Lonely Planet Writer

Why the new Leonardo da Vinci exhibit in Florence next month is so special

The Uffizi Gallery, located in the heart of Florence, isn’t just one of the biggest museums in Italy but also one of the most renowned in the whole world, especially for its large collection of artwork from the Renaissance. During its long “life” (it has been open to the public since 1765), it has hosted countless exhibitions— and yet the one opening at the end of this month might be one of its most striking yet.

The Uffizi is considered one of the oldest art gallery in the world. Photo by Juliet Coombe/Lonely Planet

That’s mainly because 2019 will be the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. A true “Renaissance man”, Leonardo’s interests varied from painting to engineering, and his studies gave birth to several modern practices like palaeontology and architecture. The Uffizi Gallery is then getting a head start on celebrations with its new exhibition, titled Water, nature’s microscope— The Codex Leicester and Leonardo da Vinci, which will display many works and studies of the “Universal Genius”.

That’s the other reason why this exhibition is so unique— the fact that the Codex Leicester will be exposed in Italy for only the second time since it passed out of the hands of the Earls of Leicester. The Codex was bought in 1980 by Armand Hammer (and in 1982 it visited Italy for the first time with the name of Codex Hammer), and then in 1994 by Bill Gates. The founder of Microsoft bought it for the staggering price of US$30 million (which makes the Codex the second highest selling book in history) and digitised all its pages— some of them were even distributed as screensavers and wallpapers for early versions of Microsoft Windows. The Codex Leicester contains studies Leonardo made on water, hydraulics, the luminosity of the Moon and the history of planet Earth— he compiled the 72 folios between 1504 and 1508, the time during which Florence was called the “school of the world”.

A folio of the Codex Leicester containing studies on the ashen light. Photo courtesy Bill Gates/©bgC3

At the Uffizi, the Codex will be displayed with a new instrument called the Codescope, which will allow visitors to turn the Codex’s pages digitally and see for themselves what went on in Leonardo da Vinci’s head. Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery, said in a statement that this exhibition truly demonstrates “the museum’s care in making accessible for everyone complex themes about scientific research, and also in looking fundamental episodes in the history of science with a new and modern point of view”.

Another folio of the Codex Leicester containing studies on water pressure. Photo courtesy Bill Gates/©bgC3

The rest of the exhibition focuses on science as well, with books and folios coming from the rest of Italy and the rest of Europe— the Vatican Library in Rome, the British Library in London, and the Royal Library in Turin, which has lent to the Uffizi Gallery its famous “Codex on the Flight of Birds,” where Leonardo attempted to create a machine that would allow human beings to fly. Other artists and scientists of the Renaissance will also be featured alongside Leonardo.

A folio from the “Codex on the Flight of Birds”. Photo courtesy of the Biblioteca Reale di Torino

“The exhibition invites visitors into a time of brave ideas, futuristic projects, and thoughts of immense geniality,” said Paolo Galluzzi, director of Museo Galileo (a partner of the exhibition), in a statement. So, if you want to step into the Renaissance and the brilliant mind of Leonardo da Vinci and his contemporaries, you can do so starting 30 October and until 20 January, when the exhibition will close.

The corridor of the Uffizi Gallery. Image by Simon Collison / CC BY 2.0

If you want to know more, or are looking for information on how to plan your visit once the end of the month rolls around, you can visit the Uffizi Gallery’s website here.