Leonardo da Vinci’s prodigious output has provided fertile ground for such blockbuster exhibitions as the National Gallery’s comprehensive 2012 survey, and the Queen and British Museum’s showcase of his drawings.
The Science Museum’s new show focuses on da Vinci’s engineering, with physical incarnations of the various machines detailed in his many notebooks. This is a perfect show for kids: the 39 models on display are thoroughly alien to our modern conceptions of technology, supplemented by interactive exhibits illustrating the mechanical theories at work.
Some of the designs are prescient – parachutes, cranes, self-propelling vehicles – while others are wild creations intended for battle. Most intriguing are the winged vehicles borrowing the principles of bat and bird wings.
The sheer range of ideas is mind boggling. While the exhibition suggests da Vinci’s mechanical interests are in opposition to his artistic ones, such polarising attitudes are unhelpful; art requires some degree of mechanical thinking, and vice versa. The machines themselves indicate a thorough mix of the two.
That his designs are so different from modern machines demonstrates the genius of a true visionary.