We all think of Leonardo da Vinci as one of the universal geniuses that humanity has had, so we decided to take a trip to the very places where this genius was born and trained in his early years: Vinci.
Vinci Florence and the Tuscan countryside
The Tuscan countryside is certainly magical in every season, but in autumn the colours become pure suggestion, especially if they are the background for explorations and discoveries.
So it was for us to look for Leonardo’s genius in his own land, in Vinci and the immediate surroundings. The autumn season is in fact excellent for excursions among olive trees, vineyards and an ideal and widespread museum in the area, the Museo Leonardiano.
Where is Vinci
Vinci is a small village in the province of Florence known for being the birthplace of the great Leonardo who took the nickname “da Vinci”. To reach Vinci you can reach Empoli by taking the Fi-Pi-Li and then follow the signs; from Montecatini Terme with the A11, then follow the signs for Lamporecchio-Vinci or from Florence.
Because nothing you can love or hate can be loved or hated if you are not aware of it beforehand.
The first nice thing I noticed is that all the museum sites are highly accessible for prams, pushchairs and disabled people, which makes family visits easier.
I have a distant memory of Leonardo, a childhood memory where the streets of Vinci blend into the distance, and an exhibition in Florence in the 1980s curated by IBM “Laboratorio su Leonardo” and to which my father had taken me: I don’t remember much, except the amazement of seeing how this bearded character was able to draw and make what his pencil had sketched.
Discovering the Genius, between Palazzo Ulzielli and Castello Guidi
The first stop is in Vinci, in the Palazzina Ulzielli, where it is also possible to buy tickets valid for the four locations of the museum. The Palazzina is located in the centre of Vinci, on a wonderful pavement (Piazza dei Guidi) inaugurated in 2006 with symbols reminiscent of Leonardo’s complex and varied universe. A recurring shape in the square is the polyhedron, emblem of the Renaissance.
Inside the Palazzina are exhibited the models of some of Leonardo’s machines, from those for construction companies, widely exploited in the Florentine Renaissance artistic heritage, to other mechanisms useful for spinning fabrics.
The last room houses the clock mechanisms. My seven-year-old son was enchanted by the machines reproduced in wood following the instructions contained in Leonardo’s drawings and writings.
The rooms offer numerous captions and some points with reconstructions of the mechanisms with digital graphics that will arouse the children’s interest and make them easier to understand. It is also possible to use the dedicated app and enrich the visit with more in-depth content and references.
A few steps away is the second seat of the Leonardian Museum, the Castle of the Counts Guidi. Arranged on several levels, it offers a path to the discovery of Leonardo as an inventor, scientist, painter, also offering an overview of the genius and arts of the Renaissance.
In one room are reproduced studies and models on flight and agricultural machinery, in the adjacent spaces are collected models inspired by urban construction such as bridges of various types but also tools for warfare such as armed loved ones. On the second floor there are some models of bicycles and winches designed by the Tuscan genius.
The soul of the floor is represented by the room that contains the experiments and physical studies on light related to the realization of the paintings.
Here children can experiment with light and shadow games, perspective diversifications and other experiments related to colour and painting derived from a careful physiological study of the eye, sight and the concepts of applied physics pinpointed by Leonardoda Vinci.
It is a sort of dark and suggestive alcove where Leonardo’s genius reaches its apex in my opinion: it is in this space that the multiplicity of his scientific and creative intelligence is synthesized, ranging from optical sciences to painting in a harmonious and substantial continuum. At the top of the tower of the building the models of solids are displayed and from the terrace there is a remarkable landscape spectacle.
Outside the Castle Guidi a three-dimensional wooden reproduction of the Vitruvian Man
Villa del Ferrale and Leonardo’s birthplace
Leaving the village of Vinci, about two kilometres away, proceeding along roads dotted with centuries-old olive trees, you reach the historic Villa del Ferrale, where life-size reproductions of Leonardo’s paintings are on display.
The gallery is very interesting both from the didactic point of view, as far as Leonardo’s graphic aspect and the technical aspect of the reproduction are concerned. In fact, using 3d digital printing, the works also faithfully reproduce the stroke and consistency of the brushstroke, thus contributing to enrich the knowledge of Leonardo’s language. The works are flanked by some in-depth videos.
One kilometre from the enchanting villa is the birthplace of Leonardo, where he was born in 1452. It is possible to watch a multimedia documentary narrating Leonardo’s biography through a life-size hologram of the scientist. In the adjacent farmhouse there is a very detailed documentary on the “Last Supper”.
The stages of the Leonardesque journey have thus all been crossed. Together, harmoniously set in a landscape enchanted by uncontaminated nature, the synthesis of what Leonardo represented takes strength: creativity, study, intelligence, science, art and ingenuity.
A perfect itinerary for children both for a first approach to Leonardo’s scientific method and complexity and as an opportunity for historical and museum reflection.
And a great opportunity for grown-ups too: the chance to rediscover in the round an absolute genius who had fully understood his own time and glimpsed the future in the mixture of research, beauty and innovation.
“Once you’ve experienced the thrill of flying, when you’re back on the ground again, you’ll keep looking up at the sky.”