Leonardo Da Vinci kept a daily journal throughout most of his life, keeping notes and drawings on a host of topics from the extraordinary (inventions, artwork, scientific theories and musings) to the mundane (grocery lists, names of people who owed him money, etc.). All told, over 13,000 pages of Da Vinci’s notes and drawings exist, many of which are now collected into notebooks and manuscripts and held in libraries and museums around the world.

As book people, avid journalers, and Leonardo da Vinci enthusiasts we obviously find these notebooks fascinating. So over the course of a series of articles we’ll take a look at some of these extraordinary books, examining everything from their contents to their histories. Including, of course, a look at the Codex Leicester, the Bill Gates-owned Da Vinci notebook which has pages we’ve created a special collection of journals from: Paperblanks’ Leonardo’s Sketches collection. Find out more about that collection here.

The first Da Vinci notebook we’ve decided to look at? No less than the largest bound volume of Da Vinci notes and drawings that exists: The Codex Atlanticus.

The Codex Atlanticus: An Overview

  • Meaning of Name: “Atlanticus” is a reference to the large-size dimensions of the notebooks’ pages. The English translation of “Atlante” is Atlas, the name typically used to represent volumes of this size.
  • Dates: 1478 to 1519
  • Topics: Flying machines, war devices, musical instruments, astronomy, geography, botany, architecture, anatomy, personal biographic notes, and philosophical musings.
  • Page Count: 1119-pages in 12 volumes. It includes 100 pages of writing and a total of 1,750 sketches and drawings.
  • Present Location: The Biblioteca Ambrosiana, a historic library in Milan, Italy

Leonardo da Vinci’s design concept for a city

History of the Codex Atlanticus

1519: Leonardo da Vinci dies and leaves his favourite pupil, Francesco Melzi, his books and manuscripts. Melzi brings them back to Italy.

1579: Melzi dies and, over the next few years, his heirs begin to give sheets of the manuscripts away to collectors and friends.

Late 16th Century: A Spanish scultor, Pompeo Leoni, acquires folios of the manuscripts from Melzi’s heirs. Pompeo not only loses part of the collection but also (much to the chagrin of historians) rearranges and splits up the pages to separate the artistic materials from the scientific ones. He also mounts the pages onto large-size sheets that were typically used at the time for making atlases. Of the two collections he created, the Codex Atlanticus was one of them. (The other one was the Windsor Collection.)

1608: After Leoni’s death, his heirs took the manuscripts back to Italy. They were bought by Count Galeazzo Arconati.

1637: Arconati donates the Leoni manuscripts to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, a historic library in Milan, Italy – an institute Arconati trusted would properly conserve the documents.

1796: Napoleon arrives in Milan and orders the manuscripts be transferred to Paris. They’re kept at the Biblioteque de l’Institut de France.

1815: The Congress of Vienna orders the return of all art stolen by Napoleon.  The Codex Atlanticus is returned to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

1968-1972: The Codex is ambitiously restored by the Laboratory for the Restoration of Ancient Books and Manuscripts. It is bound into 12 volumes.

2008: A decision is made to disassemble the 12 volumes for the purposes of conservation. Each sheet is positioned in cases designed specifically for their conservation.

2009-2015: The sheets are on display, and open to the public, in two exclusive venues: the Bramante Sacristy and the Federiciana Room of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

Da Vinci drawings for screws and water wheels

Mario Taddei’s Rebuilt Copy of the Codex Atlanticus

A few years ago, Mario Taddei, a Da Vinci scholar, created a unique rebuilt copy of the Codex Atlanticus – made to look as it did in 1600 in Pompeo Leoni’s possession. Less a book, it’s a collection of unbound pages inside a replica of Leoni’s original Codex Atlanticus box.

Check out high-res pictures of this amazing project on Taddei’s website here.


About Paperblanks®: We have been producing superb writing journals for twenty years. We are book people, and we believe that the written word matters and that our blank books have a critical role to play in the art and continued practice of writing itself. For more about Paperblanks®, go to our website at paperblanks.com.


  1. Wow, fantastic blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of
    your website is fantastic, let alone the content!

    • That’s a good question. We aren’t entirely sure, but it doesn’t appear that the text has been translated into English in it’s entirety (at 12 volumes, that would be quite the endeavour!). However, it’s likely that specific passages have been translated to help readers better interpret Da Vinci’s drawings and notes.

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