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Inventions of Leonardo da Vinci on show

     More than 80 artifacts on show at the Hong Kong Science Museum will give the public a rare opportunity to peep into the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, a master thinker and artist during the Renaissance in Europe.

     Entitled "Marvellous Inventions of Leonardo da Vinci", the exhibition at the Science Museum was opened today (October 8) and will run until February 9, 2011. The exhibits include more than 50 interactive mechanical models reconstructed from Leonardo's drawings and notes, replicas of the codices, a video on his life, animation programmes of the models, and 16 full-scale reproductions of his famous paintings, including the "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper", which are generally regarded as the best-known works in Western art. The exhibition, provided by the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci, Italy, will enable visitors to explore the thoughts and inspiration of this genius.

     The exhibition was opened today by the Under Secretary for Home Affairs, Ms Florence Hui; the Consul General of Italy in Hong Kong, Ms Alessandra Schiavo; the Director of the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci, Florence, Italy, Mr Luigi Rizzo; and the Chief Curator of the Science Museum, Mr Michael Wong.

     Speaking at the opening ceremony, Ms Hui noted that Leonardo's legendary life and ingenious creativity had been the focus of research and exploration by historians and artists.

     "The artisans at the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci in Florence, Italy, in collaboration with many scholars from around the world, studied Leonardo's codices and drawings and built models accordingly. Some of the models are in fact prototypes of machines that we use today," Ms Hui said.

     The exhibition has been on a world tour to Italy, the United States, Australia and New Zealand and received enthusiastic responses.

     Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was born in Vinci, near Florence. He not only left the world numerous renowned paintings, but was also a man of many diverse talents with interests in war machines, architecture, anatomy, flight, hydraulics, civil engineering and other scientific studies. He had infinite creativity and imagination, and was able to observe and record every experiment and phenomenon precisely.

     Although Leonardo regarded war as a "most bestial madness", he devoted a significant part of his studies to analysing arms and war machines. The arms he designed were mainly firearms but there were also siege machines, catapults and such like, which hark back to more traditional warfare. Imagination played an important part in Leonardo's makeup, as his beautiful, fanciful designs for clubs and lance heads show, as well as his Machiavellian project for a multiple crossbow for rapid successive firing. Apart from creating new designs, Leonardo also devoted himself to improving and perfecting the efficiency of traditional weapons and firearms.

     Leonardo also worked continuously and with originality on his study of water. As a duke's engineer, Leonardo had to apply himself to the fundamental problem of water since not only agriculture but also the working of machines and mills depended on its properly regulation. By carefully observing the flow of rivers, he drew a number of conclusions about movement, erosion and currents on the surface and below, often with the assistance of little wooden or glass models through which he made water flow. The results of these experiments were then applied to the practical problems of canal building, and many drawings of bulkheads, portholes and locks with movable gates are preserved in his notebooks.

     His great interest in flight appeared during the years he spent in Florence when he was young, but it was after he moved to Milan, in 1482, that the subject began to assume special importance for him. His observation of birds, albeit non-specialised, persuaded him that there was nothing mysterious about flight. He said: "...a man with his large constructed wings, creating a force against air resistance and succeeding, will subdue it and rise above it".

     The parachute and "air screw" represent an isolated case in Leonardo's study of flight. The parachute consisted of a rigid pyramid-like structure, with a base of 7.2 metres and a height of 7.2 metres, covered with starched linen to make it impermeable and airtight. The "air screw" can be seen as a prototype of the helicopter. Most of the flying machines designed by Leonardo were equipped with wings, usually beating. It was on the wing - its form, structure and creation - that he concentrated wide and detailed research.

     The most innovative aspect of Leonardo's contribution to technology was his analysis of the components of machines, carried out from the beginning of the 1490s. He regarded the machine as the result of assembling a series of elementary devices, and he was not only familiar with simple mechanisms such as the winch, lever, pulley, wedge and screw, but also able to apply them to complex machines which allowed a series of operations to be carried out automatically, through the use of various systems of motion transmission.

     Leonardo had a very significant effect on the relationship between science and art. Starting from what was still a 15th-century concept, he made his art the mirror of nature, which must be thoroughly studied and researched before it can be properly portrayed. This was the reason for his dedicated study of botany, anatomy and, in particular, optics. According to him, "Painting is the composition of light and shade mixed together with the different qualities of all its colours, simple and composite" ("Treatise on Painting").

     Leonardo's painting is brought to life by his preoccupation with chiaroscuro rather than with colour. His treatment of colour, however, was skilled. Take the famous "The Last Supper" for example, he applied tempera and strove to solidify the paint with new glutens. One of the most important of masterpieces in the whole of painting is undoubtedly "the lady on the balcony", celebrated by Vasari as a portrait of Monna Lisa Gherardini, which Leonardo painted in Rome on the commission of Giuliano de Medici, and for which there are no surviving preparatory studies.

