Leonardo and science

The genius of Leonardo da Vinci fully embodies the spirit of the Renaissance: his interests encompassed the most varied fields of human knowledge. In this article, we have come up with a rundown of his engineering and scientific heritage that can still be seen in Italy even today.

Da Vinci in Florence: the origins of a genius

Birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci - Anchiano, Tuscany

Leonardo’s birthplace in Anchiano, a village in the municipality of Vinci in Tuscany, is now a museum documenting the life of the Maestro with a striking three-dimensional installation that accompanies the visitor on a journey into Leonardo’s personal universe. This Tuscan village has dedicated the research and dissemination activities of the Leonardo da Vinci Ideal Museum (Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci), the Leonardo Library (Biblioteca leonardiana) and the Leonardo Museum (Museo Leonardiano) to the technical and scientific activities of its illustrious citizen, with one of the most extensive collections dedicated to Leonardo the architect, technologist and engineer. At the age of 17, Leonardo moved to Florence where he spent his formative years as a man, artist and scholar. In the Tuscan capital there are two museums dedicated to him. The Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Via dei Servi is divided into three rooms: the main room with the reconstruction of more than 40 life-sized machines; the paintings room; and the anatomy room with a projection mapping video of his anatomical studies. On the other hand, the Leonardo da Vinci Private Museum (Museo privato Leonardo da Vinci) in Via Cavour is the largest private collection in the world of Leonardo’s machines, rebuilt thanks to the skills of the family that runs the museum. We shall close this short Tuscan itinerary with an unusual fact. A few kilometres from Florence is the Monte Ceceri hill in Fiesole, believed to be the place of the first successful manned flight in history. On board of a flying machine designed by Leonardo, his collaborator and friend Tommaso Masini, also known as Zoroaster from Peretola, glided for about 1,000 metres before crashing to the ground, fortunately resulting in just a few fractures.

Fantastic machines and engineering works: Leonardo in Milan

Codex Atlanticus - Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan - Lombardy

At the age of 30, Leonardo went to the Duchy of Milan, at the time animated by lively cultural ferment and dynamic productive forces. Here he spent more than 20 years of his life (from 1482 to 1499 and from 1506 to 1513). The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan houses the Codex Atlanticus, the largest existing collection of writings and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. Architecture, urban planning, hydraulics, geometry, mechanics, medicine, optics, anatomy, astronomy, visual arts: the 1119 sheets of the Codex give an idea of his repertoire that covered all human knowledge. The city boasts another record: the largest collection in the world of models of machines designed by the Maestro. You can find it at the “Leonardo da Vinci” National Museum of Science and Technology (Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia "Leonardo da Vinci"). Innovation and research are the keys to the success of the Leonardo3 Museum, in Piazza della Scala, at the entrance of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Leonardo3 makes the studies of Leonardo accessible to the general public through internally-developed advanced technologies and the reconstruction of never-before-studied machines. In Lombardy, Leonardo took charge of the design of some waterways, in particular the connection between the Naviglio della Martesana and the Inner Ring, and the bypass of the Adda rapids connecting directly to the Lario. The projects were so complex that the Naviglio di Paderno and the Naviglio Pavese were completed only two centuries later. The water works have inspired the itinerary of the Adda Ecomuseum, which runs through the areas where Leonardo completed his studies. Leonardo’s Adda can be visited in many ways: by bike, boat, horse, foot. Leonardo also designed the network of irrigation canals in the Sforzesca, a vast farm complex in the province of Vigevano built by Ludovico il Moro as a collection and organisation centre for the area’s produce. During his stay at the Sforzesca, Leonardo painted the portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, the Lady with an Ermine, now housed at the National Museum in Krakow.

Flight studies at the Royal Library of Turin

The Royal Library of Turin (Biblioteca Reale di Torino) houses the Codex on the Flight of Birds, one of the most fascinating documents left by Leonardo. In this manuscript Leonardo observed birds to develop a true science of flight before moving on to designing flying machines.

Find out more: museireali.beniculturali.it

The Vitruvian Man, a universal icon in Venice

Vitruvian Man - Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice - Veneto

At the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice we can find one of the most famous drawings of Leonardo: the Vitruvian Man. The work, which shows the ideal proportions of the human body, has become a real icon in both the art world and in pop culture. Given the fragility of the drawing on paper, the Vitruvian Man is only displayed to the public on rare occasions. Venice has dedicated the Leonardo da Vinci Museum to Leonardo’s genius. In the six rooms the visitor is invited to experience more than 60 fully-functioning machines, faithfully created from the Maestro’s drawings. 

Find out more: gallerieaccademia.it

Journey through Romagna with Leonardo

In 1502 Cesare Borgia, after having conquered the Duchy of Romagna, entrusted Leonardo with a survey on the state of the fortifications and local infrastructure. Leonardo’s notebooks are full of ideas, notes and drawings that show a fascinating journey through forts, ports, squares and buildings.

Leonardo and Archimedes: two geniuses compared in Sicily

Flying machine models - Science and Technology Museum Leonardo da Vinci, Milan, Lombardy. Photo by: Viktor Gladkov / Shutterstock.com

The Leonardo da Vinci and Archimedes Museum (Museo Leonardo da Vinci e Archimede) in Syracuse compares these two geniuses from different eras, highlighting the influence that the scientist and mathematician from Syracuse had on Leonardo. Explanatory panels and workshops where visitors can rebuild with the machines of Archimedes and Leonardo with their own hands make a visit to the museum an immersive experience.

Find out more: leonardoarchimede.com

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