Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius

Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius exhibition

Photos © EPPDCSI - Ph Levy


9 February 2016 2 minute read

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A new exhibition at the Science Museum will celebrate Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy as one of the greatest innovators of the Renaissance. Showcasing his creativity, the exhibition will bring to life da Vinci’s many drawings, inventions and machines in a series of 39 models.

Leonardo da Vinci came from humble beginnings, born in a small town near Tuscany in 1452. The illegitimate son of a busy lawyer and a peasant girl, he was raised in the care of his grandfather. He began his artistic journey as the apprentice of a sculptor and painter in Florence and later went on to produce some of the most famous paintings in the world, including, ‘The Last Supper’ and the ‘Mona Lisa’.

Alongside his artistic endeavours, da Vinci had a deep interest in science, anatomy and engineering, filling many notebooks with his research and ideas. He believed it was his destiny to build a machine that would allow humans to fly, and spent many hours sketching designs for the first parachutes, helicopters and gliders. Heavily influenced by the natural world, da Vinci focused much of his exploration on ornithopters – flying machines with flapping wings, designed in the image of birds. Despite da Vinci’s early aeronautic experimentation, it was several centuries before any real flying machines were successfully launched.

Da Vinci worked extensively on mathematical concepts, making breakthroughs in the study of arc rupture. He found he was able to calculate the strength at which an arch would break, a finding which he later incorporated into his designs for domed churches in Milan. This pioneering research formed the foundations for the engineering practices of today.

Da Vinci also made his mark in the field of hydraulics, focusing on studying the dynamics of water in local canals. He recorded many home-made experiments in his notebooks, reportedly releasing weighted rods into streams to measure the velocity distribution at different points. It is also probable that he invented an early form of the hydrometer, a device used to measure liquid density.

Opening on Wednesday 10th February, the new exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius promises to explore the extraordinary creativity of da Vinci, through large-scale reproductions of his sketches, interactive games and a series of historical models. The exhibition will also bring clarity to the many misconceptions that surround the innovator: Was he the period’s only designer of machines? Did all of his designs get fully constructed?

Jim Bennett, Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum, said: 'The enthusiasm for making models of Leonardo's machines comes from the vitality of his drawings - they are so evocative that we think of their subjects as real things.'

Running from February until September 2016, the exhibition will provide new insight into the remarkable genius of one of the greatest minds of the Renaissance era. Visit the Science Museum website to find out more.

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