A Digital Curiosity Cabinet

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Notebooks

Leonardo Da Vinci Notebook, © V&A Museum

Leonardo Da Vinci Notebook, © V&A Museum

Leonardo da Vinci was the typical ‘Renaissance Man,’ having skills in many different areas of study. As well as being one of the most famous artists in the world, he was also a prolific inventor. He drew many sketches and diagrams of flying machines, helicopters, an armoured tank and even a robot knight! Most of these inventions were never built, as Leonardo da Vinci either lost interest or could not raise the money to construct them. He also owned pictures of craters of the moon.

In his notebooks he wrote about a vast array of subjects, from the anatomy of a bird wing to geometry, to hydraulic engineering. The V&A Museum has five of Leonardo’s notebooks that are bound together in three volumes. They reveal how he thought on paper and contain some of his most complex and challenging designs. Leonardo’s interest in flight can be traced to his earliest notebook compiled in the late 15th century, which include designs for a flying machine. Later notebooks contain more extensive observations on birds and their flight.

Leonardo wrote in Italian, rather than Latin, the common language of international scholarship at the time. The notebooks are written in Leonardo’s famous ‘mirror writing’. His hand writing is reversed, as he wrote from left to right. Writing masters of the time used to make demonstrations of mirror writing, so it may not have seemed as strange as it does today.


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