Italian Renaissance architect, musician, inventor, engineer, sculptor, and painter Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). He is regarded as one of the finest artists of all time and maybe the person with the widest range of talents to have ever lived. His journals, which provide a unique glimpse into how he saw the world, are filled with sketches, schematics, personal notes, and observations. We have five of these amazing items in our collection.
- What are Da Vinci’s Notebooks all about?
- Codex Forster I
- Codex Forster II
- Final words
What are Da Vinci’s Notebooks all about?
From the middle of the 1480s, when Leonardo was employed by the Duke of Milan as a military and naval engineer, it seems that he started keeping a journal of his ideas. None of Leonardo’s forebears, contemporaries, or successors used paper in in the same way that he did; a single sheet contains an erratic pattern of thoughts and innovations, representing the labor of both a designer and a scientist.
Shapero Noted that the meticulously drawn designs and drawings in the journals are annotated with comments in Italian mirror writing from the 16th century, which reads backward and from right to left. The mirror writing has generated a lot of discussion. Did Leonardo want for just himself to be able to understand his notes? Or was it just that he wrote better from right to left because he had a left-handed writing style? His letter forms are really rather common; writing gurus of the period would have performed mirror writing demonstrations, and he wrote in a style similar to that of his father, a legal notary. Once the eye has become acclimated to the technique, Leonardo’s mysterious mirror writing is understandable.
Leonardo most likely used loose sheets of paper that he took about with him to record his observations. These sheets of paper were likely purchased at one of Milan’s numerous stationery stores. His writings were presumably bound and folded at some point while in the possession of the Spanish artist Pompeo Leoni (1533 – 1608). The three codices, which are bound volumes with several pages, that contain the five notebooks in the V&A collection are known as the Forster Codices after John Forster, who left them to the museum in 1876. Only one of the codices, Codex Forster I.1, has any information on its creation date, and the others are not bound in any logical sequence.
Codex Forster I
Forster Codex I.1 (up to folio 40, Florence, 1505)
Libro titolato de strasformatione is the title of a note written in Leonardo’s own writing that dates this notebook to July 1505. This demonstrates that it was started when he was in Florence, just after he started work on his well-known Battle of Anghiari mural for the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of the city’s administration. The notes discuss topology, a modern discipline of mathematics that studies the measurement of solid entities and issues linking changes in form to those of volume.
Forster Codex I.2 (from folio 41, Milan, about 1487 – 90)
The oldest notebook at the V&A was written between 1487 and 1490, when Leonardo worked as a servant for Milan’s Sforza duke. Some of the pages in this notebook include text that extends over the inner margins, which suggests that Leonardo penned those passages before the sheets were folded into the booklet that is still in existence. It includes notes and schematics for tools used in hydraulic engineering and water lifting and moving. Leonardo was known for creating ornate furnishings, like as water clocks and fountains, for entertaining visitors at courts and in wealthy homes. A mechanical man served as the bell ringer in one extensively mechanized design for the French governor of Milan.
Codex Forster II
Forster II.1 Codex (up to folio 63, Milan, about 1495)
This journal was created somewhere about 1495. It includes notes on proportional theory and makes reference to Luca Paccioli, a well-known mathematician who worked with Leonardo in Milan (died about
1514). A significant amount of other information is also included, including bells and a striking mechanism, a portrait of Francesco Nanni-Samson, the General of the Franciscan Order, and a passage discussing the positions of people seated at a table that may be related to Leonardo’s work on the Last Supper fresco in Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, which was started around 1495.
Forster II.2 Codex (from folio 64, Milan, 1495 – 97)
Codex Forster II.2, which was created between around 1495 and 1497, contains in-depth notes on the theory of weights, traction, tensions, and balances. It also includes a discussion of the crossbow, a terrible weapon that the Pope has repeatedly forbidden, and a comment mocking people who believe in eternal motion.
Some of the concepts included on the page below explore perpetual motion, which is the notion of a fictitious machine that, if initiated, would continue without interruption, much like a wheel that never stops revolving. Leonardo conducted extensive research on perpetual motion but ultimately rejected the idea.
Codex Forster III
The most eclectic of the notebooks is this one. Sketches of a horse’s legs (possibly related to Leonardo’s work on an equestrian statue for the founder of the Sforza dynasty), drawings of hats and clothes that may have been ideas for ball costumes, and an account of the anatomy of the human head are interspersed with notes on geometry, weights, and hydraulics. Leonardo often drew animal and human dissections, advancing knowledge of anatomy and physiology.
Now you have a clear overall idea about the notebooks of Da Vinci. It is up to you to continue to explore these Notebooks and see what they can offer you. No matter what, you will surely fall in love with the content and context delivered on your way with these notebooks. They can even help you when you are trying to have your own collection of rare books.