The Codex Arundel: Looking Through Da Vinci’s Notebooks

Continuing our series examining Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, this week we’re profiling the Codex Arundel, which is considered by some to be second in importance out of all of Da Vinci’s manuscripts. (The first being the Codex Atlanticus, which we profiled last time.)

The Codex Arundel is similar to the Codex Leicester in that’s it’s a compilation of notes and diagrams. (We’re all to familiar with the Codex Leicester here at Paperblanks, having produced a collection of writing journals from its notes and sketches. Find out more about that collection here.) The Codex Arundel is comprised of 283 loose pages that Da Vinci described as “a collection without order, drawn from many papers, which I have copied here, hoping to arrange them later each in its place according to the subjects of which they treat.” It’s comprised of materials written throughout Da Vinci’s life on topics such as mechanics, astronomy, and hydraulics.

Relevantly the current owners of the notebook, the British Library, have recently published a digital version of entire book on their site. It can be viewed here.

Read on for an overview and history of the Codex Arundel. And you can check out our previous entry in this series here.

The Codex Arundel: An Overview

  • Meaning of Name: The name comes from a former owner of the notebook, Thomas Howard, who, at the time, was the second earl of Arundel
  • Dates: Individual pages originate from almost every period of Da Vinci’s life, but specifically between 1480 to 1518
  • Topics: Mechanics (especially the topics of weights, levels, and equilibrium), optics, astronomy, geometry, cosmology, hydraulics.
  • Page Count: 283 pages
  • Present Location: The British Library

History of the Codex Arundel

1508: Leonardo begins collecting materials together in the house of Piero di Braccio Martelli in Florence. It is theorized he wanted to order and possibly publish them.

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.

Early 17th-century: The Codex is put together. It is unknown where or when.
1630s: The Codex is acquired in Spain by an art collector and politician, Thomas Howard. Howard was the Earl of Arundel.
1646: Howard dies. The Codex remains in his collection in the possession of his heirs.
1667: Henry Howard – Thomas Howard’s grandson – gives the Codex Arundel, and many other manuscripts in the Arundel collection, to the Royal Society.
1831: The British Museum Library (now known as the British Library) purchases the Codex Arundel from the Royal Society.
1991: Carlo Pedretti, an expert on Da Vinci’s manuscripts, begins work to create a facsimile of the Codex Arundel with the materials rearranged in chronological order.
1998: Pedretti’s facsimile is completed and published as Il Codice Arundel 263 nella British Library.
2007: The British Library publishes a digital version of the Codex Arundel viewable to everyone on their website.

Drawings of assault chariots

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Drawing of an armored car & study

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