Leonardo da Vinci’s contributions to the arts and science were so vast in his time that he is still regarded as one of history’s indisputably greatest minds. The polymath’s interests spanned from engineering to painting, botany to astronomy and all points between. His extensive archive of ideas and schematics has been collected in a 12-volume set known as the Codex Atlanticus. It was in these pages that Polish instrument maker Sławomir Zubrzycki found a forgotten invention, an instrument played like a harpsichord, but with the sound of a chamber orchestra.
Rather than plucking the strings, as a harpsichord would, this instrument, called the viola organista, lowers the strings onto spinning wheels which are wrapped in horse hair. This acts as a bow would on a violin. The resulting sound gives the impression of a group of string instruments. The project took Zubrzycki 3 years and 5,000 hours to complete.
As well as its unique sound (somewhere between an organ and a string instrument), the viola organista is ornately decorated with a Latin quote in gold leaf by Hildegard of Bingen, saying “Holy prophets and scholars immersed in the sea of arts both human and divine, dreamt up a multitude of instruments to delight the soul.”
(Previously published on Aleteia.org, click here for more )
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