Rare Leonardo da Vinci notebook to go on show at British Library

Bill Gates to lend notebook in 2019 on 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death

Bill Gates is to lend the British Library a rare Leonardo da Vinci notebook he bought for more than $30m in 1994 that was for centuries owned by an English aristocratic family.

The loan means the notebook, the Codex Leicester, can be shown alongside two other British-owned Leonardo notebooks in the UK for the first time.

Roly Keating, the library’s chief executive, said it would be “a remarkable coming together” of “three extraordinary and very famous” documents.

The summer show, exploring how Leonardo believed motion was at the centre of everything, will be one of many events across the world in 2019 marking the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.

At the core of the British Library show will be the display of the Microsoft founder’s Codex Leicester, alongside the Codex Forster, owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), and the Codex Arundel, owned by the British Library. All of them are written in Leonardo’s mirror script and shine light on how ahead of his time he was.

Before Gates, the Codex Leicester was owned by the American oil tycoon Armand Hammer, who purchased it in 1980. Before that it was in Britain, passed down through the Leicester family after Thomas Coke, later the Earl of Leicester, bought it on his grand tour of the European continent in 1719.

About a third of the notebook has writings and drawings that relate to water, with Leonardo speculating on the outcomes when different-shaped objects are thrown into water.

One of the Codex Forster notebooks on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum
One of the Codex Forster notebooks on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Photograph: Andrew Stuart/PA

It also includes a discussion on submarine warfare in which he describes how it might be possible to extend the time a person can stay under water and how that might have possible military uses.

The Codex Arundel is the world’s second-biggest compilation of Leonardo pages and features everything from treatises on mechanics and bird flight to drawings of underwater breathing apparatus, as well as riddles, prophecies and notes for himself.

Andrea Clarke, the exhibition’s lead curator, said the notebooks showed just how dynamic a thinker Leonardo was and how he made a multitude of connections between phenomena and disciplines.

It will be the first time the notebook has been seen in the UK since Gates bought it. A plan to loan it to the V&A in 2006 foundered because of a disagreement over security arrangements.

The library announced the exhibition as part of a 2019 programme that includes a show exploring Buddhism, opening in October, and an exhibition opening in April about the act of writing itself, which will feature exhibits including a wax tablet with the homework of an Egyptian child dating from 2AD.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
British Library explores changing attitudes to gay love in exhibition
Show includes original marks 50th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality

Nadia Khomami

01, Jun, 2017 @2:58 PM

Article image
Living by the pen: British Library explores history of writing
Angry telegram by playwright John Osborne and 2,000-year-old homework among exhibits

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

24, Apr, 2019 @12:23 PM

Article image
Mole and Rat meet the horned god Pan in British Library summer exhibition
Wind in the Willows – and forgotten chapter The Piper at the Gates of Dawn – in Cultural Olympiad exploration of landscape

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

28, Feb, 2012 @2:57 PM

Article image
British Library explores 20th century maps in new exhibition
A Soviet plan for Brighton, Tolkien’s Middle-earth and a Guardian spoof at Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

03, Nov, 2016 @7:22 PM

Article image
British Library stages UK's biggest comics exhibition

Superheroes feature but show focuses on the importance of British talent to what some perceive as a very American genre

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

01, May, 2014 @5:32 PM

Article image
Queen's Leonardo da Vinci drawings to be shown across UK cities
A dozen British cities will each host different drawings before a bigger display at Buckingham Palace

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

07, Feb, 2018 @4:07 PM

Article image
Children's book illustrators celebrated at British Library

Paddington Bear, Peter Pan, The Hobbit, The Borrowers and The Iron Man among the works featured in Picture This exhibition

Maev Kennedy

03, Oct, 2013 @5:17 PM

Article image
British Library awarded Grade I-listed building status
Structure once called ‘one of the ugliest buildings in the world’ in parliament and denounced by Prince Charles now ‘one of England’s finest modern buildings’

Maev Kennedy

31, Jul, 2015 @11:01 PM

Article image
British Library seeks £300,000 damages from book vandal

Iranian academic stole hundreds of items from libraries and major collections

Sandra Laville, crime correspondent

17, Jan, 2009 @12:01 AM

Article image
Behemoth Bible returns to England for first time in 1,300 years
The 34kg Codex Amiatinus forms centrepiece of British Library’s Anglo-Saxon show

Esther Addley

18, Oct, 2018 @4:54 PM