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Flying Machines, The Last Supper And Scuba Gear Displayed At The Science Center's Da Vinci Exhibit

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Students observe a work table where visitors can draw their own Mona Lisa portrait. In the background, Leonardo da Vinci's iconic Last Supper reproduction covers the wall.

Iconic religious paintings, early helicopter renderings and a room of mirrors are among the items at the Carnegie Science Center’s new Leonardo da Vinci exhibit.

The touring display has visitors walk around, underneath and through inventions by the 15th century Renaissance man, including his drawings of hang gliders and submarines. More than 60 life-size reproductions line the showcase, juxtaposed with enlarged quotations and writings by da Vinci. Many of the displays are interactive, inviting visitors to crank a gear or launch a ping-pong ball using a catapult.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
Molly, 17, hoists pulleys of different weights at the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.

“It’s such an opportunity for kids and adults to come and interact,” said Tom Zaller, of Imagine Exhibitions, the producer of the display. “The ability to learn by doing or learn by seeing some of these incredible inventions.”

The Da Vinci exhibit is particularly good fit for Pittsburgh, according to Andrea Maxwell, a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh. The city is well-known for its history of innovation in science, engineering and environmentalism.

“This is a town that thrives on invention and survival through industry,” Maxwell said. “And Leonardo is one of those people that, if what he had wasn’t working, he came up with something that did.”

While da Vinci is perhaps best known for his religious artwork, including the "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper," he sketched thousands of designs for transportation machines, war contraptions and studied human anatomy at a time when it was considered by the church to be immoral. By funding was rare, da Vinci wasn’t always able to complete every project.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
An aeriel screw and hang glider designed by Leonardo da Vinci. The Italian inventor was well-known for his love of flight and would often create sketches that allowed people to interact with machines.

“So at the time, he’d just be onto the next task, the next city, the next person who was paying,” Maxwell said.

But Zaller said even 500 years after his death, da Vinci’s creations are still being studied and, in some cases, constructed. In the 1950s, a sketch of a proposed bridge in Istanbul was rediscovered after centuries lost. Thanks to modern engineering, Zaller said, a bridge based on da Vinci’s design was completed in Norway in 2001.

The longevity of da Vinci’s ideas and persevering mentality has become a framework for older urban cities like Pittsburgh, Maxwell said, especially as the region works to redefine its identity.

“Pittsburgh is coming back again in a different way, it’s reinventing itself,” Maxwell said, “that idea, that life, it comes from Leonardo.”

Visitors can also walk into a model military tank, try their hand at writing code and draw their own "Mona Lisa." The da Vinci exhibit will be at the Science Center through Sept. 2.