Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), painter, sculptor, architect and engineer, kept notes and drawings of his studies, ideas and inventions. Over 7,000 pages have survived, including this notebook known as Codex Arundel after its English collector Thomas Howard, 14th earl of Arundel.
The structure of the notebook shows that it was not originally a bound volume. It was put together after Leonardo's death from loose papers of various types and sizes, some indicating Leonardo's habit of carrying smaller bundles of notes to document observations outdoors.
Many of the pages were written in 1508; others come from different periods in Leonardo's life, covering practically the whole of his career. The notebook features many topics, including mechanics, the flow of rivers, astronomy, optics, architecture and the flight of birds, demonstrating Leonardo's intense curiosity.
The manuscript, in Italian, is written in Leonardo's characteristic 'mirror writing', left-handed and moving from right to left.
Examples of well-known images from this manuscript include:
- Study for an underwater breathing apparatus, f.24v
Leonardo comes up with a solution that consists of two tubes, one for inhaling and the other for exhaling. In order to protect the upper parts of the tubes from the waves, he devises a float, and then he explains that the tubes are built in such a way that they do not break. The strategy Leonardo adopts is to make the tubes flexible by articulating them at intervals, and by having wires in these articulations.
Then, Leonardo advises that a sack should be placed below the chin of the apparatus to collect waste; the sack could be emptied without compromising the functioning of the apparatus. Particularly significant here is the way Leonardo details the structure of his apparatus by making use of 'transparent' and 'exploded' views, which are graphic techniques that he explored extensively in his studies of human anatomy.
- Studies of reflections from concave mirrors ff.86v-87r
In addition to a fascination with the abstract geometry of the patterns of reflection, Leonardo was also interested in the potential utility of concave mirrors as sources of heat. On the right-hand page Leonardo is arguing that in concave mirrors of equal diameter, the one which has a shallower curve will concentrate the highest number of reflected rays on to a focal point, and 'as a consequence, it will kindle a fire with greater rapidity and force'.
- Drawings for the design of a mechanical organ, ff. 136v-137r
Leonardo’s drawings show his attempts to develop a mechanical understanding of sound. The main sketches on the folio on the right relate to the design of a mechanical organ to play a canon in four parts. This consists of an outer wheel with pipes to serve as mechanical voices and a wheel in the middle with four cogs to each take the part of a singer.
See more of Leonardo notebook on Turning the Pages™.
- Article by:
Explore the Library’s strong scientific holdings. These range from medieval times to the burgeoning developments in physics, chemistry and biology of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Our collections go right up to modern times and also include social science.
- Article by:
- Julian Harrison
Harry Potter won’t arrive at the British Library until the autumn of 2017, but there has always been magic here. Julian Harrison, lead curator of the Harry Potter exhibition, has a look around
- Article by:
- Andrew Dickson
- Renaissance writers, Shakespeare’s life and world, Elizabethan England
Andrew Dickson follows the progress of the Renaissance through Europe, and examines the educational, religious, artistic and geographical developments that shaped culture during the period.