San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Da Vinci exhibition opens in San José

Giant wooden and canvas wings, a large pyramid-shaped parachute and a plethora of other imaginative flying devices hang from the ceiling. Underneath the array of birdlike wings and the massive parachute sit a primitive helicopter design and several other contraptions resembling props from a Tim Burton movie. This multitude of flying devices is not off a 21st century movie set, however – they were dreamed up 400 years before film was even invented. They are the creations of one of humanity’s greatest multifaceted geniuses: Leonardo da Vinci.

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“Da Vinci: The Genius”: The “Scafandro,” predecessor to scuba gear.

Jessica Phelps

Some 200 replicas of the masterful 15th century sculptor, mathematician, musician and anatomist’s works are now on display in Costa Rica’s capital. “Da Vinci: The Genius,” the most comprehensive exhibition on da Vinci to tour the world, opened last Friday and will run through Aug. 13 at the La Aduana arts and technology center, the old customs building in eastern San José’s Barrio La California.

“What separates the work of da Vinci from others is the broad scope of his work and his incorporation of natural proportions and mathematics into everything he did,” said Tania Devoto, executive director of Grande Producciones de Centroamérica, the organization responsible for producing the show in Costa Rica. The traveling exhibition has been displayed in such diverse locales as Manchester, England, Portland, Oregon, Budapest, Hungary, and Macau.

Da Vinci was a pioneer of early engineering, using mathematics and natural principles to build devices centuries ahead of their time. He designed devices to walk on water, plans for cleaner, more efficient cities, and a tank that could protect men on their way into battle, to name only a few.

The replicas on display are of the highest quality. Grande Exhibitions, the international producer of the exhibit, and the Anthropos

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One of the master’s flying designs, a primitive helicopter propeller.

Jessica Phelps

Association of Italy formed an exclusive society of artisans who specialize in recreating da Vinci works. Anthropos has one of the world’s most complete and prestigious da Vinci museums in Rome, where Italian artisans study the master’s works and writings to recreate his masterpieces.

“They had to familiarize themselves with an old Italian dialect to understand what da Vinci wrote,” Devoto explained.

Resembling a modern-day cuckoo clock, the “Meccanismo d’Orologio” not only accurately keeps time but also gives the position of both the sun and the moon. It was constructed especially for the exhibit by a 90-year-old Italian artisan in Tuscany, da Vinci’s birthplace. The “Stanza degli Specchi,” a small room with mirrors for walls, allows people to see reflections of themselves going on into infinity. The “Scafandro” is definitely one of the most peculiar contraptions on display. Perhaps the earliest predecessor to modern-day scuba diving gear, the cloth suit has bamboo-like pipes that point upward, allowing a person to breathe underwater while fixing ships or swimming into battle beneath the waves. The “Salvagente” resembles a modern-day life preserver one might find at a pool.

The exhibition replicas of da Vinci’s anatomical drawings show the workings of human muscles and tendons in startling detail. It is believed that da Vinci dissected more than 30 human bodies with the intent of understanding the beauty of human proportions and the manner in which the body works.

In addition to showcasing da Vinci’s many inventions, the exhibit offers an interactive tour of his most famous drawings and paintings, including the iconic “Vitruvian Man,” the “Sforza Horse,” “The Last Supper” and, of course, the “Mona Lisa.” The exhibit illustrates the complex combination of art and science that makes da Vinci’s work so astounding. It also provides in-depth explanations of da Vinci’s artwork, giving viewers the chance to explore the exciting history behind some of the world’s most recognizable works of art. Visiting the exhibit is the next best thing to a trip back to the end of the 15th century.

“Da Vinci: The Genius” is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday to Sunday. General admission costs $18, children ages 5 to 12 and seniors pay $12, and admission is free for kids under 4. La Aduana is at Calle 25, between Avenidas 7 and 9, in Barrio La California. For more information on the exhibit, visit (international site in English) or (Costa Rican site).

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