An imaginative mind

  • 2010-03-17
  • By Ella Karapetyan

LOOK, UP IN THE SKY: Da Vinci still inspires, with his genius evident in art and science.

TALLINN - We all know Leonardo da Vinci as one of the world’s greatest painters, but Leonardo’s talents extended far beyond his paintbrush! “Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius” exhibition, which is now open in Tallinn at Solaris Center, reveals the ingenuity and brilliance of a man before his time, explores the myths and legends surrounding his life and considers how his legacy inspires and challenges us today. An amazing collection starting with Leonardo’s sketches followed by interactive machines and the specifically developed computer simulations.

But who was this man changing the world? Long associated with paintings such as the “Mona Lisa,” Leonardo’s talents extended far beyond his paintbrush into the fields of science and engineering; he was a prolific inventor. Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions created so many possibilities for mankind which we probably wouldn’t have without him. They influenced the developments in various industries but also in our every day life. Inventions that he designed are airplanes, boats, bicycles, cars and parachutes.

Leonardo’s interest in flight appeared during the years he spent in Florence when he was young, but it was after he moved to Milan, in about 1482, that the subject began to assume special importance for him. His observation of birds, albeit non-specialized, persuaded him that there was nothing mysterious about flight – in contrast with the ideas of scientists of the time – but was a purely mechanical phenomenon, due to the beating of the wing on the air.

The most innovative aspect of Leonardo’s contribution to technology was his analysis of the components of machines, carried out from the beginning of 1490s onwards. He regarded the machine as the result of assembling a series of elementary devices, and it is clear that he was not only familiar with simple mechanisms (namely, the winch, lever, pulley, wedge and screw) but that he developed their function and specificity in such a way as to be able to apply them to complex machines which allowed a series of operations to be carried out automatically, through the use of various systems of motion transmission.

Although the artist regarded war as a “most bestial madness,” he devoted a significant part of his studies to analyzing arms and war machines. The contradiction is more apparent than real, when it is borne in mind that he spent his life in the service of the most important lords of the times and, for many of them, warfare, whether actually fought or solely as a preventive measure, was inseparable from holding power.

The notebooks are all that remain of Leonardo apart from his paintings and provide an extraordinary glimpse into his mind, life and emotions. Happily, more than five thousand pages of notes, written in his unmistakable mirror handwriting, have survived through the centuries.

“Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius” is the largest touring exhibit of the artist’s inventions to date. More than 60 of Leonardo’s most innovative constructions are replicated to scale, based on the original drawings and manuscripts of the Codices, showcasing their functionality and efficiency. Most of the models (built with material available in his time: wood, cloth, ropes and metal) are interactive, so visitors may operate them unless a sign prohibits touching the machine on display.
Computer simulations developed together with the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria, show the influence of physics, geometry, aerodynamics and a number of other fields in science, interactively applied to make Leonardo’s inventions work. It is important to depict Leonardo da Vinci from another perspective, finding a neutral point of view and avoiding speculation about other, ulterior motivations behind his work.

This exhibition explains to visitors what influence this man still has on our daily life. Flight, War, Hydraulics and Mechanics – see Leonardo’s machines and discover how they work!

The exhibition will be open till June  2010.