Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

Leonardo da Vinci: The father of invention

Exhibition pays homage to genius, writes Dionne Christian.
Tom Rizzo with the drumming robot.
Tom Rizzo with the drumming robot.

To many, Leonardo da Vinci is simply the man who painted arguably the world's most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, but they don't call him a Renaissance man solely because of that or the era in which he lived.

Centuries ahead of his time, da Vinci dreamed up and invented numerous complex machines: the bicycle, a spring-powered car, a hang glider, a prototype helicopter, a scuba suit, a robot drummer, a tank and hydraulic creations that made use of the Archimedes Screw.

When he wasn't painting or inventing, da Vinci was exploring the natural world, discovering fossils and the inner workings of the human body.

Now the interactive exhibition Da Vinci Machines comes to Auckland, with about 70 inventions crafted from drawings and sketches he left behind.

It also features reproductions of his finest paintings including the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, Lady with an Ermine and a self-portrait.

Motat is an apt location for the touring exhibition, given many modern inventors continue to build upon da Vinci's innovations.

Interpretation Manager Rebecca Britt says the show adds to the concept of six simple machines demonstrated in the museum's Welcome to the Machine exhibition.

"We want to encourage people of all ages to engage first-hand with these devices to gain a deeper understanding of principles relating to energy, mass, forces and density," she says.

Developed by Artisans of Florence, Da Vinci Machines comes to New Zealand under the watchful eye of artisan Tom Rizzo, who hails from Melbourne and has been touring with the exhibition for 11 years. He praises da Vinci's "ability to innovate in so many different fields, ranging from art, biology, science, engineering, architecture and mathematics to name a few; I especially admire the way in which Leonardo drew inspiration from the natural world and based many of his designs on principals and features found in nature."

No matter where in the world the exhibition travels, Rizzo says there's the same expression of wonder on the faces of young and old alike. "Those from urban areas are just blown away by what Leonardo thought up, but those from the country say, 'look, at that -- we use this around the farm' or 'we've got something just like that for doing this.' What stopped him from actually making a number of his inventions was the availability of the materials, or lack of. What he needed to make them real hadn't been invented."

What: Da Vinci Machines
When and where: Motat, July 30-October 16

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