Codex Leicester

In 1994, who paid over $30 million for a collection of Leonardo da Vinci's writings known as the Codex Leicester?

And the answer is: Bill Gates.

Photo courtesy: public domain

Written in the early 16th century, the "Codex Leicester" includes Da Vinci's observations, sketches, and theories on water, air, and astronomy. At the time of purchase, it was considered the most expensive book ever sold.

The "Codex Leicester" is a collection that offers a rare glimpse into Da Vinci's mind and working theories. While unorganized, the collection contains ideas that were unheard of in its time, and not formalized for centuries to come. For example, in a note to himself he writes: "Make eyeglasses to see the moon larger." The first recorded use of a telescope wasn't until the following century.

The majority of the collection contains Da Vinci's musings on water – the way it moves, ebbs, and carves paths in its wake. Careful, painstaking observations are countered by simple yet intentional sketches that come together to speak to Da Vinci's process as an artist: according to gallery director Eike Schmidt, "Leonardo couldn’t have painted as he did without his scientific observation of nature."

The significance of the collection also comes in its subversion of widely-held, Christian understanding of the Earth's age and time of creation. His observations of fossils and geological stratification suggests a timeline predating the Bible's by several million years. While such ideas would have been seen as heretic if seen by the public at the time of its creation, Da Vinci kept the collection quietly to himself.

To learn more about the specific content of the Codex, check out this site.


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