Page from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex on the Flight of Birds. Pen and ink on paper, 210 x 150 mm. Biblioteca Reale, Turin. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Da Vinci’s Codex

“Da Vinci’s approach to art, engineering, and science was very much a piece,” says Chief Curator Peter Jakab. “He studied at a school that began to deal with the basic elements of scientific investigation, experimentation, deduction, and analysis.” The lines between art and science were purposefully blurred as Da Vinci cultivated his craft. “That was the environment he matured in,” Jakab continued. “Art as the foundation for engineering, and engineering the representation of art.”

“Excerpts of the Codex appeared in a volume called the Aeronautical Annual that the Wright Brothers did have access to,” said Jakab. “We’re aware that they did see snippets of it, but they obviously did not use it terribly much as a starting point for their own work.” Nonetheless, Jakab believes the Wright Brothers would have been “honored” to know that the Codex was living in their gallery. “It’s one of the reasons I put it here,” he said. “It’s ‘Genius Across the Centuries.’ [The Flyer] is a seminal object that, in terms of design, all airplanes flow from. So, to have that seminal object in the same place as the da Vinci item is, I think, a powerful experience for our visitors.”

Jakab proudly noted that a digitized copy of the Codex on the Flight of Birds is currently accompanying the Curiosity rover on Mars. “This museum is heavily involved in Mars research. One of our planetary geologists drives the rover from the third floor of this museum. So, to have the Codex on board is a nice connection for us. This is the best place for the Codex to be.”