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Artisans construct da Vinci's machines -

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Broadcast: 07/06/2010

Reporter: Thea Dikeos

More than 500 years after his death artisans from Leonardo da Vinci's native Florence are working
to unravel and construct the sketches and designs the great artist left behind.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Leonardo da Vinci is best known for creating the world's most famous
painting, the Mona Lisa. But when he died more than 500 years ago, he left behind a great deal more
than priceless art. Only a small number of the thousands of sketches and designs covering a
mind-boggling array of topics from the human anatomy to war machines have survived. Now, artisans
from da Vinci's native Florence have taken it upon themselves to unravel the sketches and construct
the machines. Thea Dikeos reports.

CATHERINE KOVESI, HISTORIAN, UNI. OF MELBOURNE: He was more than just a painter. In fact, he's the
essence of Renaissance man, someone who's multi-talented in a huge range of fields.

He was the best artist in the world. Somebody that can do the Mona Lisa and at the same time can
put together a flying machine. Come on, he's got something there that we admire. We want to be like

THEA DIKEOS, REPORTER: Leonardo da Vinci: painter, inventor and elusive genius. 500 years after his
death, the Sydney Town Hall has been transformed into a Renaissance workshop exhibiting some of
Leonardo's inventions and anatomical investigations.

CATHERINE KOVESI: Creating the machines is a way of actually seeing a.) could you actually create
these things?, would they work?, but also sort of see the genius actualised in front of you in 3D
is quite wonderful, I think.

THEA DIKEOS: Born in 1452 in the Italian town of Vinci outside Florence, the boy showed unusual
artistic talent and at a young age undertook an art apprenticeship. He would become a master
painter, but also engineer, architect, anatomist, inventor and sculpture.

CATHERINE KOVESI: We only have 15 surviving paintings of his. There's much more of his in terms of
sketches for mechanical objects and works and a lot of his life he was spent - employed as a
military engineer.

THEA DIKEOS: Academics estimate that only a third of his ideas survive to this day, collected in
notebooks known as codices.

CATHERINE KOVESI: One of those volumes ended up with the royal family in England. They're dispersed
elsewhere. The only collection of these manuscripts that is in private hands is that bought by Bill
Gates for $30.8 million in 1994.

THEA DIKEOS: For 20 years a group of Florentine artisans called TeknoArt, armed with reproductions
of all his codices, have taken it upon themselves to build Leonardo da Vinci's visions from

GABRIELE NICCOLAI, TEKNOART: We got into his methodology. We now feel confident we can follow his
steps, almost guided to come up with the final answers.

THEA DIKEOS: So Luigi, what is this contraption?

LUIGI RIZZO, TEKNOART: This is what we call the first gym, or Leonardo's gym. It was designed to
either measure the strength of a man before he could fly, or to give - fine-tune your muscles so
that you could see whether you could actually fly one of Leonardo's machines.

THEA DIKEOS: How does it work?

LUIGI RIZZO: Can I show you? Primarily it's to test whether one man can lift so much weight. So by
testing the strength of man in the Middle Ages, then how can a man actually fly a machine with
wingspan 12 metres?

THEA DIKEOS: There are 14,000 surviving technical drawings. So far, the Tekno art group has built
150 using materials of da Vinci's day, making it the biggest private collection of Leonardo da
Vinci machines.

LUIGI RIZZO: It's taken us and Gabriella as well the last 15 years of very intense studying of
machines to solve the darker mysteries of some of the incredible machines like the robots, which is
the base on which we built this exhibition.

THEA DIKEOS: The highlight of the Sydney exhibition is the mechanical knight. When it was
discovered 50 years ago, scholars were baffled by da Vinci's design.

LUIGI RIZZO: Like most fantastic discoveries, this was the piece that was always ignore, neglected,
because it was just so difficult to understand what it was. There's no modern-day equivalent
application of this machinery. Now, finally, basically out of desperation, we decided to put it
inside the robot and see what it actually did. So it's a mechanism with a pivot at one end driven
by a groove. Now the groove changes position because you see the drum can be rotated by a handle or
by another gear. The other part of the mechanism have some teeth that engages this pulley and the
pulley's engage the ropes. It just happens that it's rhythmic and it lifts softly the drums up and
down, and if I go a little bit faster, you'll see what it does.

THEA DIKEOS: During Leonardo da Vinci's day, the mechanical knight may have been used to entertain
noble patrons. Gabriele Niccolai says this discovery was enormously rewarding.

GABRIELE NICCOLAI (voiceover translation): Not just for myself, but for the whole group, the
satisfaction it gives us, but also the stimulus to go back into the drawings, to come up with the
next invention, the next creation.

THEA DIKEOS: Most of Leonardo da Vinci's designs were not realised during his lifetime, but his
genius was recognised before his death in 1519 in France.

CATHERINE KOVESI: The legend has it that he dies in the arms of the King of France; others dispute
that. Buried there, but then Napoleon decides to knock down the church in which he's buried in, so
we don't know where his remains are.

THEA DIKEOS: The exhibition may consist of ropes, pulleys and wooden structures, but the ideas
underpinning Leonardo Vinci's designs are thoroughly modern.

CATHERINE KOVESI: Seeing these things in the flesh in front of you created out of the same kinds of
materials that he would have used given the kind of technological advances that we've made, it
really makes you appreciate his genius in many ways.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Thea Dikeos with that report.