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Leonardo da Vinci: 500 Years of Genius

Over Spring Break the girls and I got a chance to see the new Leonardo da Vinci: 500 Years of Genius exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Leonardo was known as an inventor, artist, scientist, anatomist, engineer, architect, sculpture and philosopher. Wheeew….that’s a lot of hats. For this exhibit over 6,000 pages of Leonardo’s notes, sketches and technical observations were translated from experts in Italy and Australia and brought to life in hands on exhibits for us to see. 

The experts had to learn an old Florentine dialect to interpret Leonardo’s intricate drawings, shorthand and mirror writing. Leonardo put in his work deliberate mistakes, misleading information and scattered ideas that the experts had to decipher in his patents to create many of his inventions.

Nearly 70 of Leonardo’s machine inventions were built and on display using detailed concepts from his famous codices (notebooks.) We got to see recreations of a helicopter, airplane, self-propelled car, submarine and military tank. Many of the exhibits were hands-on and the girls loved learning about ball bearings and making a self-supporting bridge using sticks.

My favorite part of the exhibit was being immersed in Leonardo’s works through a multi-sensory cinematic experience using SENSORY4 technology. The room had huge screens and you are surrounded by his artwork, drawings and quotes. It was fascinating to just sit there and soak it all in. 


The last section of the exhibit features “The Secrets of Mona Lisa.” It’s an analysis of the iconic painting conducted at the Louvre by scientific engineer and photographer, Pascal Cotte. The exhibit explains how Leonardo painted her, his techniques, thoughts and preparatory drawings. He documented through years of varnish and restoration techniques the Mona Lisa has gone from a vibrant colorful painting to one muddy and a bit muddled.

I highly recommend this exhibit if you’d like to find out more about this brilliant historical figure. Looking at his drawings and seeing them brought to life, showed me what a genius he was and how far into the future he was thinking. Concepts we use today (i.e. helicopter, machine gun, scuba diving gear, etc.) was just wishful thinking on his part during his lifetime. 

Fun Facts:

  • Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in Anchiano, Italy, near the Tuscan town of Vinci. He was born out of wedlock to a notary and a peasant woman.
  • At age 14, Leonardo became apprentice to Verrocchio, one of the most esteemed Florentine artists of the day. He worked with Verrocchio and other famous painters, including Perugino and Botticelli, during the formative years of his life.
  • Leonardo never received a traditional formal education. His natural gifts caught the attention of his mentors. Verrocchio was particularly impressed when they collaborated on The Baptism of Christ (1475) because of Leonardo’s innovative oil painting techniques.
  • Leonardo moved to Milan around 1481 after convincing Duke Ludovico Sforza of his talents as an artist and engineer. Leonardo’s work began to expand to studies of architecture, military engineering and strategy, mechanical flight, theatrical production, and music.
  • From 1495–98, Leonardo painted The Last Supper in Milan at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
  • Soon after, Louis XII of France seized Milan, and Leonardo returned to Florence.
    In 1502, Cesare Borgia briefly employed Leonardo as his military architect and engineer.
    Leonardo began Mona Lisa in 1503, but the painting remained unfinished at his death years later.
  • In 1504, Leonardo started on the Battle of Anghiari fresco in the Republic of Florence assembly hall. After many technical challenges, the mural was never completed and was painted over in 1565. However, Leonardo’s remaining sketches show the drama of his concepts.
  • Leonardo accepted an invitation from François I to move to France in 1516.
    After suffering a stroke in 1517, Leonardo died on May 2, 1519, in Clos Lucé, France. He is buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the castle of Amboise.

Exhibit Information:

WHEN: March 1–August 25, 2019

WHERE: Denver Museum of Nature & Science, 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver,

HOURS: Open 9 a.m.–5 p.m., daily, with extended hours at various times

TICKETS: Timed tickets required and advance reservations encouraged. 


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