Da Vinci Notes on Flight Land at Air and Space Museum

Leonardo da Vinci, self portrait, circa 1512
Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage
Leonardo da Vinci, self portrait, circa 1512

“Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex on the Flight of Birds,” possibly one of the world’s most famous notebooks, goes on view Friday, Sept. 13, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum for a 40-day exhibit, ending Oct. 22.

Made up of 18 folios (two-sided pages) and written in the artist’s famous “mirror” script, the collection of notes and sketches foreshadows devices and principles of mechanical flight by exploring bird flight and behavior. The Renaissance genius created the notebook between 1505 and 1506, when he also painted his masterpiece, the “Mona Lisa.”

In a gesture of an eternal return, so to speak, the exhibit is at the entrance to the Wright Brothers exhibit, where their famous flyer resides. While the precious and protected book cannot be touched or photographed, video screens on the second-floor wall allow the curious to see the pages come to life.

“The opportunity to exhibit ‘Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex on the Flight of Birds’ is an extraordinary privilege for the museum,” said Gen. J.R. “Jack” Dailey, director of the museum. “It allows us to trace the history of flight by sharing the work of a visionary whose genius transcends time, from the 16th century to today’s icons of aviation and space exploration.”

Claudio Bisogniero, Italian ambassador to the United States, was on hand for debut of the rare document and said during the Sept. 12 presentation, “ 'Volare' has always represented mankind’s dream to overcome nature’s boundaries. Those who love to fly – let me admit that my own passion for flight goes back over 25 years – know full well how exhilarating it is to embrace that dream.

"In words attributed to Leonardo himself and I quote: 'Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward. For there, you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

"Centuries ago, Leonardo had grasped not only the spirit of flight, but also some of the key principles that later enabled mankind to fly, as you can see in this wonderful museum.

"It is our hope that the celebrations of the 'Year of Italian Culture in the United States' – including this exhibit on Leonardo – will continue to bear fruit for many more years to come: a true legacy through culture, innovation and discovery."

The exhibit runs through Oct. 22 and then heads to New York.

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