Neighborhood Travels

Leonardo da Vinci at the Reagan Library

I spent a few hours today visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA.  It’s a beautiful place and well worth a visit, but my attentions weren’t on the former president as much as on the creativity of a centuries-old genius.  The library is hosting a special exhibit which features Leonardo da Vinci and his fantastic machines.


Always appropriate, the exhibit begins with an introduction of da Vinci.  In some ways, the Renaissance doesn’t seem all that long ago, but five hundred years have passed since Leonardo’s heydey.  As an illegitimate son, he had no rights and no education.  He taught himself, and here’s what he learned: mathematics, science, invention, art, biology, and imagination.   Briefly stated, Leonardo recorded his idea and drawings in notebooks, called Codices.  The exhibit revolves around the Codex Atlanticus.  His drawings have been reproduced for the exhibit.

Mechanical lion of Leonardo da Vinci
Mechanical lion of Leonardo da Vinci

One of the first pieces is seen above.  The wooden structure is full-size, a large lion.  It’s made of multiple pulleys and gears.  Da Vinci created his lion for the king of France.  It walked, and when it reached its destination, the chest area opened and presented the lilies, in honor of France and its king.  The exhibit is filled with such wonders!

But wait, there’s more!

I won’t mention every section of the exhibit.  Leonardo was interested in a lot of things!  Instead, I’ll feature a couple of machines that I especially liked.  For instance, he designed a sea vessel, a war machine with multiple cannons.

The Multi-Cannon Gunship of da Vinci
The Multi-Cannon Gunship of da Vinci

The paddles in the center must propel the craft.  Where one would use such a vessel is beyond my naval experience.  Still, the idea is clever.

Da Vinci also designed several musical instruments.  Some baffled me more than the cannons above.  Others were familiar.

The Double Continuous Organ
The Double Continuous Organ

This instrument is full-sized, and one can play it.  Well, a professional can play it.  The bellows are on the side.  By pumping the pedals, one works the bellows.  The air travels through the organ and produces sound.

Leonardo thought about ways to modernize a city.  Here is his idea for a swing bridge.

The Swing Bridge
The Swing Bridge

The bridge pivots ninety degrees thereby allowing boats to pass on the river, or prohibiting unwelcome visitors.  The tricky part is that when the bridge is open, the weight of the span must have a counterweight to prevent the structure from collapsing.  This bridge is a study in balance.

The da Vinci Masterpiece

Of course, Leonardo is known for his paintings.  Part of the exhibit deals with reproductions of the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper.  The actual Mona Lisa is in the Louvre in Paris.  I enjoyed the story of the Last Supper. It too is in Europe, in Milan.  It’s on a wall in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.  It may not be a brilliant painting, too experimental to survive for centuries, but people greatly admire it.  Even my family had a copy when I was a kid.


A visitor in front of the reproduction of da Vinci's Last Supper
A visitor in front of the reproduction of da Vinci’s Last Supper

The World of da Vinci is currently at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.  It won’t be there for long.  The exhibit ends on September 8th.

To see more images from my visit, please click here.

Elizabeth Boatman

Traveler, explorer, memory maker and someone who's just downright curious about stuff. It's all about finding joy.


Your thoughts?

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  • What an imagination! That lion is a marvel as is the swinging bridge. The circular gunboat, I’m not so sure about. I’m guessing it could only be used in very calm, protected waters where there was no current. The only way to steer appears to be by using the two sets of paddle wheels independently. And there also didn’t appear to be any space to load the cannons or any way to account for their recoil when fired. Was any of that explained at the exhibit? Still, I’d love to see it and the Reagan Library as well.

    • I have no idea how that multi-cannon ship is supposed to work. I think Leonardo simply jotted down ideas. It didn’t matter if they worked or not. His hydraulic perpetual motion machine wouldn’t work. One can’t make such a thing. Still, he was always thinking. That’s what amazes me. He observed his world and found ways to tinker with it.

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