A little corner of Simi Valley has been transformed into The World of da Vinci. On display, through Sept. 8 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum are working models of some of Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest inventions, as well as digitalized restorations of some of his most famous paintings.
Melissa Giller of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute explains that the foundation routinely surveys guests to find out what exhibits they would most like to see. Da Vinci stood out by “leaps and bounds.” The foundation reached out to the Leonardo3 Museum in Milan, whose The World of da Vinci traveling exhibit arrived here in time to honor the quincentenary of the legendary artist and inventor’s death.
“They took Leonardo da Vinci’s original drawings and illustrations and built them exactly,” says Giller, referring to Leonardo3’s painstaking work in bringing da Vinci’s most incredible imaginings to life. The references were da Vinci’s codexes, or folios, that are filled with mechanical designs and scientific studies. The task of recreating was made all the more difficult by the fact that da Vinci, being left-handed, wrote backwards so as not to smear ink across the page.
The result is three dozen models that constitute an awe-inspiring display of da Vinci’s genius. They include everything from his flying machines and mechanical animals to weaponry, boats, musical instruments, a submarine and even a time machine and “magic cube.” Accompanying each model is a copy of da Vinci’s original drawings and a detailed explanation of how each creation was built and how it functions.
“It’s a great way for families to spend the day,” Giller says. She recommends that visitors arrive early so that they have plenty of time to explore. “It’s absolutely worth it.”
The World of da Vinci is an engineering buff’s dream, but you don’t have to be a student of aerodynamics or physics to appreciate da Vinci’s intellect and artistry — or his incredible foresight.
As Giller points out, da Vinci’s inventions were centuries ahead of their time. His flying machines imagined how a human could take flight, hundreds of years before the Wright Brothers flew into the history books. Giller also notes that da Vinci’s flying machines were powered by mechanisms resembling bicycles, and yet the first bicycle did not roll into existence until the late 1800s — more than 300 years after da Vinci passed away. So many examples of da Vinci’s prescient imagination are on display, from his rapid-fire crossbow to his mechanical soldier, which looks like a direct ancestor of the modern robot.
“How might he have changed the world if he had published his works?” Giller wonders, after explaining that da Vinci kept his folios to himself and they were not discovered until long after he died in 1519. All we can begin to know is the impact he continues to have on us today.
“His work is still in our culture and society,” says Giller. The exhibit explores his legacy, from the influence he had on artists such as Andy Warhol to da Vinci “moments” on television and in the movies. At the end of the exhibit are several artifacts connected to the Reagan presidency, including the copy of one of the da Vinci codexes that was presented to the Reagans, as well as several works of art in the Reagan collection that were inspired by the Renaissance master.
Da Vinci’s own works shine in another part of the exhibit, where digital reproductions of “The Last Supper,” “The Mona Lisa,” “Vitruvian Man” and “Lady with an Ermine” are put into social and historical context with the help of engaging interactive elements.
Giller tells the story of the time da Vinci was hired by a man to paint a portrait of his wife. Legend has it that da Vinci was unsatisfied with the portrait, so he never gave it to his client; it was later found in da Vinci’s studio after his death. That painting was “The Mona Lisa” — one of the most beloved and valuable works of art in the world.
The World of da Vinci celebrates this side of da Vinci, too — the human side that coexisted with the mechanical and artistic genius. The exhibit offers a glimpse at his humble beginnings, his self-doubt and perfectionism, as well as his endless thirst for discovery. “His passion was inventing,” says Giller. Visit The World of da Vinci and you can experience that passion for yourself.
The World of da Vinci through Sept. 8 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley. For more info call 805-522-2977 or visit www.reaganfoundation.org.