My Museo Leonardo da Vinci experience

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.

The museum honours the Tuscan genius with replicas of all his masterpieces and interactive reproductions of his machines

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 da Vinci’s The Last Supper. The original is housed in Milan. The painting represents the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles. Leonardo has depicted the consternation that occurred among the Twelve Disciples when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him. All twelve apostles have different reactions to the news, with various degrees of anger and shock. The painting has suffered much environmental damage and very little of the original painting remains today despite numerous restoration attempts.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or La Gioconda is the “best known, most visited, most written about, most sung about and most parodied work of art in the world”. The original of course, hangs in the Louvre.
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.

Leonardo is clearly illustrating Vitruvius’ De architectura 3.1.2-3 which reads: “For the human body is so designed by nature that the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead and the lowest roots of the hair, is a tenth part of the whole height; the open hand from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger is just the same; the head from the chin to the crown is an eighth, and with the neck and shoulder from the top of the breast to the lowest roots of the hair is a sixth; from the middle of the breast to the summit of the crown is a fourth. If we take the height of the face itself, the distance from the bottom of the chin to the under side of the nostrils is one third of it; the nose from the under side of the nostrils to a line between the eyebrows is the same; from there to the lowest roots of the hair is also a third, comprising the forehead. The length of the foot is one sixth of the height of the body; of the forearm, one fourth; and the breadth of the breast is also one fourth. The other members, too, have their own symmetrical proportions, and it was by employing them that the famous painters and sculptors of antiquity attained to great and endless renown.

Similarly, in the members of a temple there ought to be the greatest harmony in the symmetrical relations of the different parts to the general magnitude of the whole. Then again, in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centred at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height, as in the case of plane surfaces which are perfectly square.”
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.
This model of the bicycle designed by Leonardo in 1493 can be considered a precursor to the modern bicycle. There are other theories which say that this particular drawing was by his student Salai and not by da Vinci.
Leonardo designed this unique self-blocking mechanism which ensured that heavy objects could be lifted slowly and safely. By fitting a pulley with a toothed wheel, he ensured that it could be fitted with a pole, which prevented it from turning backwards
Leonardo da Vinci said that “the mind of a painter should be like a mirror”. He designed this octagonal mirror room to experiment with the laws of reflection. Using this room he could view an object from all sides without turning it around. This was the beginning of his observations of illusions between light and shadow, which went on to his marvellous anatomical drawings of the structure of the human eye.
Leonardo was called upon to use his engineering skills to develop machines for war. This is an arched bridge which can be built rapidly with easy to find materials to facilitate soldiers to cross rivers. This helps in transport of men and material during a war. Leonardo used laws of statics and material resistance to design these bridges.
Leonardo was fascinated by screws. This is a model of an endless screw turning a toothed wheel. The model shows a screw produced endless alternating motion of a toothed wheel which can lower or raise an object by just turning the hand crank
Leonardo’s model for transformation of circular motion, used in textile industries these days. This model shows how simple circular motion of an axis can be transferred to a toothed wheel thereby becoming alternating circular motion.
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.
Leonardo’s self-propelled cart is a forerunner to the modern automobile.
Leonardo designed ball bearings to solve the problem of friction. This particular model shows bearings with a sliding ring. The ring allows the balls to move freely without touching each other.
Leonardo designed floats to walk on water. This model also shows a lifebuoy designed by Leonardo.
Meeting the enthusiastic Leonardo, whose family runs this museum. It is amazing how they have recreated Leonardo’s drawings into working models

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.

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