Explore Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks: Codex Forster II

Famous worldwide as the painter of such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) is also renowned for his notebooks in which he recorded his thoughts and inventions. Five of these fascinating notebooks, bound into three small volumes, have been in our collection since 1876 when they were bequeathed to the Museum by John Forster.

Codex Forster II is made of two notebooks bound together. Both were compiled in Milan, while Leonardo was in the service of the duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza (1452 – 1508). The first notebook (up to folio 63, about 1495) contains notes and diagrams on the theory of proportions, but also miscellaneous sketches, including frames for weaving (folios 49 verso – 50 recto), architecture (as on folio 52 recto) and some figurative drawings such as a Virgin and Child (folio 37 recto). The second notebook (from folio 64, about 1495 – 97) includes notes on the theory of weights and balances, as well as sketches on perpetual motion (as on folios 90 verso – 91 recto), drawings of helmets (folio 65 recto), and a recipe for making paints (folio 159 recto).

As Leonardo wrote in mirror writing (in reverse and from right to left) he often started with what we would consider the last page. This can be seen in the second notebook where Leonardo himself numbered the folios from 1 (folio 158 verso) to 94 (folio 65 verso).

You can explore the complete Codex Forster II, and in amazing detail, in our page viewer below.

Background image: Codex Forster II (folio 91 verso), Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141/II. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London