Clovis Lim visited Italy with his family in March and immediately noticed buses, street signs and banners displayed everywhere in red and white. “Celebrando Leonardo,” read one of them.
This year all of Italy — but particularly Florence, where the great artist and inventor lived — is celebrating the achievements of Leonardo da Vinci, who passed away 500 years ago.
Clovis, 9, and his mom and sister got a chance to see the inventor’s side of the great man in an interactive museum in Florence filled with reproductions of Leonardo’s inventions based on his original sketches.
The museum’s founder, Gabriele Niccolai, grew up in Florence just like Leonardo did, hearing stories from his father about the artist’s curiosity. Ten years ago, they opened the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. Niccolai and his father built the first exhibits together.
“When I was a kid I remembered going into museums and seeing signs urging me not to touch [anything]. That bothered me. I wanted to break that rule and create something where kids can actually spark their curiosity by using their hands, just like Leonardo,” Niccolai said.
One of the inventions is a large wooden pulley system, or carrucola in Italian. Leonardo used sandbags and rope to create a machine that would pick up heavy objects the way a crane does.
“It is a lot of fun to pull up and down. Also, it is cool to see how simple something like this used to be,” said Clovis, who was visiting from Malaysia.
His sister, Clarice, 4, spent most of her time at the robot drummer or robot tamburellature. One of the many interests of Leonardo was how to make music by machine. Clarice rotated the handlebar on the side as the robot drummed to the beat based on her speed.
Leonardo also had a deep fascination for flying and hoped to make flying machines that used pedals like a bike. But he knew that super strength would be needed to lift off, so he sketched a system that would let someone build muscle and strength. Today, we would call it a weightlifting machine. The wooden structure has handle bars and pedals to lift three heavy sandbags from the ground.
“It is incredible that there wasn’t even flight yet and he was thinking about ways to prepare for it,” Niccolai said.
Since Leonardo da Vinci’s death 500 years ago, his artwork and sketches have been studied around the world. His painting of the Mona Lisa, which sits in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, is probably the most famous painting in the world. Niccolai is proud that he was able to bring Leonardo’s inventions to life. He thinks Leonardo would be proud to see his work being passed on in this way.
“Kids should be open-minded and curious, and that way they could be like Leonardo. People lose curiosity as they grow older, but with Leonardo he was curious his entire life, not just when he was young.”