da vinci wing, da vinci inventions, da vinci sketches, da vinci designs
AP/M. Spencer Green
Models of a wing and a hang glider on display during an exhibit about da Vinci's inventions
and designs at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

Solving the Mysteries of Leonardo da Vinci’s Works

April 27, 2009 05:30 PM
by Haley A. Lovett
A new TV series, “Doing DaVinci,” aims to build the inventions conceived by Leonardo da Vinci, proving that 500 years later we remain fascinated by the mysteries of his paintings and designs.

Da Vinci’s Inventions Given New Life

In the Discovery Channel’s new multi-show special, “Doing DaVinci,” builders will attempt to make some of da Vinci’s most well-known designs using only the materials that would have been available during da Vinci’s lifetime. So far, the team has taken a stab at recreating the armored tank and a siege ladder; later episodes will feature attempts to put together a scythe chariot and a machine gun.

But the show “Doing DaVinci” is not the first attempt to create those works of da Vinci’s that only existed on paper during his lifetime. Many museums and historians have attempted to create models from da Vinci's designs over the years.

In 2008 a museum in Perth, Australia, put on display more than 60 of da Vinci’s famous industrial inventions, which had been assembled by the group the Artisans of Florence. Included in the exhibit were concepts much like the bicycle, helicopter and scuba gear. Before that, a group traveled the world displaying the prototypes in a tent modeled after a da Vinci design.
In April 2008 a Swiss man, Olivier Vietti-Teppa, risked his life to show that da Vinci’s design for a parachute would work. Vietti-Teppa successfully jumped and safely landed after a 2,000-foot drop. In 2000 a London skydiver attempted to use the parachute for a jump, but ended up completing the landing using a backup parachute.

It seems that though many of da Vinci’s designs were way ahead of their time, da Vinci may have been aware of their possible value. The manager of an exhibit of da Vinci’s works, Thomas Rizzo, told the West Australian that “he was a very mysterious and cryptic man, he hid a lot of the aspects of his designs and there’s a lot of speculation as the reason for that,” going on to guess that part of the reason da Vinci disguised some of his designs was to keep someone else from stealing the ideas and claiming them as their own.

Biography: Leonardo da Vinci

Born on April 15, 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was the illegitimate child of a peasant and a notary. As a teen he apprenticed with painter Andrea del Verrocchio, and his gift for painting was soon recognized. He later worked for the Duke of Milan, painting and designing machines and weaponry; it was here that he also began to study science. 

Da Vinci was left-handed, and was also noted as being a vegetarian. He at times wrote backwards, and some of his works can only be read holding them up to a mirror. He only finished six paintings during the 17 years he lived in Milan, a tribute to the notion that da Vinci would often abandon projects that he had started once he got bored with them.

Related Topic: Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

Perhaps da Vinci’s most well-known painting, the Mona Lisa, captures audiences and has puzzled historians for centuries. Last year, German historians are believed to have solved the mystery of the identity of the woman in the Mona Lisa.

Although speculation had before pointed to Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a wealth merchant, as the possible model for the painting, other people thought that perhaps the model was someone else, maybe even da Vinci’s lover. But, according to the German historians, notes from 1503 scribbled in a book clearly identify del Giocondo as the model in the painting, which is coincidentally also known as “La Gioconda.”

In 1911 the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. It took staff two days to notice that the painting was missing. Theories ran wild about who the thief could have been, some even speculating that Pablo Picasso had something to do with the disappearance.

The real thief, Vincenzo Perugia, was apprehended two years later when he tried to return the painting to Italy to collect the 500,000 lire reward for bringing it back to the country where it was created. Many Italians considered Perugia a hero for his act of patriotism.

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