Jun 21, 2023 - Things to Do

Get a rare glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci drawings at the main D.C. library

Image courtesy of D.C. Public Library

Drawings by Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci are on display for the first time in the U.S. — at a D.C. library.

What's happening: The Codex Atlanticus, a collection of notes, drawings, and diagrams da Vinci created between 1478 to 1519, traveled from Milan, Italy, to be shown to the public for free at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, starting Wednesday.

Why it matters: These images give insight into da Vinci's brilliant mind with detailed drawings of advanced machines, including a revolving crane and a mechanical wing.

Between the lines: The unusual exhibit came to be after D.C. Public Library director Richard Reyes-Gavilan heard from a colleague that Biblioteca Ambrosiana, a historic library in Milan, wanted to bring da Vinci drawings to D.C. as a way to bring Italian culture to the U.S.

  • The two partnered up, facilitated through Italian industry giant and national chamber of commerce Confindustria, which is also opening its own office in D.C. this week.

What they're saying: "There is a great harmony between these two institutions," Monsignor Alberto Rocca, who curated the exhibit and directs the art gallery in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, said during an exhibit preview Tuesday.

  • "What an amazing thing to expose people to, to come face-to-face with the hands of one of humanity's greatest geniuses," Reyes-Gavilan said.

How to visit: The special exhibit is on display only through August 20 — the short length of time in which the delicate images can be exposed to light before risking damage. After the exhibit, they will spend the next three years in the dark.

  • And the exhibit on the bottom floor of the library is small, allowing only 15 people at a time.
  • Library visitors can sign up to enter the small gallery at the front desk and wait for a text telling them it's their turn.

1 fun thing: Families can also head to the second floor where a number of crafting activities inspired by da Vinci are available, including a tutorial on how to build a paper helicopter that will actually drift through the air.

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