George Johnson’s superb book explores the method behind some of science’s most dazzling discoveries – from the exquisite ingenuity of Galileo’s experiments on acceleration, to Newton’s fearless use of needles to understand vision.
The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci
Introduced by Charles Nicholl
Preface by Edward MacCurdy
Translated by Edward MacCurdy
Commemorating the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, this magnificent Folio collector’s edition reveals his brilliance in three beautifully illustrated volumes with stunning gold-blocked bindings.
Almost 500 years since his death, the genius of Leonardo da Vinci has never been rivalled. In the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, he created the most iconic images in Western art but his brilliance extended well beyond these masterpieces: da Vinci bequeathed the most extraordinarily diverse body of written work ever created by one individual and his notebooks are among the most precious documents in the world.
This commemorative edition of the 1938 Edward MacCurdy compilation includes writing on almost every subject imaginable: anatomy, medicine, engineering, optics, architecture, hydraulics, botany and natural history. His personal notes offer insights into his passions, preoccupations and eccentricities, while a detailed index allows for easy navigation. Almost 100 of his exquisite drawings have been reproduced to exceptionally high standard: preparatory drawings for The Last Supper, anatomical diagrams such as The Vitruvian Man, and sketches of inventions – including his designs for a flying machine, created hundreds of years before others dared dream of flying. Finally, two insightful essays tell us more about da Vinci and his writings: one by da Vinci biographer Charles Nicholl, and the other by the collection’ translator and editor, Edward MacCurdy.
Quarter bound in (bonded) leather, with printed cloth sides
Set in Bembo
1432 pages in total (Vol 1:440, Vol 2: 528, Vol 3: 464)
102 colour illustrations across 3 Volumes
Cloth slipcase with printed inset label
Ribbon markers, gilded page tops
Each volume is 9½” x 6¼”
A self-taught genius who was ahead of his time
The illegitimate son of a notary and a peasant woman from the small town of Vinci, Leonardo had no formal education bar his painting apprenticeship, which began at age 14. However, it was this lack of education that caused him to rely on his own observations and experience, rather than written authority – a revolutionary new method that was far ahead of its time.
‘What survives is an unparalleled record of a human mind at work, as fearless and dogged as it was brilliant’
- New Yorker
Da Vinci made deductions that are uncanny in their accuracy: ‘The sun does not move,’ he noted, 100 years before Galileo reached the same conclusion. He also found that ‘Every weight tends to fall towards the centre by the shortest way,’ 150 years before Isaac Newton propounded the same theory. In carrying out anatomy experiments, da Vinci realised that blood circulated around the body – a medical breakthrough confirmed by William Harvey in 1628. And when he wrote of the ‘quality of time as distinct from its mathematical divisions’, he was setting out on a path that was later travelled by Einstein.
A priceless legacy, locked away for centuries
‘Just when you think you’ve got a handle on his talents, he wrong-foots you by excelling in another field altogether’
- Daily Telegraph
His notebooks are filled with sketches of visionary inventions. Fascinated by engineering and the mechanics of flying, da Vinci designed flying machines, portable bridges, submarines, the first mechanised crossbow and an early prototype of the armoured car, although he himself was a pacifist. He didn’t want his notes published during his lifetime, so bequeathed them to his heir Francesco Melzi to publish after his death. However, when Melzi died, his son sold the notebooks to private collectors and they were eventually scattered throughout Europe. And, while regarded with due reverence as the property of a great man, they were also considered as mere curiosities.
It was not until the 19th century that formal translation began and the extraordinary value of the notebooks was first discovered. It was a time-consuming and tedious process, as da Vinci wrote in his famous mirror-script, handwriting that ran backwards, right to left across the page. This may have been due to his left-handedness but it was also undoubtedly to preserve the secrecy of his writings, particularly his experiments in anatomy, which were prohibited by the Church.
Now that his secrets have been revealed, his extraordinary legacy is widely read and appreciated. And, as we move further into the technological future, his visionary predictions, designs and observations become, if anything, even more incredible.
The nature of water
Precepts of the painter
Colour, light and shade
ABOUT LEONARDO DA VINCI
Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 in Tuscany. He was born out of wedlock; his father was a notary and his mother was a servant. Da Vinci lived with his mother until he was five and then moved in with his father and stepmother. He developed an interest in painting at a young age and when he was 14, he was apprenticed to the artist Verrocchio in Florence. Here, he learnt all aspects of art and received some important commissions. However, he was also learning other skills and he eventually moved to Milan to work as an engineering advisor to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. He continued studying, sketching and researching and recorded his observations and discoveries on sheets of paper that he collected in notebooks. Da Vinci moved to Rome in 1513, where he lived in a residence in the Vatican and spent time developing his scientific studies. He later made a permanent move to France where he worked for King Francis until his death in 1519.
ABOUT CHARLES NICHOLL
Charles Nicholl was born in London in 1950. He studied at King’s College, Cambridge. Specialising in biography, history and travel, Nicholl is the author of a number of books, including the Thomas Nashe biography A Cup of News (1984), The Fruit Palace (1998), Leonardo da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind (2005) and The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street (2008). He is Honorary Professor of English at Sussex University and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
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