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Leonardo da Vinci and Perpetual Motion: Visualising Impossible Machines

Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square

Can one have perpetual motion?

The search for the perfect machine, which would work with total efficiency and be self-sufficient ad infinitum, occupied natural philosophers and engineers from the Middle Ages onwards. Leonardo has a central place in this story. His designs of perpetual motion machines are intriguing applications of his understanding of the laws of motion and mechanics, expressing an important side of his multifaceted experiments in art, science and engineering.

The quest proved impossible in the nineteenth century with studies of thermodynamics, yet Leonardo is the first to state its impossibility. This exhibition explores new ways of analysing, reconstructing and contextualising Leonardo’s designs. Key drawings from his notebooks are featured alongside animated images and virtual models, as well as placed in the wider context of his oeuvre with tools for comparative scrutiny and reasoning. At stake is what state-of-the art technology can contribute towards our understanding of visual works and thinking processes in the fields of art and science.

The exhibition is a collaboration between The Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology at Birkbeck (London), Ravensbourne University London, The Museo Galileo(Florence); and with the support of the Leonardo da Vinci Society (London).It is also part of the international celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). It is the nucleus of a larger exhibition at the Museo Galileo in Florence (October 2019- January 2020).

Programme of events

6 February - Keynote Lecture, Leonardo da Vinci: the Motions of the Mind, 6-7pm: Join Professor Michael Kwakkelstein, Director of the Dutch Institute of the History of Art in Florence, for the opening lecture. The lecture is followed by the exhibition private view and reception 7.00-9pm All Welcome! Book your ticket here!

25 February - Conference 10:30am-5pm, ‘The History of Perpetual Motion from the Renaissance to the Present’, Royal Astronomical Society. Booking details to follow!

1 March - Symposium 6pm -9pm Booking details to follow!

Opening hours
Monday-Friday: 10am-8pm
Saturday: 10am - 5pm (Term time unless otherwise stated)



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