500 years post Leonardo

August 5, 2019


 'Leonardo': In Italian means 'strong as a lion.' 


Da Vinci Quinientos, an exhibit of Da Vinci's works is currently on display in the gymnasium on the UPB campus in Laureles. If you live anywhere near Medellin, take the time to see this show. It is, as our Spanish speaking friends say, 'espectacular!' His clever Leon Mecánico, the mechanical lion, was designed in the late 15th century. A full scale model of this beast is on display.


Leonardo Da Vinci died May 2nd 1519, almost exactly 500 years ago. The man from Vinci was something more than a polymath; he was so far ahead of his time it's no wonder he found himself at odds with powerful people from time to time. As part of its summer school program, UPB has brought this display of Leonardo's genius to Medellin. It's a singular event, featuring Da Vinci's astonishing vision in reference to art, music, science, geology, philosophy, anatomy, engineering, technology, urban design, even aviation. The fellow was wicked smart.


For 16,000 pesos, ($5.20 USD), you can't afford not to go.


The setting is academic; the displays are exquisitely done; and there's even a VR bicycle!


Most of the exposition is housed in the gymnasium on UPB's Laureles campus. Guided tours are available in Spanish and English, and the young guides know what they're talking about. Our two guides, Manuela and Alejandro walked us from one part to the next, each area dedicated to a very small sampling of Da Vinci's genius. Mixed in with Leonardo's craft were samples of artifacts created by subsequent artists & engineers who built on Leonardo's vision. 


 World's first helicopter?


Of course yours truly would be interested in Da Vinci's airscrew, possibly the world's first ever helicopter. Leonardo envisioned this machine, and he even built one in the latter part of the 15th century. It's obvious that Da Vinci understood that air is a fluid, and that by turning this 'air screw' fast enough, a man (or a woman, presumably) could lift themselves skyward. Here Manuela explains the history and function of the machine. 

 Human powered vehicle. And no pico y placa!


Da Vinci designed a lot of machines for war, and his system of locomotion consisted of geared assemblies like these to move things forward or backward. He designed this manner of locomotion into vehicles for public and private use, for battle tanks, and even for pieces of artillery. For much of his creative life Da Vinci worked under the aegis of one prince or another, royals who bankrolled his projects, and funded his fertile imagination, thus his focus at times on war machines. 


 Jigsaw puzzle of Da Vinci's 'La Ultima Cena,' the last supper


In a tribute to Da Vinci's (second) most famous painting, 'The Last Supper,' those who assembled the Da Vinci Quinientos exhibition crafted a jigsaw puzzle. As Manuela explained, the puzzle was put together by teams working for 20 minutes at a time. At 4 feet by ten feet, (122 X 305 CM) it contains 13,600 pieces. We can surmise that along the way the team did, in fact, lose a piece under the table.


 La Ultima Cena, The Last Supper


Here Alejandro explains details about Da Vinci's 'Last Supper.' Leonardo was, again, way ahead of his time in his understanding of perspective and light in his paintings. In 'The Last Supper,' Da Vinci tended to such details as the color of the clothing worn by the apostles as it reflected in the dishes, the many symbols of Christ's pending crucifixion found in and around the painting, and many other very subtle details not immediately noticed. For example, St. Peter grips a knife in his left hand. Those familiar with the christian narrative of Christ's passion will recall that immediately following this fateful feast, in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter used a knife to cut off the ear of a Roman guard. Christ admonished him to put away his weapon. "Those who live by the sword," he said. "Will die by the sword." In another subtle detail, Judas Iscariot has spilled a salt shaker on the table, symbolizing his pending betrayal of Christ. Judas also grasps a small money pouch which contains the 30 pieces of silver he was paid for that betrayal. Da Vinci painted 'The Last Supper' between 1495 & 1498. The painting is now housed at the convent of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan. It measures 6 X 12 feet. (180 X 350 CM)


 VR Goggle tour of Da Vinci's fertile mind


There's even a chance for a bit of exercise, for the body and for the mind. Pedal the bike while wearing VR goggles and soar over mountains like a bird (or a bat) as Leonardo imagined, span rivers and valleys crossing bridges he designed, and maneuver various vehicles that the genius from Vinci saw in his personal version of VR goggles, his own imagination. It's not likely he dreamed up VR goggles 500 years ago, but who's to say? After seeing Da Vinci's other works, it would not come as a surprise.


 Manuela chats about the evolution of flight


From Da Vinci's early, and by our standards crude understanding of the mechanics of flight, eventually came the array of flying machines assembled here. Flying seemed to be an obsession with Leonardo. Viewing his simple machines with their preternaturally accurate aerodynamics and design, we can almost see him watching the birds with envy, studying their efficient style, and sensing the ability to imitate flight himself. Again, if Da Vinci had only had access to an efficient propulsion system, metallurgy, tools, and the fuel needed, who's to say he would not have beaten the Wright brothers by nearly 400 years? 


 World's first jetpack?


This item is a backpack flying device Da Vinci put together in the late 15th century. His maquina voladora, flying machine in Italian, was in imitation not of a bird, but a bat. The device's scissors-like means of locomotion shows Leonardo's engineering skills, and his agile mind, never stuck on one idea, always open to new ones.


Student crafted items based on Leonardo's works 


The items above are found in the UPB library next door to the gymnasium. Various students built these things based on Da Vinci's ideas and drawings. The 'Mona Colombiana' may be my favorite. It's a whimsical take on Da Vinci's La Gioconda, the famous Mona Lisa.


The Da Vinci Quinientos exposition at UPB Laureles closes August 16th, so hurry.









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