, but the exciting part of complexity is its ubiquitous presence and the analogy between apparently diverse expressions of nature. I hope you will enjoy it and, even more, I look forward to meet you in Milano and to your contribution in making this ICCAI edition a great one.
Michelangelo, Raffaello, and Leonardo in Milano:
The Signature of Complexity in Sublime Imperfection
The perfection of work of arts reflects the perfection of human body and mind expressed by the artist. However, imperfect works can give us a breakthrough in the complexity hidden behind. You will find three marvelous examples in Milano: two by Michelangelo and Raffaello, almost unknown, the third one by Leonardo, most celebrated.
Michelangelo’s “Pietà Rondanini” – Holism
The young Michelangelo had already reached perfection by the renown “Pietà” of the Vatican.
The marble he personally selected in the mountains over Carrara (Tuscany) was shaped to live and silent sorrow, to the dereliction of death, and the gentleness of vests, which makes it a world’s masterpiece.
It’s hard to believe that Michelangelo had more to say in this very subject, but he did by the “Pietà” in Florence and next by the “Pietà Rondanini” in Milano: a life-long, dramatic travel to imperfection, from his first masterwork to the last one.
You can see the “Pietà Rondanini” at the “Sforza” Castle (Castello Sforzesco) and the contrast with the former “Pietà” will strike you. Michelangelo worked intermittently on it over more than a decade. He conceived a daring vertical composition and when it was almost at the end, after two years, he completely turned it within the same piece of marble, as only he was able to do (see the Moses). But he never finished. As a result, we can simultaneously admire the finished and the unfinished (see the Prisoners). The power of his mind over raw matter comes out revealing the imagination, the doubts, the suffering of creation hidden in his first Pietà.
Might this be a paradigm of a holistic approach to complexity in Life Sciences?
Raffaello’s Preparatory Cartoon of the School of Athens – Reductionism
Who does not know Raffaello’s most famous fresco in the Vatican rooms: the lively and colorful representation of the intellectual life of Renaissance through the Greek philosophers?
Conversely, very few do probably know the preparatory cartoon to be admired at the “Ambrosiana” Library and Gallery (site also of Leonardo’s Atlantic Code).
However, even if color is missing, Raffaello’s genius jumps to your eyes and you see his creative process, which in the finished artwork is hidden.
Might this be a paradigm of a reductionistic approach?
Leonardo’s Last Supper – Always Problems with Methods and Technology
I’ll tell you a completely different story about Leonardo, since he kept the same sublime and unique painting style along his entire life. But he was also curious about natural sciences and technology, which made him a kaleidoscopic talent.
The mix, however, gave him several troubles in the art of fresco painting, since he wanted to deal with new color techniques and artistic creativity at the same time. Furthermore, he hated the immediacy of fresco work, where the painter must be more rapid than the drying cement on the wall. His experiments led him to disaster in Florence (see The Battle of Anghiari, lost fresco) and almost to, concerning the Last Supper. In fact, the masterpiece immediately started fading and nowadays, after a challenging restoration, it is kept much like in a hospital ICU. Only few visitors are admitted at a time in a strictly conditioned ambient.
For this reason, you should book your visit several months ahead.
I do not dare to say that Leonardo’s technical problems could be a paradigm of the daily challenges experienced by us engineers; anyway, the last piece of my story does relieve me about our methodological and technological limits in front of the huge complexity found in biomedical sciences.
In case the reader came to the conclusion that in Milano we do have mainly defective items, while all the polished ones are elsewhere (Rome, Florence, Paris, etc.) he or she might be absolutely right. Nonetheless, we are very proud of them, wishing to show the sublimity of imperfection, as a true paradigm of complexity.
Milano, February 16, 2017
on behalf of the Organizing Committee