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.