leonardo da vinci : the codex leicester

general information

a scarcely faded handwriting, woven of letters and figures that sometimes suggests hieroglyphics; an enigmatic texture that can be deciphered only with the help of a mirror; a science ushering in a new epoch, yet composed in an italian belonging to the waning middle ages; celestial secrets and worldly riddles, suffused with the idiom of tuscan farmers: the museum der dinge welcomes the new millennium with a scintillating treasure from the last one. it presents, protected under a soft twilight, the codex leicester of leonardo da vinci.

the manuscript is one of the most important written by leonardo to have been preserved. on 18 folio sheets, folded into 72 pages and covered in tightly composed mirror-handwriting and illustrated with many drawings, leonardo recorded haphazardly between 1506 and 1510 a wealth of observations of nature, technical sketches, inventions, speculations and thought experiments. they portray the body of the earth as a living organism; the main topic is the nature of water. leonardo carried the sheets with him in a notebook bound in leather. we can watch as leonardo ponders over light and shadow, ebb and flow, the light of the moon, primeval and apocalyptic phenomena.

leonardo's manuscript is like an outwardly expanding circle of waves, created by a virtually tireless matrix: an unrelenting drive to transform, translating institutions, ideas, and visions into texts, prophecies, drawings, technical designs and apocalyptic nightmares, whereby all these spheres converge and commingle; the sciences and arts reciprocally infuse, fertilize, unsettle each another.

here drawings and words exchange their functions: the drawings explain contexts and connections, the texts overflow with poetic images. we experience how leonardo delves into the depths of the universe - and when we lean forward to within centimeters of the manuscript, we discover in the middle of this universe a minute hole that the artist-engineer punched into the paper with the tip of a drafting compass five hundred years ago.

the short passages by leonardo are here presented as individual pages. each page is headed by a question. an answer, in the spirit of leonardo, then follows. in many places a moving drawing illustrates what is described. finally the excerpt from leonardo and its textual provenance are provided.

leonardos codex leicester

the extensive material is organized into separate thematic units that can be accessed by means of interconnected pathways. a guiding question precedes each pathway.


  1. does the earth have a circulatory system of water?
  2. can it be proven that the interior of the earth is permeated with underground streams?
  3. how does a river start on top of a mountain?
  4. why doesn't water cover the entire earth?
  5. did water originally come from the earth's interior?
  6. why does water flow upwards if it is blocked directly at the source?
  7. why doesn't evaporated water rise?
  8. why does more water flow out of an underground stream than from a higher region?
  9. how does water behave in a container when someone knocks the container?
  10. how can one dispel the error that claims the sea level is higher than the highest mountain?
  11. how can one determine the weight of a ball in parts?
  12. does the length of a pipe influence the speed of the flow through it?
  13. how can one determine the volume of evaporated water?
  14. why does smoke change its speed when ascending?
  15. ändert sich das wassergewicht, je nachdem, wie man eine wassergefüllte rohre neigt?
  16. how does a water bubble seal itself?
  17. why is the sky blue?
  18. how does air thicken?


  1. why does the moon shine?
  2. why does the monn not always shine with the same intensity?
  3. how can the moon reflect light?
  4. why does the moon sometimes shine only partially?
  5. when is the sun's light most strongly reflected from the earth to the moon?
  6. can the moon be a shiny mirror?
  7. why must the moon's surface be liquid?
  8. how does a person see the reflection of the sun in the sea?
  9. does the sun appear to be the same size from all points of the earth that are illuminated by it?
  10. when does the moon shine particulary strongly?
  11. how can one determine the volume of the sun without leaving the earth?
  12. does the moon also shine during the day?
  13. why must the moon have an uneven surface?
  14. why does the moon shine as a whole?
  15. why does the moon have a light surrounding it when the sun is setting?
  16. why doesn't the moon fall to the earth?
  17. why does the moon shine more weakly than the sun?
  18. does water have the shape of a sphere?
  19. why does the moon sometimes have a shining ring?
  20. why is the uneven surface of the moon composed of water?
  21. is the size of the moon in fact due to the expansion of light?
  22. what happens, when winds agitate the water of the moon?
  23. why does the eye see the sun as a tiny image in the sea?


  1. is the earth a living body?
  2. why is there ebb and flow in the atlantic and the mediterranean?
  3. how did the different forms of rock develop?
  4. why can't the moon be responsible for ebb and flow?
  5. does ebb and flow occur when two rivers meet?
  6. did the rivers carve up the mountains?
  7. why is it that an object that would sink in calm water does not sink in moving water?
  8. how did the strait of gibraltar and the sinai mountain range come into being?
  9. how can one discover the origin of ebb and flow?
  10. can one influence the confluence of two rivers?
  11. which waves are particulary strong when a river swells up?
  12. how does water flow around two obstacles standing one after another?
  13. what forms of stone are created by rivers and seas?
  14. does a stone sink vertically to the bottom when its dropped into moving water?
  15. how can one make the movements of water visible?
  16. how does water flow around two obstacles standing near each other?
  17. how does water flow around three obstacles in a triangular formation?


  1. why does something move?
  2. how can flowing water consume its momentum when it encounters an obstruction?
  3. why are the waves of descending rivers slower than the water flow of the river itself?
  4. why does a body move when something strikes it?
  5. under what conditions can a person on a see-saw not jump up?
  6. why does waves look like crescents when viewed from the side?
  7. what happens to the waves when water crashed into an obstacle?
  8. what effects do the slope of the obstruction and the angle of impact have?
  9. why doesn't viscous water flow continually throungh a bent pipe?
  10. does the weight of water vary according to how one changes the slope of a pipe filled with water?
  11. how can one see that movement separates from its cause?
  12. where does the wave break?
  13. what causes cyclones?
  14. can a special dam influence the impact of the water?
  15. what must an especially strong dam look like?
  16. how can one simulate the collapse of a wave?
  17. how does air, once it is immersed, escape the water?
  18. what machine can be used to ram piles into the ground?

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