Looking for something fun and educational to do for the whole family? My husband, son, and I recently visited the Leonardo Da Vinci 500 Years of Genius exhibition at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and it did not disappoint. The exhibit opened March 1st, and explores the extraordinary legacy of Leonardo Da Vinci, Italian inventor, artist, scientist, anatomist, engineer, architect, sculptor, and philosopher. His story is told through immersive and interactive experiences that illustrate why he remains an inspiration to this day.
“Leonardo was largely a self-taught man, which makes his Renaissance-era engineering abilities even more incredible,” said Steve Nash, senior curator of Archaeology for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “They say that curiosity is king, but inquisitiveness is queen, and that’s exactly what Leonardo had. He never stopped paying attention to detail, which is the essence of being a kid, exploring, seeking, and figuring out how the world works.”
Leonardo applied his fundamental understanding of science in his approach not only to his paintings but to military machines. These include a drum, a giant crossbow, rolling ball bearings, cannons and other gun machines. His inspiration laid the groundwork for many machines and devices, including the helicopter, airplane, automobile, submarine, scuba gear, and military tank.
“Leonardo’s intensive study of optics and perspective were mind experiments that demonstrated the fact that his work was not so much about the resulting masterpieces, but about his thought processes,” added Nash.
A Little History
Born in 1452 in Anchiano, Italy, near the Tuscan town of Vinci, Leonardo never received a formal education. His natural gifts brought the attention of his mentors. At age 14, he became an apprentice to Verrocchio, one of the most esteemed Florentine artists of the day. During his formative years, he learned innovative oil painting techniques, and expanded his studies to include architecture, military engineering, mechanical flight, theatrical production, and even music.
Many of his works were commissioned by powerful patrons including Medici, Cesare Borgia, and Francis I of France. He began painting “Mona Lisa” in 1503, but the painting remained unfinished at his death years later, making his famous quote about unfinished art all the more poignant.
The museum’s historical enactors circulate throughout the exhibit hall, presenting characters who might have known Leonardo at the time, bringing visitors a personal perspective to his story. You might exchange pleasantries with Francoise d’Amboise de Cheverny, the envoy assigned by the French governor of Milan to see to Leonardo’s care and needs, or exchange florins with Leonora Strozzi, mother, wife, and well-read woman of the court, whose patronage led her to commission a portrait by the maestro himself.
As you move through the exhibit, you’ll find more than just Leonardo’s paintings. You can see reproductions of machine inventions, sketches, and detailed instruction manuals. Kids and parents alike can even test some of his mechanisms, such as the catapult.
The exhibition’s SENSORY4 technology offers a high-definition look at motion graphics with surround-sound, combined with authentic photography and video footage where you can lose yourself in a grand display of computer-generated images of Leonardo’s codices, arts, and inventions. It’s an awe-inducing experience, being able to see that Leonardo wrote thousands of pages of notes (carefully re-created in Italy on display as reproductions) revealing deliberate mistakes, scattered thoughts, and highly detailed sketches, the primary insight into his genius.
For those who would like to try their hand at Leonardo-inspired creativity, they can make their own codex page with a self-portrait or still life right in the gallery.
An exclusive feature of the exhibition is “The Secrets of Mona Lisa,” an analysis of the iconic painting conducted at the Louvre by scientific engineer and photographer Pascal Cotte. The display includes super-magnified examinations, a 13-foot high infrared print, and the only 360-degree replica ever made of “Mona Lisa.”
Guests can also view print reproductions of Leonardo’s Florentine oil paintings, including “The Annunciation” and “Virgin on the Rocks.”
The exhibition will be in Denver from March 1 to August 25, 2019. Timed tickets will be required and advance reservations are encouraged. Tickets available at Denver Museum of Nature & Science or by calling 303.370.6000. Guests pay $28.95 adult, $24.95 senior (age 65+), $20.95 junior (ages 3–18). Save $2 by booking online. Students receive 10 percent off adult admission with their ID. All tickets include general admission. Museum members receive discounted admission. An audio guide is available for purchase.