This October 2018 is a special time for the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. One of Leonardo’s manuscripts, the Codex Leicester is coming back to Italy this year. The precious codex is currently owned by American multibillionaire Bill Gates, who will lend it to the Uffizi, where it will be shown as part of an exhibition from 29th Oct 2018 to 20th Jan 2019.
The exhibition is entitled: Il Codice Leicester di Leonardo da Vinci. L’Acqua Microscopio della Natura – The Codex Leicester of Leonardo da Vinci. Water, Nature’s Microscope.
This exhibition is the start of a series of events that, during 2019, will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death (he died in May 1519). But let’s examine why this codex is so important and why seeing it at the Uffizi is a unique experience to peer inside the mind of this artistic genius.
What is the Codex Leicester by Leonardo da Vinci?
The Codex Leicester is a 72-page journal (36 folios with recto and verso), 18 double sheets that Da Vinci put together as they represented a treatise about water, most likely notes for a book that he never completed. The text is written in Leonardo’s famous mirror-writing style, so that the words are supposed to be read from right to left.
The main topic of this manuscript is the world of water, how water moves, and related phenomena like erosion and whirlpools. He studies the channel system in Milan where he lived, and dreamed of diverting the river Arno to make it navigable from Florence to the sea. He also imagined a futuristic device that would allow people to breathe under water, and speculated, though wrongly, that the the surface of the moon was covered by water.
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Who owns the the Codex Leicester?
This is the only of Leonardo’s manuscripts that currently resides in America, after Bill Gates bought it at an auction in 1994 for the sum of over 30 million dollars.
A bit of history – A well travelled codex
A Baroque Italian painter, a British nobleman, an American industrialist and finally the father of Microsoft, Bill Gates. These are the previous known owners of the Codex Leicester. It also appears to have been in the hands of Roman sculptor Guglielmo della Porta right after Leonardo’s death, and was later found in a chest with some of his drawings in 1690. There’s plenty of material for an intriguing mystery story and more.
But how did the manuscript ended up in America? As with all Leonardo’s codices, this manuscript changed hands a few times. Today his legacy is scattered around the world, in museums, various institutions and private collections.
This particular codex is also known as the Codex Hammer, a name that comes from its former owner, the American businessman named Hammer that acquired it in 1980. Before that, it belonged to the count of Leicester’s family, hence the name. A certain Thomas Cake, Count of Leicester had previously acquired it in 1717 from an Italian painter Giuseppe Ghezzi.
Exhibition 29th October 2018- 20th January 2019
Il Codice Leicester di Leonardo da Vinci. L’Acqua Microscopio della Natura
The manuscript will be shown to the public in the Aula Magliabechiana of the Uffizi Gallery. Thanks to a multimedia tool, Codescope, the visitors will be able to virtually browse the sheets of paper and read the transcription of the text. Side by side with the codex, there will be other original drawings by the master (lent by international and Italian institutions) that show how eclectic and wondrous his mind was.
“The exhibition of Leonardo’s Codex Leicester, together with other precious drawings and writings of the genius Da Vinci – says Director Eike Schmidt – demonstrates our commitment to make accessible very complex issues of scientific research, and to contextualise key episodes of the history of science in a completely contemporary perspective.”
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