The Science Museum explores the many sides of Leonardo da Vinci in their new exhibition entitled Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius which opens on the 10th of February 2016. The UK premiere of this exhibition includes 39 historical models including flying machines, diving apparatus and weapons which were made in Milan in 1952 for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s birth. They are displayed across the five sections of the exhibition, each of which focuses on a different area of Leonardo’s knowledge and expertise.
The exhibition explores Leonardo da Vinci’s engineering and scientific approaches and the way he used close observation and inspiration from the natural phenomena around him to provide potential solutions to the engineering problems in the world around him. Unlike many Leonardo exhibitions, this exhibition places his work firmly within the historical context of his time. This challenges the idea that Leonardo was an isolated genius but rather places him within the remarkable creative centres of Italy of the period. Working in Florence as a young man, he was greatly influenced by the engineers and mathematicians of the time.
Walking around the exhibition, the models illustrate how Leonardo’s remarkable skills in creating incredibly detailed mechanical drawings were part of his world view that solutions could be found to many of the existing problems by applying one’s mind and imagination. Many of the mechanical drawings and models in the exhibition indicate the Leonardo was offering practical solutions for his time rather than offering visions of the future.
This challenges the often accepted belief of Leonardo as an inventor of flying machines, diving apparatus and certain weapons. The section on flight looks how Leonardo’s ability to look at the natural world for solutions is still used by a wide range of scientists in many areas especially modern robotics and aeronautics.
The models in the exhibition bring Leonardo’s drawings to life in three-dimensional form and offer some idea of the practicality of the various ideas. Whilst some of the ideas like the massive crossbow seem outlandish, many of the models seem sensible applications especially the diving apparatus and the semi automated machines. In each section, games and multimedia installations compliment the models to tell the story of the remarkable mind of one of history’s greatest thinkers.
This intriguing and thought-provoking Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius exhibition attempts to move beyond our general view of Leonardo as a man out of step with his time. The legendary painter of The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa seemed to have a number of extraordinary skills that were recognised by many of his contemporaries who were willing to employ him. If there was few practical applications of his ideas at the time, this was probably due more to the lack of suitable technology and materials rather than his faulty deductions.
As well as the 39 historical models in the exhibition from Milan in 1952 in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s birth. The Science Museum’s collection contains a number of small objects relating to a celebration of Leonardo’s 500th birthday which took place at the Royal Academy in 1952. A selection of these objects will go on display at the entrance to the exhibition.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius opens on 10 February 2016 and will run until 4 September 2016 at the Science Museum in London. Admission: £10, concessions available.
For more information or book tickets, visit the Science Museum website here
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