Da Vinci Machines: An Educational Traveling Exhibit for All Ages

Lisa Fritscher July 11, 2014 No Comments

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Flying Machine

Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines are particularly inspiring.

I have had a love affair with vintage mechanical devices since I was a small child. From slide rules to old computers, I enjoy any opportunity to see vintage equipment in action. When I heard that a collection of machines based on Leonardo da Vinci’s original designs would be in our area, I knew I had to go. Dad and I visited with friends, and another friend went a few weeks later with his family. Our group spanned a wide range of ages and interests, and everyone agreed it was money well spent.

About the Da Vinci Machines
Leonardo da Vinci was arguably one of the most influential artists of all time. The archetypal Renaissance Man, he left an enduring body of artwork from the Mona Lisa to the Last Supper. He was also a scientist and inventor, designing war machines, flying machines and all sorts of labor-saving devices. Unfortunately, he built only a few prototypes, which were destroyed by the ravages of time.

Thankfully, da Vinci’s ideas endure, carefully enshrined in his massive collection of codices. These handwritten notebooks are packed with drawings and descriptions that capture his theories and provide detailed information on how to build his machines. However, decoding them is a challenge in its own right, as the majority are not only written in the ancient Italian language of his time, but are also written in mirror image cursive handwriting. Some people believe that he chose that writing style to make his secrets harder to steal, while others believe it was simply a more expedient way for the left-handed da Vinci to record his thoughts.

Mona Lisa

Don’t forget to have your picture taken with the Mona Lisa!

In 2006, traveling exhibit creator Grande Exhibitions partnered with Italian artisans to create small-scale replicas of a few da Vinci machines. They launched a test demonstration in Australia, the first of its kind outside of Europe. The exhibit’s smash success proved there was an audience, and Grande Exhibitions founder Bruce Peterson moved to Italy to develop a full-scale traveling exhibition.

Today, the collection contains more than 60 small-scale and life-size reproductions. Each piece was carefully crafted from the original codices. In addition, the exhibition contains lifelike digital reproductions of many of da Vinci’s most famous artworks and replicas of some of the codices. A 45-minute documentary film delves deeply into da Vinci’s life.

Our Experience
With two friends, we made the two-hour drive to Bradenton, Florida, where the exhibition was housed at the Bradenton Auditorium. We arrived around 12:30 p.m., leaving us just enough time to chat with the friendly staff and take a quick look around before the 1:00 docent tour, included in the price of admission.

The hour-long tour proved invaluable in helping the exhibition come alive. Our docent was a college-aged guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of, and genuine love and appreciation for, da Vinci. He explained and demonstrated many of the machines, putting them in a historical framework while pointing out their similarities to things we use today.

After the tour, we made a slow loop around the exhibition, taking in the machines that our guide did not cover. We then watched the documentary, which we all agreed is a must-see for people of all ages. After a stop in the surprisingly well-stocked gift shop, we headed out for a drive along the Florida Gulf Coast.

Tips for Parents

Docent

The docents are highly trained and their love for da Vinci is evident.

The Da Vinci Machines exhibition is incredibly well-done. The level of research and attention to detail are breathtaking, and the entire display is dedicated to helping visitors understand the man behind these incredible creations. In addition, the tag line is “Discover the da Vinci in You.” The idea is that we all have areas of hidden talent, even genius, if we are brave enough to scratch the surface. The exhibition is wonderfully inspiring, and all around us we overheard families discussing everything from mechanical engineering to secret codes.

Most of the machines have Please Do Not Touch signs, but a few sturdy items have signs welcoming visitors to use them. Keep an eye on your kids, but encourage them to gently play with the machines that are allowed. Be prepared for questions, and if there is anything you do not know, never hesitate to ask a nearby staff member. The employees are well-trained, and their love for all things da Vinci shines through.

The exhibition is one of four that travel the world. Keep up with their progress at DiscoverDaVinci.com, and make plans to visit when one comes your way.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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