Design Con 2015

Da Vinci’s Madrid Codices are discovered, February 13, 1967

-February 13, 2014

American researchers discovered the Madrid Codices by Leonardo da Vinci in the National Library of Spain on February 13, 1967.

The notebooks (circa 1490-1504) had been absent from mass view until this discovery, transferred from owner to owner after da Vinci’s death in 1519. Some believe the notebooks were hidden after his death for fear of exploitation by others trying to attach themselves to da Vinci’s genius.  

The two notebooks contain 197 pages, with the first volume largely discussing mechanics, statics, and geometry. The two volumes also include a list of 116 books da Vinci was using at the time for his research. The manuscripts are considered to be of great importance as they contain about 15% of his notes referenced today.

They also end doubts that have been expressed over time as to da Vinci’s talents as an engineer. Some had argued da Vinci was merely an artist with interest in mechanical designs. However, the notebooks, in his handwriting and outlining engineering ideas that were unheard of at the time, put such arguments to rest.

Among other mechanics, the notebooks include da Vinci’s thoughts on improved ball bearings, worm gears, and bicycle chain drives.


A double manuscript page on the Sforza monument.


In Codex Madrid I the idea of “elementi macchanali” expressed by da Vinci states that machines were composed of a set of basic mechanisms. This idea was later rediscovered by engineers such as Franz Reuleaux and codified in his collection of kinematic models.

Much of the notebooks’ content has been placed online as part of the e-Leo project managed by the Leonardian Library in Vinci, Tuscany.

Da Vinci was voted one of the five greatest engineers of all time by EDN’s readers in 2012.

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For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on February 13, 2013 and edited on February 13, 2014.

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