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THE CODEX LEICESTER

Leonardo's codex

Leonardo da Vinci, Codex Leicester, sheet 14A, folio 14r, Seth Joel/Corbis

The Codex Leicester is one of Leonardo's most important notebooks, and the last one remaining in private hands. The codex was shown last year at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The Seattle Art Museum is the only additional confirmed U.S. venue for public display of the Codex Leicester.

The Codex Leicester was written around 1508, when Leonardo was in his 50s and had just completed painting the Mona Lisa. The codex contains his observations and illustrations on natural phenomena such as water, light, and gravity.

Working as an artist and scientist, Leonardo observed and analyzed the world around him with unprecedented intensity and thoroughness. He used his notebooks to give life to his ideas, and they provide access for people today to understand his inquisitive, interdisciplinary mind. The codex illustrates Leonardo's lifelong attempt to understand the world by studying its physical manifestations, an approach that fueled both his artistic and scientific work.

Due to the manuscript's age and fragility, the codex is exhibited in specially designed cases that regulate its exposure to light and maintain stable temperature, humidity, and light levels.
History of the codex: After Leonardo's death the exact whereabouts of the codex are unknown until 1690. Guiseppe Ghezzi, a painter, found the manuscript in Rome in a chest belonging to a Milanese sculptor. Ghezzi owned the manuscript until 1717, when it was acquired by Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester. It remained in the Earl's estate until 1980, when it was purchased by oil magnate Armand Hammer, who renamed the manuscript the Codex Hammer. Microsoft co-founder William H. Gates III purchased the notebook at auction in late 1994 and restored its name to the Codex Leicester.

Exhibit terminals

Denis Finnin (C) American Museum of Natural History.

Leonardo da Vinci wrote backwards in Renaissance Italian and he didn't record his thoughts in a linear sequence. He sometimes wrote ideas and drawings spontaneously all over the page, often using all the spaces in the margins. This, of course, makes it difficult to understand Leonardo's ideas and explorations when viewing the codex. However, this section of the exhibition includes 24 interactive computer stations that contain the Codescope. Developed by Corbis Corporation, the Codescope allows visitors to study details of Leonardo's drawings, reverse his Italian mirror script, and read the manuscript in modern English or Italian. It also shows users how each section of a page is related to other information, giving an inside look into how Leonardo's mind worked.

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