Leonardo Da Vinci | Codex Leicester

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is an outstanding Renaissance man: painter, architect, philosopher, musician, writer, mathematician, anatomist, geologist, inventor and discoverer. Born in 1452 in a small village near the town of Vinci, located in today's Tuscany. A real genius, unusual personality and self-taught, whose achievements to this day fascinate scientists and historians around the world.
Commonly known as an artist and great painter, he considered himself more as a scientist. He ran numerous detailed records, which up to now have been found around 7,000. Their thematic diversity astonishes with the descriptions of research on flight of birds, designs of flying machines based on the analysis of bat wings, war machines, bridge structures and fortification devices. To prove the effectiveness of his ideas, he made models of paper, wax and wood.

He invented an impressive number of devices such as a camera prototype, a ball bearing, a spinning machine, a mechanical excavator and even a parachute. Describing his inventions and observations in order to hide them from prying eyes he used mirror writing. We need to use a mirror, to be able to read them today. It is estimated that only half of approximately 14,000 of his notes have survived. They are hidden in the collection of archives and libraries around the world. On January 3rd, 1496, Leonardo da Vinci carried out a trial of his flying machine which, unfortunately, failed. He also designed armored cars moved by the strength of eight muscled people hidden inside. He invented a poisonous powder for the army, protective masks for soldiers and finally a prototype of a wetsuit and an oxygen mask for scuba divers. Therefore, it is not surprising that the master used to sleep only 15 minutes every 4 hours per day. His notes and drawings are still being found till today. A spectacular discovery took place in England in 1976, where over 900 drawings of the Grand Master were found.

Leonardo was often described as the archetype of the “Renaissance Man" whose seemingly inexhaustible curiosity was matched only by the power of his creativity. He worked on the largest courts in Europe, including such great families as Sforza and Medici. His work led to a significant increase in the level of knowledge at that time. Leonardo died on May 2nd, 1519 at the Clos Lucé Castle in Amboise, France. For that is why the 500th anniversary of his death is being celebrated now.

Original manuscript

The Codex consists of 18 sheets of paper, each folded in half and written on both sides, forming the complete 72-page document. It was handwritten in Italian by Leonardo, using his characteristic mirror writing and supported by copious drawings and diagrams.
At one time the sheets were bound together, but they are now displayed separately. After Gates acquired the Codex, he had its pages scanned into digital image files. It has been unbound with each page individually mounted between glass panes. It is put on public display once a year in a different city around the world.  
The Codex Leicester, also briefly known as Codex Hammer, is a collection of scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci. The Codex is named after Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester, who purchased it in 1717. The manuscript currently holds the record for the highest sale price of any book, as it was sold to Bill Gates at Christie’s auction house on 11 November 1994 in New York for USD 30.802.500 (equivalent to USD 52.000.000 in 2018).

The Codex gives us insight into the inquisitive mind of a complete Renaissance artist, scientist and thinker, as well as into unique illustrations combining art and science with the creativity of the cognitive process.

The manuscript does not have the form of a single linear script, but is rather a mixture of Leonardo's observations and theories on astronomy; the characteristic of water, rocks and fossils; air and celestial light. The topics addressed include:
An explanation of why fossils can be found on mountains. Hundreds of years before plate tectonics became accepted scientific theory, Leonardo believed that mountains had previously formed sea beds, which were gradually lifted until they formed mountains.
The movement of water. This is the main topic of the Leicester Codex. Among other things, Leonardo wrote about the flow of water in rivers, and how it is affected by different obstacles put in its way. From his observations he made recommendations about bridge construction and erosion.
The luminosity of the Moon. Leonardo speculated that the Moon's surface is covered by water, which reflects light from the Sun. In this model, waves on the water's surface cause the light to be reflected in many directions, explaining why the Moon is not as bright as the Sun. Leonardo explained that the pale glow on the dark portion of the crescent Moon is caused by sunlight reflected from the Earth. Thus, he described the phenomenon of planet shine one hundred years before Johannes Kepler proved it.

