One of da Vinci's 'machines' was an octogonal closet lined with mirrors. Here I am in the centre of it.
Last night I got to dress up and play the part of a Rennaissance scribe. In conjunction with the fabulous exhibition of da Vinci's Machines at Waikato Museum there was a Rennaissance Fair. There were lots of people in costume, including three choirs, a juggler, living statues, a portrait painter and someone playing Leonardo himself. My contribution was guiding people to have a go at 'mirror writing' as Leonardo da Vinci did in his journals.
No one is completely sure why he used mirror writing. On one (right) hand he was also writing in code so it was another layer of making his personal writing cryptic. On the other (left) hand, he was in fact a leftie, and the practicality of not smearing wet ink from his quill pen was probably a consideration. Both reasons were probably behind his initial decision, but as many people found out last night, with only a little practice, mirror writing is easy as forward writing, so once Leonardo had started keeping his journals like that he might have just kept going out of habit.
Some of the adults were a little shy to try out something they thought would be very difficult, but the lure of writing with a big feather pen was irresistable for almost everyone who walked past. I had people start by writing their names in mirror writing, and as soon as they could do that copying a Da Vinci quote was a cinch. The secret is to slow down enough to think about how each letter is constructed. Once your mind has grasped the concept only a few letters (g, k, j) require such concentration, and the more you practice the easier it gets. And its fun!
The Bibliophilia April give away is a "Leonardo Da Vinci mirror writing kit". You will get a stack of tea-painted paper, a feather pen and four quotes written in both forwards and mirror writing mounted on hinged boards. The pens and mounted quotes proved so desirable that several had disappeared by the end of the evening. (Parent and grandparent readers: this would make a perfect gift for a literate child).
To be in the draw for the prize please use the comments function on this blog and tell me your favourite invention of the past thousand years. Printing press? Bicycle? Internet? Surfboard? Entries close on 10 April, randomly selected winner announced some time that weekend.
"The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding." Leonardo Da Vinci