For a couple of years now I have been trying to catch an exhibition of machine models made by Florentine craftsmen to Leonardo daVinci’s designs. The exhibition has been put together by the Florence museum and has been traveling the world. I just missed it in Sydney and then it was due to head off to Perth, then to Christchurch, but was due to finish there on 28 Sept. And it has not been widely advertised. So imagine my surprise when I spotted a desultory poster advertising the exhibition, and noting that the season has been extended to 27 October at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch!
I quickly cleared a morning and decided to go – there are 60 models from the simple to the complex, covering a good range of Leonardo’s designs.
At the entrance is a speculative full-scale model of the controversial bicycle – possibly drawn (crudely) by one of Leonardo’s apprentices, or possibly a rather later fake.
Either way, the bike lacked any means to steer, so at best it would have been something like the 17th century boneshaker. That said, Leonardo certainly drew designs of chain drives, noting their efficiency as a means of transferring power from one cog to another.
Leonardo’s studies for flying machines are well represented, including the flyable hang glider – tested in modern times, as well as the famous helicopter
The helicopter is derived from a children’s toy that was known in Italy at the time – and probably not too unlike the one I was able to get to fly, using a string pull – see the instructions here.
And while his war machines are well documented – and represented at the exhibition, I was particularly taken with some of the lesser known aspects of Leonardo’s work, notably his theatre machines. Leonardo was known for his designs for spectacular special effects in theatrical productions for his patrons. Some of these appear remarkably prescient, such as the magic lantern projector
And what has been touted as his car – actually a programmable stage cart that was able to steer a pre-determined course apparently sensing and avoiding obstacles. The cart was driven by bow-like springs, but it also had a separate spring-driven cam system for the steering – not highlighted in the exhibition, but demonstrated in other reconstructions of his models.
The catalogue is well worth the money, although the literal translation into English from the Italian is flowery and resmbles a machine translation rather than a full rendering into English. But it is very well illustrated.
All up the exhibition is excellent – with models very faithful to the originals and many hands-on exhibits. It is on now at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch NZ on Rolleston Avenue. Canterbury Museum is open every day (except Christmas Day)
Summer hours: 9.00 am – 5.30 pm (October – March); Winter hours: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm (April – September).
The exhibition – Da Vinci Machines: The Inventions and Designs of a Genius is on until 27 October, and prices are: Adult $12, child $8 (under 5 free), family (2 adults and 2 children) $35.00, students and senior citizens $10.00.
It is well worth a visit. You can see more of the machines here