The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London published scans of two of the Leonardo da Vinci notebooks. Website visitors can travel through the drawings and musings of the Italian Renaissance architect, inventor, painter and sculptor. Thoughts on science and art are jumbled together in the delicate journals. There are also speculations contained on the same pages as observational sketches of hats or horse hooves.

Da Vinci probably started recording his thoughts in notebooks while he was a military and naval engineer for the Duke of Milan. The writing from his notebooks was produced in 16th-century Italian “mirror-writing”. Scholars have debated the reason behind this style. They believed it was just a way to code his thoughts, or simply make writing easier because he was a left-handed artist.

“Writing masters at the time would have made demonstrations of mirror-writing, and his letter-shapes are in fact quite ordinary: he used the kind of script that his father, a legal notary, would have used. It is possible to decipher Leonardo’s curious mirror-writing, once the eye has become accustomed to the style.”

The five notebooks in the V&A’s collection were entitled the Forster Codices. This digitized set comprises his earliest and latest notebooks in the museum’s collection. The name established for the journals is given from John Forster who bequeathed the valuable works to the museum in 1876. The V&A has the intention to digitize the three other notebooks found in the two volumes Codex Forster II and III, for the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death in 2019. You can find out more about the notebooks on the V&A’s website

The Three Volumes of Codex Forster, Leonardo da Vinci, late 15th – early 16th century, Italy. Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London