The Madrid Codices

Discover the two landmark manuscripts by Leonardo da Vinci held at the National Library of Spain (Biblioteca Nacional de España).

Codex Madrid I, f.4r (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

The Madrid Codices

The Madrid Codices, part of the ancient collections of the National Library of Spain, consist of two notebooks with drawings and notes by Leonardo da Vinci, each very different from the other. The first is a treatise on mechanics and statics, while the second is a treatise on fortification, statics, and geometry. 

Façade of the National Library of Spain (2010) by Francisco JareñoAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

Both manuscripts were lost for 150 years when, in 1967, a scholar from Massachusetts rediscovered them unexpectedly in the archives of the National Library in Madrid.

Leonardo da Vinci (1600) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Galería de los Uffizi

The Madrid Codices pertain to the most productive period in Leonardo da Vinci's life. Apart from their exceptional artistic and documentary value, it is also significant that these manuscripts constitute the only work that exists in Spain that can be definitively attributed to da Vinci.

Codex Madrid II, f.79r (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Its 8 volumes, over 540 pages, cover the topics of mechanics, statics, and poliorcetics (construction and sieging of fortifications). Central to the work are the myriad drawings and sketches in ink, such as this fortress from Codex Madrid II.

Codex Madrid II, f.3r (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Written in Tuscan dialect, the Codices include a list of 116 books used by da Vinci around the time of writing, including some basic Latin grammars.

Codex Madrid I, f.10r (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Codex Madrid I

A treatise on statics and mechanics.

Codex Madrid I, f.85r (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Codex Madrid I is basically a treatise on mechanics, consisting of 12 booklets, each with 16 pages. At some point, although it is not known when, 8 pages were torn out, and so there are now a total of 191 pages.

Codex Madrid I, cover recto (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

The following text appears on the front cover, "A treatise on statics and mechanics, in Italian, written in 1493, as seen on the back of page 11. Contains 191 pages and is written backwards." As was common to da Vinci, it was written from right to left.

Codex Madrid I, f.45r (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

This codex contains the best and most conclusive drawings, in black ink. They are very detailed diagrams of various mechanisms and gadgets, including endless screws, drive chains, textile machines, clock-making machinery (such as that in the image), and more.

Codex Madrid I, f.7r (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

In some cases, these detailed drawings take up almost the whole page. The pieces tend to be labeled with the letters of the alphabet, and their corresponding explanations can be found in the accompanying text.

Codex Madrid I, f.60v (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

This codex also includes more theoretical pages, containing denser text, and drawings, which cannot be explained in brief notes, on diverse topics such as gravity.

Codex Madrid I, f.6v (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Mechanics is the predominant theme, but there are also observations on optics and astronomy.

Codex Madrid II, f.157r (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Codex Madrid II

Various treatises on fortification, statics, and geometry.

Codex Madrid II, f.44v (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Codex Madrid II has a different feel from the first; it is the same size and is made up of the same booklets, but contains 157 pages. It is a typical example of da Vinci's notebooks, consisting of different parts.

Codex Madrid II, f.151v (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

It has been dated later, although the last 17 pages, which contain the studies of Leonardo's Horse (a large equestrian statue and monument to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan), have clearly been added at an unknown time.

Codex Madrid II, f.22v (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

In addition to the various landscapes, there are some maps. Two of these stand out for their beauty and colors: that of the Arno Valley …

Codex Madrid II, f. 52v - 53r (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

… and this plan of Pisa, including the mouth of the river Arno. It serves as a reminder that, in 1503, da Vinci was engrossed in one of his dreams: the project to divert the Arno and build a canal to connect Florence with the sea.

Codex Madrid II, f.76r (15th-16th Century) by Leonardo da VinciOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

There are drawings on architecture and military engineering, and others on geometry, especially regarding certain problems he was particularly intent on, such as squaring the circle. Others dealt with the flight of birds, the movement of waves, and musical instruments.

This video shows the prototype designed by the Japanese instrument maker Akio Obuchi, based on da Vinci's viola organista designs. The Florentine genius was fascinated by this instrument throughout his life, and around 30 partial drawings have been preserved.

Credits: Story

This exhibition has been developed based on the images in the Madrid Codices I and II, available on the webpage of the Hispanic Digital Library (Biblioteca Digital Hispánica) of the National Library of Spain. The texts have been adapted from different publications written by the National Library of Spain.

The two videos were created for the exhibition "The Imagination of Leonardo: The Madrid Codices in the National Library of Spain" (El Imaginario de Leonardo: Códices Madrid de la Biblioteca Nacional de España), which was held in 2012 in the National Library of Spain. Both these videos, among others, are available on the institution's YouTube channel.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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