Perfect replica of Codex Leicester

This piece of work is an artistic, scientific copy of the original. Made by hand extremely laborious and complicated technique of paper sculptures. In the process of finishing cards, appropriate varnish methods and unique techniques were used to give the work the right color, smell and structure.

The replica is undoubtedly a unique and perfect work that fully reflects the features, character and spirit of the original.

Facsimile Specification

Title: “Codex Leicester” Leonardo da Vinci
Technique: sculpture in paper
Process: fully manual
Number of pages: 72
Dimension: 29 cm x 22 cm
Paper: Arcoprint 85 gr.
Edition: 199 copies
Accessories: supplement / commentary, wooden stylized chest, numbered wrapper of natural leather with wax seal, gloves
ISBN: 978-83-952639-4-1

Codex Cards

f. 1r
The light of the Moon

Leonardo’s studies on light and vision are fundamental to both his scientific and artistic pursuits. He explores the relationship of the Sun, Earth, and Moon, and speculates on the Moon’s composition by considering two possible explanations for its luminous appearance. He shows how choppy water on the Moon accounts for its uneven brightness.

f. 1v
History of the Earth

Based on the idea of the Earth as a living body, Leonardo discusses the ancient transformations of the Danube Valley suggested by the marine fossils discovered there. He details European and Middle Eastern geological history through the patterns of rivers and the effects of their flow. He proposes that the Moon’s water-covered surface is the cause of its uneven bright appearance.

f. 2r
The Moon, Earth’s twin

Leonardo proposes that the Moon is similar to the Earth and follows the same physical laws. Although we now know there are no seas on the Moon, his theory that it has its own gravity was correct and groundbreaking for the time. He provides an optical analysis of the reflections of the Sun’s light between the Earth and the Moon, offering an explanation of the phenomenon now known as “Earthshine.”

f. 2v
Doisordered Compilation

Leonardo explores diverse topics: how to drain a pond, the gravity of the Moon, rock stratification, and the behavior of objects moving in water. He acknowledges his abrupt jumps from topic to topic, explaining that his goal is to register them “as they occur to me.” He notes his plan to eventually organize his thoughts into a more orderly treatise.

f. 3r
The Origin of Springs

Throughout the Codex, Leonardo seeks an explanation for the presence of springs in high mountains. He considers the causes of water erosion and the varying density and permeability of soil. At the bottom of the page, he sets an agenda for his work on the presence of shells in mountain strata.

f. 4v
On waves

Leonardo describes in detail the complex behavior of waves, in both drawings and texts. He observes the differences between river waves and waves on the seashore, and concludes that a river wave does not break unless it is impacted by a successive wave. He devises an experiment to demonstrate this phenomenon.


f. 5r
The index of the Treatise on water

At the top of the page Leonardo outlines the index of his Treatise on the science of water in which he plans to analyze the nature and movements of water, the effects of its currents, the confluences of rivers and their ebb and flow. Continuing his argument on the luminosity of the Moon, he reveals his extraordinary understanding of optics with a detailed analysis of the way moving water reflects light.

f.14r
Rain and clouds

This page demonstrates the interconnection between Leonardo’s aesthetic and scientific interests. In a series of illustrations, he explores the effects of obstacles of different shapes placed at different angles on a river’s flow, in a quest to prevent currents from eroding river banks. He also describes the evaporation of rain and the formation of clouds from water vapor.

f. 14v
Surface Waves

Leonardo examines the characteristics of different types of surface waves and the dynamics of their crashes and rebounds, studying these phenomena both in nature and under controlled conditions. He also records a series of observations on the flow of rivers and waterfalls, and describes the patterns of ripples produced by dropping objects of different shapes into water.

Codescope an interactive kiosk with a touch screen that lets you explore the Codex Leicester, a notebook of Leonardo’s

The Codex and the Codescope are traveling together to various museums in Europe as part of the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death.

Do you have any questions?