Relying on Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, the new exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science features almost 70 of Leonardo’s machines and designs. Many of these never made it to the construction stage in Leonardo’s lifetime, but have been built for this exhibit using the materials and techniques of sixteenth-century craftsmen. Most offer practical solutions to military problems or urban planning challenges, including an assault ladder and an interactive jack and rolling ball bearings. Others seem more esoteric, such as scuba equipment, hand flippers and a life buoy made of leather.
The exhibit on the inventor, artist, anatomist, sculptor, and philosopher who lived from 1452-1519 also features groundbreaking high-resolution images of the Mona Lisa. Scientific engineer and fine arts photographer Pascal Cotte enjoyed rare access to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. His images, including a 13-foot-high infrared print, reveal the paintings beneath the Mona Lisa and help explain mysteries such as her apparent lack of eyebrows (spoiler alert: she didn’t shave them).
Australia-based Grande Exhibitions designed the exhibit, but Maura O’Neal, the Museum’s communications manager, shares that the Museum made several unique additions to the Denver exhibition. “We had local craftsmen build the tabletop catapults and other hands-on elements that are part of the exhibition, to allow for a more interactive experience. We also put out a call for local actors to help us bring Renaissance Italy to life.”
Historical re-enactors in detailed period costumes enhance the visitor experience. The actors portray individuals representative of diverse segments of society, and include a well-educated court woman and mother (Leonara Strozzi) who sat for a portrait by the master as well as a merchant (Antonio) who creates and sells pigments and art supplies. These characters stroll the “town” and offer a wealth of knowledge about Leonardo and his time. They will not break character as they explain the workings of one of the many inventions or respond to a query about Leonardo’s personal life.
Though made in Denver, the re-enactors’ outfits are true to the period. Jennifer Moss Logan, an educator and content specialist in the Museum’s Programs Department, speaks in glowing terms about the costumes designed and made by Museum volunteer Jennifer Wostie. “The details in the pattern of the dress, the silk of the dress…Jennifer researched all of this and everything accurately portrays what a lady of the court or a military man would have worn.”
These efforts, combined with the Renaissance music that plays, help visitors better understand Leonardo’s world. “They allow our guests to put Leonardo in context and step into that space. You can understand Leonardo’s talent and genius along with the everydayness of the time,” says Moss Logan.
Leonardo da Vinci: 500 Years of Genius runs through August 25, 2019. The Sturm Family Foundation is the Denver exhibit sponsor. Timed tickets are required and DMNS encourages advance reservations. Tickets are available at dmns.org/davinci or 303.370.6000. All tickets include general admission to the Museum, and Museum members received discounted admission.