“The Codex Leicester” by Leonardo da Vinci now at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

self portrait of da vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is one of the greatest creative and scientific minds of all history – and especially of the Renaissance era in which he lived. Though the now-world-famous artist was illegitimate and had no formal education, he learned and discovered much about the world through his own observations and experiments. Because he taught himself, he took vast notes and doodles to keep track of his thoughts, theories, and observations.

These vast notes are compiled in what is known today as the “Codex Leicester.” This manuscript is compiled of 36 pages, all filled front to back with da Vinci’s musings on astronomy, the water properties, air, and other scientific observations and musings.  The Codex is currently owned by Bill Gates and travels to a different museum in a new city each year.


This year, this incredible collection of da Vinci’s notes are in Minnesota at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, commonly known at the M.I.A. As soon as I had the opportunity, I rushed to see the powerful exhibit that would give me a glimpse into the mind of a genius.

When I stepped into the first dark room of the exhibit, I noticed the unique setup, designed to display the thin, worn pages of the “Codex Leicester.” Each of the 36 pages are encased in a lit glass pillar. This allows spectators to easily examine the authentic writings of da Vinci himself. Below each page, which are all written in mirrored Italina, is a brief overview of the notes on that page, as well as close-ups of the drawings accompanying those notes.

The silence and dimness of these rooms with a glowing displays of a master’s notes gave an aura of awe and respect of the history and brilliance contained in the cases. What I found to be most striking was the fact that I was face to face with pieces of paper that were over 500 years old. The fact that I could see the actual pen strokes of da Vinci himself!

One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was the interactive computer piece near the end. With this feature, you could select a piece of the “Codex” and see a direct translation of da Vinci’s musings. This portion of the exhibit gives visitors the best chance to view the inner workings of Leonardo da Vinci’s mind. Though many of the notes are thick and dense, the brilliance of his scientific observations, such as the age old ‘color of the sky’ question and the flow of rivers is astounding, especially given the timeframe that he was able to make these theories.

portrait of leonardo da vinci

After seeing all the pages of the “Codex Leicester”, viewers are able to see the lasting influence of Leonardo da Vinci’s observations. Among others, sketches for the original child car seats, and the world’s largest art/science project the “Crochet Coral Reef” by Margaret and Christine Wertheim can be seen here. While I found this part of the exhibit to be interesting, I wasn’t as enthralled as I had been with the “Codex” itself.

Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex Leicester” will be on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art until Aug 30th of this year. While it’s here in our city, I encourage you to see it. Being able to witness the genius of da Vinci is an overwhelming experience that I believe everyone can appreciate.




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