After a long exhausting day at the Vatican, after hearing the Pope and visiting the Vatican museums, we were headed back to our hotel, when just after St Peter’s square, on the right side of the boulevard (Via della Conciliazione) I noticed a sign saying “Museo Leonardo da Vinci experience”. I usually do a thorough research of places to see when I visit a new place, but I hadn’t come across this on my online searches. Nevertheless, I always find it difficult to resist anything to do with Leonardo da Vinci and so we decided to peep in.
Leonardo da Vinci is the prime exemplar of the Renaissance Man. An individual of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination”, he is widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals ever to have lived. He was a polymath, whose areas of interest included invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. He is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time and is sometimes credited with the inventions of the parachute, helicopter and tank. To think he did all this without access to formal education is mind boggling.
The museum can be accessed at a price of 12 euros and it comes with an audio guide. The experience was unique. For one, replicas of all of da Vinci’s masterpieces, including the Last Supper, the Mona Lisa, the Lady with the Ermine, the Vitruvian Man and John the Baptist can be seen at one place. But for me the interactive models of all the machines designed by Leonardo da Vinci were the highlight of the museum. To be able to touch and activate all the machines was fantastic.
A replica of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. The pen and ink drawing, depicts a man in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius.
The odometer: This is a machine designed by Leonardo to calculate the distance travelled. It is shaped like a little push cart with a toothed wheel mechanism. Each time the wheel on the ground turned, the vertical toothed wheel turned once. This in turn activated a horizontal wheel. This contained metal balls or stones, which fell through a hole into a bucket. Counting the balls at the end of a journey enabled one to calculate the distance travelled.
Leonardo drew several models of flying machines. This model of an air screw is considered the ancestor of the modern helicopter. It is a screw with a metal border and a linen cover, which is set in rotation by men pushing levers as they walk around the shaft. Or else by rapidly unwinding the rope under the axle.
Inside the museum, we met Leonardo, whose family runs the museum. We were intrigued to know how he felt- that when the Vatican honours the work of Michelangelo and Raphael, a memorial to the Tuscan genius, da Vinci, also needed to be in the vicinity. I told Leonardo how much we admired da Vinci’s work in medicine too- and hopefully some day this museum will also include anatomical drawings by this genius.