Leonardo, 500 Years Into the Future

Leonardo da Vinci is celebrated as the inventor of extraordinary machines and mechanical devices that entered the common heritage of technical culture only several centuries after his death.

The San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation has had an exhibit about Leonardo da Vinci for the past several months.  I visited the exhibit today.

I haven’t studied Leonardo closely, so was interested to see what I could learn.  I have seen many of his paintings in the Louvre in Paris, including the Mona Lisa.  The exhibit centered more around the machines and mechanical culture of the Renaissance period than paintings.  The only original pieces in the exhibit actually by da Vinci were some of his notebooks.  There were only two paintings in a separate gallery, none by da Vinci, but by two of his disciples.

I walked away with two major impressions about the man.  First, not to diminish his genius, but da Vinci was more a product of his time and didn’t work in a vacuum.  Much of his inventiveness was built on the shoulders of others, including contemporaries, and not in isolation.

Secondly, and most important, is summed up by one of the plaques in the exhibit:

For Leonardo painting is supreme among the sciences, since it is based on the mathematical principles of perspective, it recurs to the to the verification of experience and is nourished by universal knowledge.

In other words, he considered painting the ultimate science vigorously applying the other sciences of perspective, proportionality, mathematics, atmosphere, etc.to his paintings.  Much of this was explained in the exhibit including the Golden ratio, human proportionality, etc.  Quite a contrast to today’s modern artists who declare “anything you say is art, is art”.

Below are a few pictures from today–

Showing the construction of the Renaissance era:


Some of the actual manuscripts–


Machines invented during that period for construction and other uses–


If you live in the area, be sure to visit the exhibit as it is closing soon!

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