Perhaps even more interesting than the ambition and innovation behind Leonardo da Vinci’s Colossus invention is the dramatic and heartbreaking story of his attempts to bring it to life.
In 1482, the Duke of Milan commissioned da Vinci to build the largest horse statue in the world. Da Vinci, never afraid of a challenge designed a 24-foot bronze statue, and then went to work creating a clay model. The next step was to cover the model in bronze – not an easy task.
Because of the size of the statue, it required 80 tons of bronze, which had to be applied in an even thickness or the statue would be unstable. To do this, da Vinci used his experience designing canons to invent a whole new mold-making technique. He also had to invent an innovative oven to reach the temperature needed to heat such a large amount of bronze.
After finally solving all of the design problems that confronted him, da Vinci was ready for bronzing. Unfortunately, fate intervened, and, in 1494, King Charles invaded France. To hold off the French army, the Duke offered a bribe of Leonardo’s bronze – which the French ultimately used to make canons. The last thing Leonardo wrote about the Colossus was: "I will speak of the horse no more."
In 1977, a retired airline pilot and artist from Pennsylvania named Charles Dent decided to revive da Vinci’s Colossus project, setting up a non-profit organization to do so. He spent the next 17 years working on it before dying in 1994. Finally, in 1999, the horse was completed and given as a gift to the people of Milan, Italy.