Da Vinci masterpiece at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

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Dan Brown fans and Tom Hanks wannabes can finally live out their wildest treasure-hunting fantasies at the National Air & Space Museum next week. From September 13 to October 22, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s  masterpieces, “Codex on the Flight of Birds,” will be featured in the Wright Brothers Exhibit. The codex is an early 16th century document that includes detailed diagrams of aerodynamic concepts and bird behavior. The exhibition of this extraordinary document is part of “one of the true highlights of the 2013 year of Italian culture in the United States,” which includes over 300 events in 50 American cities, according to Italian ambassador Cluadio Bisogniero in a press event earlier today.

The Codex was loaned to the Smithsonian by the Biblioteca Reale of Italy, and the partnership between the two is a testament to the “first fifty years of collaboration between NASA and Italy in Space Exploration,” said Bisogniero. Visitors will be able to virtually scroll through 18 pages of the notebook, as well as inspect the actual documents in a secured case.

Five hundred years before the invention of the first airplane, da Vinci wrote over 35,000 words and produced over 500 sketches of flying machines in his codex, according to Museum Curator Peter Jakab. The notebook’s “scientific and cultural importance is reflected in the content and the process” by which da Vinci drew out concepts, such as “lift and drag”, that are now used in modern flying machines, according to Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulson Laboratory.

“[The artist] even sketched a pilot whose job would be to counterbalance a wing,” he said. The remarkable content in these documents show the depth of da Vinci’s innovation. “[It is a] dream that has become a reality for all of us,” said Bisogniero, which makes the exhibition an especially exciting opportunity for anyone who wants to satisfy his or her historical sweet tooth. In fact, da Vinci’s work is so revolutionary that the very document on display at the Air & Space Museum was replicated, fastened to a microchip, and carried to Mars, along with a picture of da Vinci’s face, on NASA’s Curiosity rover in 2012.

For anyone who is not as interested in leafing through da Vinci’s Codex, the museum will also display a model, based off the artist’s sketches, of an ornithopter, a type of aircraft that operates by flapping its wings; the model will remain in the museum even after the documents go back home to Italy, said Bisogniero.

Photo: Slides 2 – 4, and 9 Shalina Chatlani/Georgetown Voice; slides 1, 4-8, courtesy Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. 

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