Paris manuscripts (Leonardo da Vinci)

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Manuscript E , folio 75v-76r
Draft of a flying machine in manuscript B

The Paris manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci is a collection of twelve notes and sketch books of the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).


The manuscripts received the name Paris Manuscripts from their place of storage, the Institut de France in Paris . The manuscripts have been in the holdings of the Institut de France since the late 18th century.


Most of Leonardo da Vinci's handwritten documents, 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 manuscripts were sold, sometimes as individual sheets, and the valuable material was scattered.

Around 1590, the sculptor and art collector Pompeo Leoni (1533–1608) was able to acquire a large part of the records, including over 2,500 individual sheets. After Leoni's death in 1608, the documents came into the possession of Count Galeazzo Arconati , who donated them to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan in 1637 .

In 1795 twelve manuscripts, today they are called the Paris Manuscripts A to M , and the Codex Atlanticus , were transferred from the Ambrosian library as Napoleon's war booty to the library of the Institut de France in Paris. Only the Codex Atlanticus returned to the Ambrosiana after the fall of Napoleon in 1815. The Institut de France still houses the largest collection of Leonardo da Vinci's manuscripts.

Content and scope

Manuscript A.

Manuscript A , folio 20v-21r

The manuscript A now consists of 80 pages in the format of about 15 x 22 cm, dated around 1492. In its original scope the handwriting comprised 114 pages.

In the 1840s the Italian mathematician and book thief Count Guglielmo Libri (1803–1869) cut out pages 81 to 114 of the manuscript, stole them and sold them, together with ten sheets from Manuscript B , to the British collector and bibliophile Bertram Ashburnham, 4. Earl of Ashburnham (1797-1878). Through his son they were returned to the Institut de France in 1890. They are still today, named Codex Ashburnham , bound separately from the original manuscripts.

The manuscript contains treatises on painting techniques such as optics, perspective, proportions, movement, mechanics and the properties of water from the point of view of the painter.

Manuscript B.

The " Air Screw ",
Manuscript B , Folio 83v

The manuscript B today contains 90 pages in the format of about 16 x 23 cm, dated around 1487-1490. Originally the manuscript contained 50 double sheets and thus 100 pages.

The handwriting is the oldest of the notebooks used by Leonardo. It has been preserved in its original binding and provided with a loop and a toggle wood as a book clasp, similar to a duffle coat . The work is complete except for ten pages, which were removed by Guglielmo Libri in the 1840s.

The manuscript contains drawings and notes on a variety of subjects, including military equipment and machines , detailed sketches of aircraft such as the so-called propeller , the design of a submarine, and architectural studies of the ideal city and designs for churches.

Manuscript C.

Manuscript C , folio 18v-19r

The manuscript C comprises 28 pages in the format of about 22 × 31 cm. Leonardo began writing on April 23, 1490 and completed it around 1491. The manuscript mainly contains studies on the representation of light and shadow in painting and studies on the flow of water .

Manuscript D.

Manuscript D , folio 3v-4r

The manuscript D consists of ten sheets in the format of about 16 x 22.5 cm, dated around 1508-1509. It is, as one of the few manuscripts of Leonardo, devoted to a single topic and deals with theories of optics . It contains studies on the structure and function of the eye as well as on the perception of light, shadow and color .

Manuscript E.

Manuscript E , folio 24v-25r

The manuscript E contains 96 pages in the format of about 10 x 15 cm, dated around 1513-1514. The main theme of the manuscript is the study of weight and gravity . Further topics deal with measures for the drainage of the Pontine Marshes , south of Rome , as well as studies of geometry , painting and the flight of birds .

Manuscript F.

Manuscript F , folio 18v-19r

The manuscript F consists of 96 sheets in the format of approximately 10 × 14.5 cm, dated September 12, 1508 to October 1508. The main subjects of the manuscript are water, optics, geology and astronomy , like the nature of moonlight .

Manuscript G.

The manuscript G comprises 93 pages in the format of about 10 × 14 cm, dated around 1510-1515. The manuscript contains a treatise on rivers , botany and drawings of devices and processes for minting coins .

Manuscript H.

The manuscript H consists of 142 pages in the format of about 8 × 10.5 cm, dated around 1493–1494. The work originally consists of three notebooks that have been combined in one cover. It contains aphorisms and studies on Euclidean geometry and stereometry , which Leonardo da Vinci probably made under the guidance of the mathematician Luca Pacioli (around 1445-1514 or 1517).

"Chi poco pensa molto erra - who thinks little is wrong a lot."

- Leonardo da Vinci : manuscript H, folio 119

Manuscript I.

The manuscript I contains 139 pages in the format cm of about 7.5 × 10, dated around 1497-1505. The manuscript consists of two notebooks in their original bindings. The notes cover a range of topics including the study of Euclidean geometry, architecture, and the Latin language . It is possible that Leonardo tried to improve his knowledge of Latin during this time, similar to the Codex Trivulzianus . The manuscript also contains notes on subjects related to painting, such as the representation of perspective and studies of proportions.

"Chi non stima la vita, non la merita - if you don't value life, you don't deserve it."

- Leonardo da Vinci : Manuscript I, Folio 15

Manuscript K

The manuscript K consists of three notebooks ( K1 , K2 and K3 ) with a total of 128 pages in the format of about 6.5 × 9.5 cm, dated around 1503–1508. The books have been preserved in their original binding. The contents mainly deal with studies of Euclidean geometry and with sketches of the anatomy of the horse .

Manuscript L

Manuscript L , folio 65v-66r

The manuscript L contains 94 pages in the format of about 7 × 10 cm, dated around 1497–1502. The binding has been preserved in its original form. Its content includes studies of fortifications and defenses. From 1502 to 1503 Leonardo worked as a military engineer for Cesare Borgia (1475-1507), the commander of the papal troops. On folio 66r there is a draft of a bridge to cross the Golden Horn . Leonardo had proposed the construction to Sultan Bayezid II . In 2001 the Leonardo da Vinci Bridge was built on a smaller scale as a pedestrian bridge in the Norwegian town of Ås , about 35 kilometers south of Oslo .

"La paura nasce più tosto che altra cosa - Fear arises much earlier than anything else."

- Leonardo da Vinci : manuscript L, folio 90

Manuscript M.

Manuscript M , folio 78v-79r

The manuscript M consists of 48 pages written on both sides with a format of about 7 × 10 cm, dated around 1490–1500. The manuscript deals with the study of Euclidean geometry, ballistics, and botany , such as theories about the growth of trees. The notebook also offers references to Leonardo's contacts with Donato Bramante (around 1444–1514), who began as an architect in 1506 with the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

"La verità sola fu figliola del tempo - The truth was always only a daughter of time."

- Leonardo da Vinci : Manuscript M, Folio 58

Translation from Noctes Atticae des Aulus Gellius : "Alius quidam veterum poetarum, cuius nomen mihi nunc memoriae non est, Veritatem Temporis filiam esse dixit."


Web links

Commons : The Paris Manuscripts  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Pedretti, p. 257
  2. Pedretti, p. 23; 109
  3. ^ Carlo Pedretti, Catherine Frost: Leonardo, Art and Science . Giunti Editore, Florence / Milan 2000, p. 106
  4. a b c Nicholl, pp. 271-272
  5. Nicholl, p. 340 f
  6. Nicholl, p. 23
  7. Nicholl, p. 338 f
  8. Nicholl, p. 546
  9. Nicholl, p. 544
  10. Noctes Atticae 12,11,7 la.wikisource