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Leonardo da Vinci drawings make first U.S. appearance at an exhibit in D.C.


A collection of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci is making its first U.S. appearance in an exhibition now open in Washington, D.C. But to see it, you're going to walk past the place you might expect - one of the Smithsonian museums - and head over to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.


The exhibition is called "Imagining The Future - Leonardo Da Vinci: In The Mind Of An Italian Genius."

ALBERTO ROCCA: We have here a selection of 12 drawings out of 1,119 drawings.

MARTIN: That's Alberto Rocca, a fellow at Milan's Biblioteca Ambrosiana Library. He's talking about the Atlantic Codex, the largest collection of written notes and drawings by da Vinci.

ROCCA: We have three drawings on flight. We have some drawings of hydraulics and also we have some textile machineries.

MARTÍNEZ: The images date from 1478 to 1519. They also include subjects such as mechanics, perpetual motion and the development of gears, all themes that Da Vinci believed had a purpose.

ROCCA: It's not just beauty for beauty, but it's beauty applied to life. Of course, he says, that utility and beauty have to go together.

MARTIN: The collection was brought across the Atlantic by the General Confederation of Italian Industry. They open their D.C. office today as part of a project to broaden the appeal of Italian industry. The group's president, Carlo Bonomi, says da Vinci is his country's finest ambassador.

CARLO BONOMI: It's very important for us also to build a bridge with the USA, not only for the economic issue, but also for social issue. And the public library is very important in this way.

MARTÍNEZ: D.C. Public Library hasn't hosted an art of this caliber before, says executive director Richard Reyes-Gavilan.

RICHARD REYES-GAVILAN: Leonardo here at the MLK Library could provide an opportunity for people who may feel isolated from a typical museum experience.

MARTÍNEZ: He says the exhibit makes a change from the library's usual focus on local artists and histories.

REYES-GAVILAN: What an opportunity to have a regular urban library user who may not ever visit a museum stumble upon the handwritten works of possibly humanity's greatest genius.

MARTIN: There's also an interactive exhibit alongside the drawings. Children can try their hands at aerodynamics and mechanics and make like a little Leonardo. The collection is on display until August 20. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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