Codex Leicester

The Codex Leicester (also briefly known as the Codex Hammer) is a collection of scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci. The Codex is named after Thomas Coke, who purchased it in 1717; he later became the Earl of Leicester. The manuscript currently holds the record for the fifth highest nominal sale price of any book: it was sold to Bill Gates at Christie's auction house on 11 November 1994 in New York for US$30,802,500 (equivalent to $60,816,611 in 2022).[1][2][3][4]

Codex Leicester
Codex Hammer
Vinci - Hammer 2A.jpg
Page of the Codex Leicester
AuthorLeonardo da Vinci
CountryFlorence, Italy
Published1510 (1504–1508)
Pages72 (18 sheets)

The Codex provides an insight into the inquiring mind of the definitive Renaissance artist, scientist and thinker, as well as an exceptional illustration of the link between art and science and the creativity of the scientific process.[5]


The notebook is leather-bound and consists of 36 sheets 29 × 22 cm in size. The manuscript does not take the form of a single linear script, but is rather a mixture of Leonardo's observations and theories on astronomy; the properties of water, rocks, and fossils; air, and celestial light. The topics addressed include:[6]

  • An explanation of why fossils of sea creatures can be found on mountains. Hundreds of years before plate tectonics became accepted scientific theory, Leonardo believed that mountains had previously formed sea beds, which were gradually lifted until they formed mountains.[6]
  • The movement of water. This is the main topic of the Codex Leicester. Among other things, Leonardo wrote about the flow of water in rivers, and how it is affected by different obstacles put in its way. From his observations he made recommendations about bridge construction and erosion.[6]
  • The luminosity of the Moon. Leonardo speculated that the Moon's surface is covered by water, which reflects light from the Sun. In this model, waves on the water's surface cause the light to be reflected in many directions, explaining why the Moon is not as bright as the Sun. Leonardo explained that the pale glow on the dark portion of the crescent Moon is caused by sunlight reflected from the Earth. Thus, he described the phenomenon of planetshine one hundred years before the German astronomer Johannes Kepler proved it.[6]

The Codex consists of 18 sheets of paper, each folded in half and written on both sides, forming the complete 72-page document.[7] At one time the sheets were bound together, but they are now displayed separately. It was handwritten in Italian by Leonardo, using his characteristic mirror writing, and supported by copious drawings and diagrams.[8]


The Codex was purchased at auction from the Leicester estate in 1980 by the wealthy industrialist and art collector Armand Hammer, for $5.1 million ($18.1 million in 2022); he later renamed the notebook the Codex Hammer.[9] Hammer commissioned Leonardo da Vinci scholar Carlo Pedretti to compile the loose pages of the codex back into its original form. Over the next seven years Pedretti translated each page to English, completing the project in 1987.[10]

Recent historyEdit

The Codex was sold to Bill Gates by Christie's auction house on 11 November 1994 in New York for US$30,802,500.[3] Until 2021, the Codex remained the most expensive book ever sold.[11]

After Gates acquired the Codex, he had its pages scanned into digital image files, some of which were later distributed as screen saver and wallpaper files on a CD-ROM as part of a Microsoft Plus! for Windows 95 desktop theme, which would later be included with Windows 98 and Windows ME. A comprehensive CD-ROM version (simply titled Leonardo da Vinci) was released by Corbis in 1997.

The Codex Leicester has been unbound with each page individually mounted between glass panes. It is put on public display once a year in a different city around the world. In 2000, it was displayed at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum.[12] In 2004, it was exhibited in the Château de Chambord, and in 2005 in Tokyo. One page was exhibited at the Seattle Museum of Flight's 2006 exhibit Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius. From June to August 2007, the Codex was the centerpiece of a two-month exhibition hosted by the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland. The Codex was on view at the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona from 24 January 2015 through 12 April 2015 for the exhibition Leonardo Da Vinci's Codex Leicester and the Power of Observation. Its presentation at Phoenix Art Museum was the first time a work by Leonardo was displayed in Arizona.[13] The Codex was then on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in an exhibition Leonardo Da Vinci, the Codex Leicester, and the Creative Mind that opened 21 June 2015, where it remained on display until 30 August 2015.[14] As part of the same tour, the Codex Leicester was also on display at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina from 31 October 2015 to 17 January 2016.[15]

For the 500th anniversary of da Vinci's death, the Codex Leicester was on display from 29 October 2018 to 20 January 2019 in Florence at the Aula Magliabechiana of the Uffizi.[16]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "$30,802,500 in 1994 → 2022 | Inflation Calculator". Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  2. ^ "BBC News: Bay Psalm Book is most expensive printed work at $14.2m". BBC News. 27 November 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Christie, Manson and Woods, sale 8030, 11 November 1994". 11 November 1994. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  4. ^ Kuruvilla, Carol (22 September 2017). "Mormon Church Drops $35 Million On Printer's Manuscript Of The Book Of Mormon". Huffington Post. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  5. ^ Leonardo (da Vinci), Kenneth David Keele, Jane Roberts, Leonardo Da Vinci: Anatomical Drawings from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983
  6. ^ a b c d "An introduction to Leonardo da Vinci's Codices Arundel and Leicester" (PDF).
  7. ^ "The Most Expensive Antique Items Ever Sold: Part II". 2 August 2018. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  8. ^ "The Sunday Tribune – Spectrum".
  9. ^ Christopher Reynolds and Hugh Hart (15 January 2007). "The Da Vinci codex versus the museum code". LA Times. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  10. ^ Pedretti, Carlo (introduction); Roberts, Jane (catalogue) (1981). Leonardo da Vinci: the Codex Hammer: formerly the Codex Leicester. Los Angeles: Armand Hammer Foundation. ISBN 0384205909.
  11. ^ "Presto all'asta il Codice Sassoon, la più antica Bibbia ebraica" [The Sassoon Codex, the oldest Hebrew Bible, is soon to be auctioned]. 15 March 2023.
  12. ^ "The World Today Archive – Leonardo da Vinci manuscript on display". Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  13. ^ "Phoenix Art Museum – Exhibition Exhibitions". Archived from the original on 30 September 2019. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  14. ^ "Leonardo da Vinci, the Codex Leicester, and the Creative Mind — Minneapolis Institute of Art – Minneapolis Institute of Art". Minneapolis Institute of Art.
  15. ^ "Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester and the Creative Mind – Exhibitions – NCMA – North Carolina Museum of Art". 11 March 2021.
  16. ^ "Presented to the press the Codex Leicester by Leonardo da Vinci on view at the Uffizi". Le Gallerie Degli Uffizi. Retrieved 18 September 2020.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit