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New exhibition explores Leonardo da Vinci’s impossible machines

'Leonardo da Vinci and Perpetual Motion: Visualising Impossible Machines' opens at The Peltz Gallery from 6 February – 12 March 2019.

Detail of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, Codex Forster II
Image credit: Codex Forster 11, f. 91r © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Leonardo’s search for the perfect machine will be explored in Leonardo da Vinci and Perpetual Motion: Visualising Impossible Machines, a new exhibition at the Peltz Gallery. Using digital animations and 3D augmented reality holograms, visitors are encouraged to examine his designs of this illusive device that would work with total efficiency and be forever self-sufficient.

The quest was proved impossible in the nineteenth century; however his models continue to be intriguing applications of his understanding of the laws of motion, mechanics and geometry expressing an important side of his multifaceted experiments. Key drawings from his notebooks will be featured alongside animated images, virtual and 3D printed models, exploring what modern technology can contribute towards our understanding of visual works and thinking processes in art and science.

The exhibition is part of the celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death and is curated by Dr Juliana Barone from Birkbeck's Department of History of Art and Andrea Bernardoni from the Museo Galileo. Speaking of the exhibition Bernardoni says: “Fascinated by perpetual motion Leonardo designed mills, water lifts and mechanical wheels thought to work without additional external forces. He continued to do so even after he realised their impossibility, likening it to the alchemist’s gold transmutation. The exhibition will introduce this impossible challenge.

“Leonardo’s most developed perpetual motion studies took the form of overbalanced wheels, which the visitor will be able to explore with state-of-the-art technology while also gaining insights into his analogical thinking and design process.”

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 the nucleus of a larger exhibition at the Museo Galileo in Florence (October 2019 - January 2020).

The keynote lecture, Leonardo da Vinci: the Motions of the Mind, by Professor Michael Kwakkelstein (Director of the Dutch Institute of the History of Art in Florence) and a now fully-booked private viewing will be held on 6 February, 6-9pm. If you're interested in attending, you can join the waiting list

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