     The "Marvellous Inventions of Leonardo da Vinci" is the first in the exhibition series entitled "Creativity x Science x Art = ∞" organised by various museums under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) this year.  Following this exhibition will be "Act•Live - Hong Kong International Poster Triennial 2010" by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and "Touching Art: Louvre's Sculptures in Movement" by the Hong Kong Museum of Art. 

     To encourage the public to grab the opportunity to visit "The Creativity × Science × Art =∞" exhibition series, the LCSD's museums have launched a Visitor Reward Scheme.  Visitors who visit this exhibition series will get a specially designed souvenir umbrella by presenting a total of three standard full-price admission tickets for the three exhibitions.  The offer is on a first-come-first-served basis while stocks last.  Interested parties can check out the details from the Science Museum's website at

     The Science Museum is located at 2 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East. It opens from 1pm to 9pm from Monday to Wednesday and on Fridays, and from 10am to 9pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $25 with half-price concession for full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

     For details of the exhibition and related programmes, visit the Science Museum's website. For enquiries, please call 2732 3232.

Ends/Friday, October 8, 2010


Picture shows a reproduction of "The Last Supper", one of the most famous paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. It portrays the last meal shared by Jesus with his disciples before his capture and death. It shows specifically the moment when Jesus said "one of you will betray me". Leonardo depicts the dramatic reaction of the 12 Apostles to this statement. The painting is full of religious and historical symbolism. Judas, for example, is the more detached figure of the 12 and is spilling salt, which in Italy is regarded as a sign of bad luck. Christ's face and posture is a blend of two states - resignation and suffering. The finished painting was acclaimed as a masterpiece of design and characterisation. But it deteriorated rapidly and within 50 years it was already ruined. Despite this, it is one of the most reproduced artworks of all time.


Picture shows a reproduction of the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo (Mona Lisa). The Mona Lisa, or "la Gioconda", is arguably the most famous painting in the world. Its fame rests, in particular, on the elusive, mysterious smile on the woman's face, rendered perhaps by the subtle shadows at the edges of the mouth and eyes. The shadowy quality for which the work is renowned came to be called "Sfumato" or Leonardo's smoke. Leonardo knew exactly the nature of the smile he wanted since by then he had performed many anatomical dissections, and the study of facial muscles appear in his anatomical notes. The name Mona Lisa came about because of a spelling error! The original name of the painting was Monna Lisa. Monna, in Italian, was a common shortening of Madonna, meaning "my lady". Why he chose to paint her is still a mystery.


Picture shows a naval tank, an extraordinary war machine and another example of Leonardo's creativity in his desire to impress his patrons with new military strategies. Here he proposes to equip an armed boat with a new type of devastating "circular multiple bombard" - a system of 16 cannons mounted on a rotating platform. The cannons would fire simultaneously in order to prevent the boat from shifting from its course.


The tank shown in the picture was designed by Leonardo. It is a heavy vehicle shaped like a tortoise with cannons all round it and perhaps reinforced with metal plates. Some people had thought of moving it with sails, but Leonardo's solution was a system of gears moved by cranks worked by eight men inside. He even thought of using horses instead of men but the risk of the animals panicking in such a tight, noisy space made him change his mind.


The hang-glider shown in the picture was designed by Leonardo. There were two different periods in which Leonardo studied flying machines. In the first period, his machines flew with the strength of man. The machines that belong to the second period use the power of the wind. The hang-glider belongs to the second type. This machine has also a rudder that permits the pilot to regulate the flight. With this machine Leonardo achieved a high degree of sophistication.


Chains designed by Leonardo. He studied many different types of flexible chains, used for transmission of continuous motion. However the square shape of the teeth and the weights hanging on them lead us to believe that they were meant to transmit discontinuous motion and in particular were conceived for release mechanisms like clocks. Chains are also used in one of the most famous machines: the bicycle.


The Hong Kong Science Museum's new exhibition, "Marvellous Inventions of Leonardo da Vinci", was opened today (October 8). Officiating guests were (from left) the Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Science Museum, Mr Michael Wong; the Under Secretary for Home Affairs, Ms Florence Hui; the Consul General of Italy in Hong Kong, Ms Alessandra Schiavo; and the Director of the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci, Florence, Italy, Mr Luigi Rizzo.


Touring the exhibition were (from second left) the Under Secretary for Home Affairs, Ms Florence Hui; the Consul General of Italy in Hong Kong, Ms Alessandra Schiavo; the Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Science Museum, Mr Michael Wong; and the Director of the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci, Florence, Italy, Mr Luigi Rizzo.



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