The codex contains 55 sheets of approximately 14 cm × 20.5 cm. The work originally comprised 62 pages. It is dated to about the period 1487 to 1490. Leonardo wrote the text in his characteristic mirror writing and provided it with numerous drawings and sketches.
The manuscript consists mostly of long lists of Latin vocabulary, some of which Leonardo could have taken from Roberto Valturio's book De Re Militari . In some places the Latin words are provided with Italian translations. It is possible that Leonardo tried to improve his vocabulary and compile technical terms through these lists.
The manuscript also contains studies of military installations and sacred architecture. A number of drawings are dedicated to the Milan Cathedral . Leonardo designed constructions to support a dome. However, he was unable to implement his plans.
Most of Leonardo da Vinci's manuscripts and drawings were kept in his villa near Vaprio d'Adda by his pupil and heir Francesco Melzi (around 1491/92 - around 1570) after his death . His son Orazio Melzi inherited the documents in 1570. The Codex Trivulzianus, like other manuscripts by Leonardo da Vinci, was given by Orazio Melzi to the sculptor Pompeo Leoni (1533-1608), who sold them to Count Galeazzo Arconati. In 1637 the work was donated to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. The Codex appears for the last time in the records of the Ambrosiana Library in 1674, in a list from the Arconati donation.
It disappeared from the Biblioteca Ambrosiana between 1674 and 1750. In 1750 Carlo Trivulzio bought the manuscript from a certain Gaetano Cacchia, to which a note on the back of the cover indicates: “This little manuscript belonged to Mr. Gaetano Cacchia, knight from Novara , but based in Milan. He died in the parish of St. Damien in 1782, the day of January 9th. I, Carlo Trivulzio, bought it from Cacchia around 1750, [...] given in exchange for a silver watch that I bought two years earlier for sixteen guilders [...] "
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