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Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, Never Before Seen in the US, Are Coming to DC

A new exhibition at the DC Public Library will offer a rare opportunity to see some of the original renaissance man's work.

A rendering of the forthcoming exhibit at the DC Public Library. Photograph courtesy DC Public Library.

From June 21 to August 20, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown DC will present “Imagining the Future—Leonardo da Vinci: In the Mind of an Italian Genius.” The exhibition will feature 12 original drawings from the Codex Atlanticus: 12 volumes of the musings, sketches, and diagrams of the legendary Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci. It’s the first time they’ll be seen in the US.

“Study of a Mechanical Wing.” Photograph courtesy DC Public Library.

Assembled by the sculptor Pompeo Leoni in the late 16th century, the Codex Atlanticus is the largest existing collection of Leonardo’s work, with entries from 1478 to 1519, the year he died. It contains some of the original renaissance man’s most notable ideas and designs and has served as a source of deep curiosity for countless artists and inventors. Traces of inspiration from Leonardo’s Codex drawings can be found in multiple impactful technologies, from modern autonomous vehicle design to underwater exploration.

“Perpetual Motion Study and Architectural Studies.” Photograph courtesy DC Public Library.

The 12 studies shown in “In the Mind of an Italian Genius” will feature pages like “Study of a Mechanical Wing,” a detailed design of a potential flying machine, “Cloth shearing machine,” an automated cloth cutter, and “Study of self-propelling cart.” This rare opportunity to see Leonardo’s drawings in person is a result of a partnership between the DC Public Library and Ambrosiana Biblioteca in Milan, Italy, a vast historic library that has housed the Codex since 1637. The partnership was facilitated by Confindustria, a major Italian trade association that is opening an office in Washington.

“Study for a Digging Machine.” Photograph courtesy DC Public Library.

MLK Library will also feature “Leonardo’s Lab” alongside the Codex Atlanticus exhibit. The interactive installation, which travels to museums and libraries throughout the US, aims to encourage children to learn about the innovator’s life and work via hands-on activities that employ problem-solving, teamwork, and multidimensional thinking. The MLK Library will also have a pop-up experience for National Gallery of Art First Saturday that includes face-painting, bilingual storytime, and guided tours of the Codex Atlanticus exhibition.

Explore the Codex Atlanticus in its entirety here.

Malcolm Ferguson
Editorial Fellow