Four centuries passed before the technological capacity existed to realise the genius of da Vinci’s early speculative drawings. This coincided with the unification of Italy and a rising nationalist fervour that looked to history for inspiration and heroes. Italian engineer Roberto Guatelli was fascinated by da Vinci’s drawings and specifications found in Codex Atlanticus and in the 1930s worked on models based on them for a major exhibition of da Vinci’s work at the Palazzo della’Arte in Milan. They caught the attention of Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and the Italian government funded an international touring exhibition of 75 scale models of da Vinci’s machines.
Guatelli accompanied the exhibition to the USA but when America entered World War II he was deported to Japan with his models where the collection was destroyed in storage in Tokyo during a bombing raid.
After the war Guatelli returned to America and was commissioned by International Business Machines (later IBM) to build new models that toured the USA as part of IBM’s cultural programs, a fitting alliance and promotional tool for the company that pioneered data processing and computers during the last half of the 20th century.
History provides many precedents for da Vinci’s speculative engineering, revealing that like all innovators, he was building on the past and looking to the future. His engineering was seldom tested or put into practice as his vision was restrained by the limits of the materials, tools and concepts of his time. These models not only represent Leonardo da Vinci’s genius but the genius of those who came before and after him.
Models from the IBM Collection held in permanent custodianship of University of Technology Sydney (UTS)