An exhibit in Rome sheds new light on Leonardo da Vinci’s versatility as architect, engineer and a visionary, many of whose inventions were precursors of today’s technological achievements.

The exhibit, "A Curious Genius," consists of items from Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus — the large collection of his notebooks and scientific drawings of mechanics, hydraulic engineering, optics and military architecture. The drawings are accompanied by a dozen newly built models of machines based on his designs.

Leonardo’s drawings and notes — filled with detailed suggestions for projects — are an insight into his thought process. Many of the designs were futuristic ideas that could not be carried out because the necessary technology did not exist in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The exhibit will remain open at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome until Feb. 28. After making its way through Europe, it will travel to the United States in 2007.


A piano-size model of a self-moving machine based on drawings from 1478, more than 400 years before the first modern automobile.

Several of Leonardo da Vinci’s ideas are seen as precursors of inventions that came to be many centuries later. For example, airscrew’s concept of vertical movement is found in modern helicopters.

One of Leonardo’s famous flying machines — a glider that recreates the movement of birds.

Leonardo’s parachute consists of linen cloth held open by a pyramid of wooden poles. He wrote that with such a device anyone could jump from any height without injury.

The swing bridge was part of Leonardo’s intense work on military architecture and equipment. The bridge has a single parabolic span made up of lattice-reinforced beams.

A paddle boat is among the machines on display. All the models were made recently following Leonardo’s research in mechanics, hydraulic engineering, optics and military architecture.