CULTURE

Leonardo the inventor shown in his element

A taste of Leonardo da Vinci’s striking vision as an inventor is currently on display in Athens. Following the recent opening of the exhibition on the great artist in Patras, another display has been put together highlighting one of his not-so-well-known aspects. «The Genius of Leonardo,» the interactive event which opened at the Hellenic Cosmos venue of the Foundation of the Hellenic World earlier in the week, will run to the end of March. The exhibition consists of 40 machines, full-size reproductions based on instructions found in Leonardo’s manuscripts. They were constructed by Worldwide Museum Activities (WMA), a company that has founded a museum in Florence to house machines built from the creator’s drawings. The machines closely follow Leonardo’s instructions and are made from materials available at that time. What is even more important, as art historian Myrto Rogan who edited the exhibition catalog pointed out at a recent press conference, is that the public is free to touch and play with the exhibits, as this is mostly an interactive exhibition. «Although some of these machines may today seem simplistic, it is important to see how someone envisioned them so many centuries ago. Some of the ideas may have already existed, but Leonardo was the first to record them,» said Rogan. The exhibits have been divided into five sections. The first, titled «Mechanisms,» consists of rather basic machines, many of them dealing with the conversion of motion, which were meant to be incorporated into more complex constructions. Items on display in this section include a cam, a mechanism used to convert rotary motion into alternating motion (resulting in a hammer’s regular movement), and an early version of today’s ball bearings used by mechanics to reduce friction. The other four categories have been named after the elements: earth, water, air and fire. «Earth» features devices dependent on human power. This section’s most striking exhibits include a revolving crane, reminiscent of those used today, which is fixed on a circular platform that can rotate 360 degrees, along with a machine for lifting pillars. Equally if not even more impressive is the «robot» which has been made to look like an armored warrior; it was probably commissioned by the Duke of Milan and works with ropes and pulleys. A bicycle is also on display, although it is not certain whether it was designed by Leonardo himself or by a student of his. The «Water» exhibits either exploit water power, like the hydraulic saw on display, or are aimed at facilitating movement in water: The thought behind the webbed «glove» – something like a flipper but worn on the hands – is to help someone move faster in the water. The most fascinating section of «Air» consists of various types of machines of flight. The pyramid-shaped parachute is made of a single piece of thick cloth. The «Ornithopter» flying device would have to be directly operated by the user, as its wings are strapped onto the body. It is rather reminiscent of modern gliders. On a more playful note, the so-called «Theater Bird,» which represents a flying bird, was designed to be part of theater props and could fly across the stage with the use of a rope. The most imposing object in «Fire,» the section featuring war equipment probably commissioned by various rulers, is the «Armored Car,» the ancestor of the tank. The fascinating turtle-shaped device, which has cannons fitted around it, could be operated by eight men and was capable of moving in any direction. Situated at the very back of the hall, its interior is displayed to visitors who might be curious to enter it and see its transmission mechanism. Some of the exhibited items do not seem very functional, but one must keep in mind that many of Leonardo’s inventions were never actually constructed but remained on paper. Moreover, the creator’s notes and manuscripts were only compiled after his death. Nonetheless, Leonardo’s genius for observing nature and trying to incorporate many of its elements into his work becomes very clear in this exhibition. After its display at the Hellenic Cosmos venue, the exhibition is scheduled to travel to Jordan, Cyprus and Turkey through the end of the year and there are talks of it traveling even further, to the United States and Japan or even China, in 2008. The Hellenic Cosmos is at 254 Pireos, Tavros, tel 212.540.0000. «The Genius of Leonardo» will run to March 31 and is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.