Codex Leicester

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Codex Leicester, 1506-1510

The Codex Leicester (also known as Codex Hammer ) is a bound collection of pages containing scientific writings, notes, sketches and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). Bill Gates paid $ 30.8 million for the manuscript at auction in 1994, making it the most expensive of all time.


The name Codex Leicester was given to the manuscript by the Earl of Leicester , who acquired it in the 18th century.


Leonardo's sketch of a crescent moon with earth light in the Codex Leicester

The codex contains 18 sheets, each folded in the middle and written on both sides to form the 72-page manuscript, with a size of about 22 cm × 28 cm. The text was written by Leonardo between 1506 and 1510 in his characteristic mirror script and provided with numerous drawings and sketches.

The manuscript contains treatises on the properties of water , astronomy , rock and mountain formation , fossils , air and light .

The main theme of the code is the nature, properties and movement of water. Leonardo also deals with the construction of canals and water-powered machines. With a view to a later publication of his notes, he also drafts a structural arrangement of his notes, which are largely disordered in the code.

Leonardo deals extensively with the question of why fossils of marine animals can be found on mountains, and rejects the then widely accepted claim that this phenomenon was a consequence of the Flood .

In the Codex Leicester, the artist provides a first correct interpretation of the “ ash gray moonlight(lumen cinereum) and explains it as sunlight reflected from the earth that is thrown onto the unlit surface of the moon. This so-called earth glow is visible to the naked eye from the earth, especially shortly before and shortly after the new moon.


Little is known about the early history of the Codex. After Leonardo's death in 1519, all of his notes passed into the hands of his pupil Francesco Melzi (around 1491/92 - around 1570). His heirs dissolved Leonardo's estate. The manuscripts were sold, even as individual sheets, and the valuable material was scattered. In 1717 the manuscript was acquired by Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (1697-1759).

The Codex was purchased from the Leicester Collection in 1980 by industrialist and art collector Armand Hammer (1898–1990) and renamed Codex Hammer . On 11 November 1994, the entrepreneur auctioned Bill Gates the manuscript at an auction of the auction house Christie's for 30.8 million dollars . The book was then renamed Codex Leicester . This makes the Codex the most expensive manuscript ever sold in the world, ahead of the Gospel Book of Heinrich the Lion , which in 1983 achieved a price of 32.5 million Deutschmarks .

In Germany, the object was exhibited for the first time from October 15, 1999 to January 9, 2000 in Munich's Haus der Kunst and from January 30 to March 12, 2000 in the Museum der Dinge, Martin-Gropius-Bau , Berlin, together with the 96 drawings comprehensive cycle of drawings for the two sketchbooks “ Codices Madrid ” by Leonardo da Vinci by Joseph Beuys (1921–1986), rediscovered in 1965 .

The manuscript has been digitized and is now available as a digitized online version on the Corbis Corporation website .


  • Emma Dickens (Ed.): The da Vinci Universe - The Notebooks of Leonardo . Ullstein Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-548-36874-3 , from 2007: ISBN 978-3-548-36874-0
  • Martin Kemp : Leonardo , C. H. Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 978-3-406-53462-1
  • Theodor Lücke (Ed.): Leonardo da Vinci: Diaries and records . 3rd edition, Paul List Verlag, Leipzig 1953
  • Kaus Mangold (Vorw.): Leonardo da Vinci The Codex Leicester . Haus der Kunst, Munich, October 15, 1999 to January 9, 2000; Museum der Dinge, Berlin, January 30 to March 12, 2000, Richter Verlag Düsseldorf, Munich / Berlin 1999
  • Charles Nicholl : Leonardo da Vinci - The biography . S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 978-3-10-052405-8
  • Carlo Pedretti : Leonardo da Vinci on Painting . University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1964 ( digitized ).
  • Jean Paul Richter (Ed.): The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci . 2 volumes, Dover Publications Inc., Dover 1970, Volume 1: ISBN 0-486-22572-0 , Volume 2: ISBN 0-486-22573-9 . Online version of the first edition in 1883 at , English
  • Thereza Wells (Ed.): Leonardo da Vinci - Notebooks . Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008, ISBN 978-0199299027 , English

Web links

Commons : Codex Leicester (Codex Hammer)  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ The Leonardo da Vinci Codex Hammer ,
  2. Martin Kemp, p. 96 ff
  3. Martin Kemp, p. 186 ff
  4. Martin Kemp, pp. 84, 225
  5. ^ The Leonardo da Vinci Codex Hammer ,
  6. Charles Nicholl, p. 690 f.
  7. ^ Kaus Mangold (Vorw.): Leonardo da Vinci The Codex Leicester . House of Art, Munich; Museum der Dinge, Berlin (ed.), Richter Verlag Düsseldorf, Munich / Berlin 1999, p. 4
  8. ^ Spiegel Online , accessed on November 7, 2010