Pianist Brings da Vinci’s Piano to Life


The instrument looked more like a baby grand piano with its elegant tan and black keys. When pressed, the sound was more like the deep and smooth sounds of a cello.

The Italian Renaissance genius responsible for the creation of the famed Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, created the Viola Organista without actually building it. Creating the plans for it in between 1470 and 1480, it was the perfect marriage between a stringed instrument and a keyboard.

After virtually forgetting the instrument, a concert pianist from Poland decided to bring the piano to life centuries later. This creation brought to life by Slawomir Zubrzycki became a work of art. Based off of the plans created by da Vinci, what was created had the properties of three commonly known instruments: The viola da gamba, the organ, and the harpsichord. After he finished it, Zubrzycki debuted the instrument at Krakow, Poland’s Academy of Music.

The instrument’s exterior is painted in a rich midnight blue with golden swirl accents along the sides. The lid’s inside is painted in a deep raspberry, adorned with a Latin quote inscribed in gold leaf. The quote is by Saint Hildegard, a German nun from the 12th-centry. The quote reads, “Holy prophets and scholars immersed in the sea of arts both human and divine, dreamt up a multitude of instruments to delight the soul,”

Golden Spruce and Spinning Wheels

The interior’s flat bed is lined in golden spruce. Adding to its beauty is sixty-one steel strings running over the spruce, resembling the look of a baby grand. Each string is connected to the keyboard. The small black keys of the keyboard are there to play the flat and sharp notes. What sets it apart from a piano, however, is that there are four spinning wheels instead of hammered dulcimers. The spinning wheels have a similarity to violin bows because of the horse tail hair it is wrapped in. To turn them, a pedal connected to a crankshaft that sits below the keyboard has to be pumped.

As the keys are pressed, the strings are pressed down onto the wheels. This emits the sonorous and rich sounds that resemble that of an accordion, an organ, and a cello. Da Vinci dreamed this sound that was much different from a piano’s, but he never got to hear it. There is also no record that anyone else attempted to rebuilt it.