Visual Art

The genius of Leonardo da Vinci on display in downtown Miami

Written By Jean Blackwell Font
March 13, 2024 at 4:16 PM

A view of the “Da Vinci: Machines and Robotics”  at a museum in Auckland, New Zealand. Miami audiences can view the exhibition at the Security Building through Sunday, March 24. (Photo courtesy of the Artisans of Florence and JB Contemporary)

On a Friday night, in the heart of downtown Miami, a different kind of cultural event took place – it was a marriage of art and science, which welcomed visitors to explore a unique world from another century.

On loan from the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci in Florence, Italy is the exhibition “Da Vinci: Machines and Robotics” at the historic Security Building on NE 1st Avenue and it’s there through Sunday, March 24.

At the VIP opening on Friday, Feb. 2, a replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s mural, “The Last Supper,” was spread across a wall in the main lobby area. Another renowned da Vinci, a copy of the Mona Lisa, rested on a column — without the interference of a layer of bulletproof glass, which protects the masterpiece at its home in Paris’ Louvre Museum.

“Da Vinci: Machine and Robotics”  connects the past and the future with more than 60 displays, including robots, war machines, flying contraptions, and civil and hydraulic inventions, alongside an extensive art gallery of reproduced masterpieces revealing da Vinci’s hand-drawn notes and designs.

The exhibition offers drawings, information, and, above, a hand-built machine in one place in a way that helps to understand the development of an invention from start to finish. (Photo courtesy of the Artisans of Florence and JB Contemporary)

Thomas Rizzo, director of traveling exhibitions for Artisans of Florence, is one of only a handful of people allowed to review the original 500-year-old drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and attempt to build his inventions and machines. More than 20 years ago, Rizzo was introduced to the Niccolai Group, three generations of artisans in Florence, Italy. That introduction was the beginning of an apprenticeship that continues today; he will become a master only when he finds an apprentice to pass on the craftsmanship he has learned.

There are currently 250 machines decoded from the master’s 1,500 original designs, several of which are on display as part of the exhibition. Many of these items, such as the flying machines and robots, were never built before despite the designs in existence for over five centuries.

As Rizzo explains, “da Vinci was very concerned about people stealing his ideas. To protect his inventions, da Vinci not only wrote backward and in reverse, but he also never added the critical last step to any of his invention designs.”

The Artisans of Florence have spent generations studying da Vinci’s designs and unlocking the secrets of how to build the machines. As an apprentice, Rizzo has had the rare opportunity to read the ancient designs and, with the small group of artisans, figure out the complicated instructions for some of the inventions. The final step requires experimenting to find the final piece of the puzzle to each of the machines they have been able to complete.

The word genius is often used to describe someone ahead of his time; da Vinci was more than a genius. It is difficult to fully understand the depth and expanse of his intellect. The Artisans of Florence, Rizzo included, have dedicated their lives to deciphering his genius to build the inventions and designs of da Vinci.

A replica of one of the volumes of the Codex Atlanicus, a 12-volume bound set of drawings and writings by Leonardo da Vinci, are on view as part of the exhibition. The original volumes are stored at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, Italy. (Photo courtesy of the Artisans of Florence and JB Contemporary)

Throughout the exhibit, it is apparent that the engineering and draftsmanship in da Vinci’s drawings are complex —step-by-step plans to creating machines to simplify the difficult life of Europe’s Middle Ages. It is a marvel to see how many inventions da Vinci developed that are still used today:  ball bearings, bicycles, hang gliders and helicopters (what he called an “airscrew”), and, as the exhibition title suggests, robots.

While the information comes from a genius, you don’t have to be a genius to enjoy the objects on display. Unlike many museum exhibits where visitors are asked not to touch, there are several items that encourage the viewer to touch “with care.”

The designs are created with the same materials that da Vinci would have had available during his time, primarily wood, canvas, and rope. Each of the items on view includes a brief explanation as well as original drawings. The exhibition is intelligent and provocative but succeeds at not being over-your-head academic.

Several guests in attendance commented that the da Vinci exhibit brings a sense of history, curiosity, and culture to Miami. Guest Luca Artioli was born in Milan and now lives in Miami. He grew up in an ancient city, he says, where centuries of cultural history make for a rich and soulful life and the original drawings and paintings of da Vinci fill the city.

Visitors are encouraged to touch some areas of the exhibition to explore the machines of Leonard da Vinci using small cranks, pulleys, and handles. (Photo courtesy of the Artisans of Florence and JB Contemporary)

Entering the space, he says, the space felt like returning home.

Rizzo hails from Australia and has a lilting Aussie accent that disappeared when he addressed the audience in Italian. He has an easy demeanor as we discuss his relationship with the Nicolai family in Milan and his 20-plus year apprenticeship as part of the Artisans of Florence, a dedicated group of people working to preserve and create the fantastic inventions of Leonardo da Vinci.

Rizzo points out that the exhibition offers a rare opportunity for people outside of Italy to experience the vision of this man who was both artist and scientist. Rizzo explained, “There is a false dichotomy between being an artist or a scientist. What we need to understand is that you need to be both to be successful. Architecture is probably one of the few professions today that clearly embraces the importance of both.”

Josephine Bodogh of JB Contemporary in North Miami is the driving force behind bringing the exhibition to Miami. Bodogh has spent the last seven years creating and promoting traveling exhibitions of various artists. Part of her mission is to introduce European artists to the United States art community. She remembers seeing a work by da Vinci in a museum in Venice while growing up in Hungary and says she has been committed to the work of the master ever since.

Airscrew designed by da Vinci and crafted by the Artisans of Florence. (Photo courtesy of the Artisans of Florence and JB Contemporary)

The exhibit was already being shown in Australia and Europe, and, after a visit to the da Vinci Museum in Milan, Bodogh approached the Artisans of Florence with a proposal for a joint venture to share the exhibit on a larger scale.

With the help of the Artisans of Florence and the Niccolai Group, she has been able to share the drawings and paintings, as well as the inventions and machines of Leonardo da Vinci with museums around the world. This is the first time the exhibit is being presented in its museum-quality presentation in a public venue outside of a museum.

“Everyone knows a little about the art of da Vinci, but no one knows this side of him,” she says. “He was thinking about how to create a scuba mask 500 years ago. Who thinks like that?” muses Bodogh.

WHAT:  Da Vinci: Machines & Robotics Exhibition

 WHEN: Wednesday through Sunday. Through April 7,  2024

 WHERE: Security Building, 117 NE 1st Avenue, Miami

COST:  $22 (ages 14 and above), $18 children over 7 and seniors over 65.

INFORMATION:  Tickets and details at is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at

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