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Tuesday, 19 October, 1999, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Renaissance machines are reborn
The flying machine has a wingspan over 10 metres
The Renaissance produced some of the finest painters in history - of that there is little doubt. But if you visit a major new exhibition at the Science Museum in London, UK, it will quickly become apparent that some of these artists were also equally brilliant engineers.

The Art of Invention: Leonardo and Renaissance Engineers has come to London via Paris, Florence and New York.

The exhibiton has drawings of Leonardo's robot
It might be subtitled Mechanical Marvels. On display are about 40 working machines that were designed at the dawn of modern science, 500 years ago.

The most stunning realisation is Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine. The giant, mechanical bird, with its pilot, swoops over the entrance to the exhibition. Leonardo knew it would never fly, but he wanted to understand some of the mechanical principles that might get people into the air.

It is this scholarship which is apparent in all the models on display. There is a paddle boat by Francesco di Giorgio; a bronze-and-copper "surprise" fountain in the form of a barmaid, by an anonymous artist-engineer; and a variety of revolving cranes and hoists used by Filippo Brunelleschi to build the dome of Florence's cathedral.

We are even invited to visualise Leonardo's designs for a warrior robot.

Brunelleschi used his crane to lift stone on to Florence's cathedral
"In those days, artists, engineers and inventors were the same people," says Dr Suzanne Keene, project director at the Science Museum. "It's a strange thought for us today. It's the marriage of arts and science which is the real message that comes out of the exhibition."

The models come from the Institute and Museum of History of Science in Florence. Its director, Paulo Galluzzi, and a team of scholars spent several years studying countless drawings and manuscripts, many of which had simply been buried in archives.

"We commissioned the best craft workers in Florence to construct the models, working in the same way and with the same materials as the craftsmen of the 15th century," says Professor Galluzzi.

"We also decided that to help people understand these things, we should use our modern-day language, which is the computer. So we began to develop multimedia presentations, including computer animation."

Many machines were used by the military

This is done at the exhibition through workstations and three giant screens that animate the drawings. "We bring them to life before your eyes," says Dr Keene.

The drawings are also exhibited as large-scale, silkscreen reproductions.

The exhibition is divided into three sections. The first concentrates on Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). The second concentrates on the artist-engineer-authors of Siena, principally Mariano di Iacopo, known as Taccola (1382-1458) and Francesco di Giorgio (1439-1501).

The third section is devoted to Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) himself.

Drawings and manuscripts were tucked away in archives
The entire exhibition covers a remarkable period in history.

"The artist-engineers became cultivated people," says Professor Galluzzi. "With Leonardo, they arrive at the status of philosophers - which is the end of the metamorphosis from the trivial craftsman to the intellectual."

Twenty-five institutions throughout the world have expressed interest in hosting the exhibition, which will continue to travel until the end of 2001. It will then be put on permanent display in a major Italian venue.

The exhibition runs until 24 April, 2000.

All images are taken from the CD-ROM that has been produced to accompany the exhibition.

Leonardo even designed crash safety systems

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