Discovery Science Center explores world of da Vinci

Exhibition at Discovery Science Center on the Florentine Renaissance man is one of the most comprehensive to date.

He was a master artist, engineer, musician and inventor – a quintessential Renaissance man.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an individual ahead of his time. He drew detailed renderings of submarines, scuba outfits and equipment, gliders, helicopters and parachutes before any of those things existed.

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Pascal Cotte, an engineer and chief technical director of Lumiere Technology, exmaines the back of a replica of the “Mona Lisa.” Cotte organized the “Mona Lisa” section of “Da Vinci – The Genius,” on view at Discovery Science Center, June 8-Sept. 8.
‘Da Vinci – The Genius’ and ‘Da Vinci Jr.’

Where: Discovery Science Center, 2500 N. Main St., Santa Ana

When: Through Sept. 8

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

How much: $15.95 adults, $12.95 seniors and children 3-14

Call: 714-542-CUBE


He dissected cadavers and drew meticulous sketches of the human body – inside and out – that were the inspiration for the seminal textbook, “Gray’s Anatomy.”

He created ball-bearing and gear systems that are still used every day. And he painted “The Last Supper” and “Mona Lisa” – two of the most famous works of art on the planet.

Da Vinci, his inventions, drawings and artworks are the subject of a wide-ranging exhibition that opened Saturday at the Discovery Science Center. “Da Vinci – The Genius,” a traveling show organized by Grande Exhibitions of Rome and Melbourne, Australia, is making its Southern California premiere in Santa Ana and runs through Sept. 8.

The exhibit includes life-size models of his inventions, many of which were drawn in codices, or journals, and a detailed, scientific study with infrared images of his most famous work, the “Mona Lisa” (circa 1503-1519).

“The Science Center is about inspiration, and inspiring our youth of today to go out there, be creative, and take on the world,” said Joe Adams, president of Discovery Science Center. “Look at this guy, da Vinci, the things that he’s done 500 years ago. He was somebody that was creative and dreamed a new world that they didn’t have 400-500 years ago. We want kids to be dreaming the next world, 500 years from now.”

For the Science Center, “Da Vinci” is an important show for children and adults that’s part of a series of recent milestones for the 20-year-old Orange County institution. In May, the center received the prestigious National Medal for Museum and Library Service at the White House.

The center is planning a $62 million expansion, with a groundbreaking planned for July. And the center has also taken over the defunct Children’s Museum of Los Angeles and will create the Discovery Science Center – Los Angeles, aimed for a November 2014 opening.

“The medal is not about who’s the biggest museum in the country,” Adams said. “This is about your impact on the community. It’s recognizing those who are finding innovative ways to educate and to move our societies, our communities forward.”


“Da Vinci – The Genius” opens with facsimiles of codices and some background on the Florentine artist, who was born out of wedlock in Vinci, about a day’s journey from Florence. The text on the didactics is in English and in Spanish. On one English-language timeline, a couple of biographical entries, for 1485 and 1503, are only in Spanish, with no English translation. Also, the introduction says da Vinci invented the bullet, which is difficult to prove or believe.

The exhibit then showcases dozens of invention models crafted after his meticulous drawings. We see wooden models for a humidifier, cranes, various flying machines, drills, an odometer and a mechanical drum. Highlights here are his early scuba diving outfit, a suspension bridge made of wood and string, and various weapons for military use.

One hands-on area allows children (and adults) to crank, pull, spin and operate a bunch of his inventions, some of which have common use today.

There’s a display on Vitruvian Man (circa 1490), his famous drawing of a naked man with arms and legs outstretched, perfectly placed inside a circle and a square.

An interactive TV screen allows visitors to explore his machines, anatomical drawings, Renaissance art, Vitruvian man and Forster codices. This navigable overview is pretty cool and comprehensive.

A later section highlights da Vinci’s artistic achievements and provides touchable reproductions of his most noted work. Titles, dimensions and the museums where the works belong are provided, but the completion dates are curiously missing.


The final section of the exhibition focuses on the “Mona Lisa,” or “La Joconde” as she’s known in France. The painting is held in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The display offers multiple views of the “Mona Lisa,” from an estimate of what she and the paints looked like when she was freshly completed, to infrared images that reveal earlier versions of the work. A life-size replica, including front and back, hangs in the middle of this gallery.

Pascal Cotte, scientific director and chief technical officer for Lumiere Technology, designed this section. He got unprecedented access to the painting and used a multispectral camera to capture various layers of the painting and what he calls the 25 “secrets of the Mona Lisa.”

Among the secrets are that the portrait is painted on wood (not canvas), it is splitting in the back, it was damaged by acid and a Bolivian rock thrower in 1956, and the artist changed the positions of the left hand and index and middle fingers.

“I designed this in 2005, just after scanning the ‘Mona Lisa,’ and my intention was to teach to the world, because not everybody can go to the Louvre,” Cotte said. “I want people to not only see the painting, but also to know more about the painting. You can go behind the ‘Mona Lisa,’ and see the story of the painting.”

This section reviews the fascinating scientific work done with the “Mona Lisa,” as well as information on the illustrious history of the painting.

The Discovery Science Center has added its own interactive exhibit to complement “Da Vinci – The Genius.” It’s called “Da Vinci Jr.”

Visitors to this lab-like space can make a bridge, build their own musical instruments, trace and draw the “Mona Lisa,” and write backwards with mirrors – something Da Vinci did in his day as a kind of personal code. Folks can also build their own cities here.

“We want to give the kids more hands-on stuff,” said Kellee Preston, vice president of operations for the center.

These two exhibits will be the big summer shows for the Science Center, and a number of da Vinci-related workshops and events are also planned.

Adams said he’s excited about the da Vinci exhibits and all the Science Center has in the works. “I think the message for me and for kids is to show where the imagination can take you,” he said. “Da Vinci can inspire us all.”

$ell SmArt… with Art!