1.4 million visitors to the 18-day Canadian National Exhibition will be told the wooden bicycle displayed in the 'Travelling with Leonardo da Vinci' exhibition was constructed to a design sketched by the Renaissance master. Yes, the hoax lives on...

Canadians get chance to touch da Vinci’s bicycle

The Canadian National Exhibition, staged in Toronto, started yesterday and continues until September 5th. It features horse shows, car displays and BMX ramp displays as well as lots of other attractions.

The Leonardo exhibition is in Hall A of the National Trade Centre building. It features working models of da Vinci’s supposed inventions, the same models displayed at ‘Leonardo Da Vinci: A Curious Genius’, an exhibition first staged at Rome’s Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in January this year.

The exhibition is now going on a world tour, starting at the Canadian National Exhibition.

In January, Carlo Barbieri, curator of the Rome exhibition told Reuters:

"Leonardo was beyond time. He designed [diving suits, a bicycle and a car] 500 years before they could even be built.

"Even the bicycle, is almost exactly like our modern version. It has the spokes and the chains, the only thing missing is the means to change the wheel direction."

A full-size model of the ‘Leonardo bicycle’ was sited next to a modern bicycle.

Leonardo from Vinci – scientist, engineer, architect, artist – was ahead of his time, a visionary, brilliant.

But he didn’t invent the bicycle.

The bicycle-like sketch once attributed to Vinci was "discovered" in 1974 during the restoration of Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus.

In August 1997, Dr. Hans-Erhard Lessing wrote a paper for a Glasgow-based conference on cycle history that showed beyond reasonable doubt that Vinci never sketched the Draisine-type bicycle attributed to him.

Lessing’s work reached a mainstream audience via an October 1997 article in New Scientist. This article was subsequently picked up by media organisations around the world and fingers were soon pointed at the most likely forger, a highly-placed restoration academic associated with the Codex Atlanticus clean-up.

This Italian academic never admitted any guilt (Lessing didn’t directly implicate him) but research published in 1998 by the French journalist Serge Lathière showed that two inks on the page said to contain the Leonardo bicycle design dated from post-1880 and post-1920.

However, the hoax continues to catch people out. On the Colnago stand at last year’s EICMA trade show in Milan, pride of place was taken by the limited-edition, carbon-fibre President LdV, named after Leonardo da Vinci.

At the show, and in catalogues, Colnago claimed that Leonardo was the "inventor of the bicycle."

Italians would dearly love to claim the bicycle as their own.

Witness this prescient quote from 1949 by the Italian writer and film-maker Curzio Malaparte, a cycle-sport nut and Fascist-cum-Catholic:

“In Italy, the bicycle belongs to the national art heritage in the same way as Mona Lisa by Leonardo, the dome of St. Peter or the Divine Comedy. It is surprising that it has not been invented by Botticelli, Michelangelo, or Raffael. Should it happen to you, that you voice in Italy that the bicycle was not invented by an Italian you will see: All miens turn sullen, a veil of grief lies down onto the faces. Oh, when you say in Italy, when you say loudly and distinctly in a café or on the street that the bicycle—like the horse, the dog, the eagle, the flowers, the trees, the clouds—has not been invented by an Italian (for it were the Italians that invented the horse, the dog, the eagle, the flowers, the trees, the clouds) then a long shudder will run down the peninsula’s spine, from the Alps to the Eatna.”

Professor Lessing’s detailed critique of the Leonardo bicycle:


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