The Codex Atlanticus: the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci
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Codex Atlanticus

Leonardo da Vinci - 1478-1519

The Codex Atlanticus is an extraordinary document and a window into the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. The work is comprised of 1119 signed pages (gathered in 12 volumes that include 1750 drawings and 100 pages handwritten by Leonardo himself) and testifies to the artist’s eclectic interest of various aspects of reality; it includes drawings of war devices, sketches of bombardments and mortars, machines able to descend to the bottom of the sea or fly as well as studies on mechanics and sculpture. He showed an interest in the art of war, as well as in the geometry of bodies. The document also presents biographic notes, philosophical meditations and personal notes.

The observation and the study of this extraordinary document gives us an idea of Leonardo’s curiosity and talent, as well as information on the historical period in which he lived. The pages deal with various topics: anatomy, astronomy, botany, chemistry, geography, mathematics, mechanics, drawings of machines, studies on flying and architectural projects.

Among the creations that provide testimony on Leonardo’s time in Milan, the Codex Atlanticus is one of the most important because allows us to understand the role that he had as a scientist in the introduction of modern methodology. Leonardo was first to perceive and emphasize the relevance of experimentation and how technical solutions could be arranged according to rules and repeated in other contests.

The name of the codex was associated with the atlas-like dimensions of the pages (64.5 x 43.5 cm); “Atlante” is the name used in library science to represent large-sized volumes. A six-volume replica of the Codex Atlanticus, published in Milan by Ulrico Hoepli, is kept at the Ambrosiana Library.

In 1796, the Codex – with other documents –was “transferred” to France by Napoleon and kept at the Biblioteque de l’Institut de France. It was later returned in 1815, thanks to an officer instructed to retrieve art pieces stolen by Napoleon.

Amidst works and hydraulic creations, it seems that Leonardo planned and directed the works for the Martesana waterway; his cooperation in perfecting the functioning of the basins, with the creation of the angular, double-door closing mechanism and the sluice-gate system with uneven arms (still in use today),  has been confirmed.

Among Leonardo's most important studies we find, in addition to the two codices in Milan – Codex Atlanticus (Ambrosiana Library) and Codex Trivulzianus (Trivulziana Library) – manuscripts in the Royal Library in Windsor Castle (London), Codex Forster in Victoria and Albert Museum and Codex Arundel in the British Museum (both in London), manuscripts in Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, Codices in the Institut de France in Parigi and a collection kept in Royal Library in Turin.


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