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manuscript - Notebook of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), vol. III; known as Codex Forster III
  • Notebook of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), vol. III
    da Vinci, Leonardo, born 1452 - died 1519
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Notebook of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), vol. III; known as Codex Forster III

  • Object:


  • Date:

    c.1490-1493 (written)

  • Artist/Maker:

    da Vinci, Leonardo, born 1452 - died 1519 (author)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Paper, bound in pigskin

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    National Art Library

This volume is part of a set of five notebooks bound in three volumes (no. I and no. II are in two parts). In them, Leonardo da Vinci wrote his notes on a wide variety of subjects: perspective, light and shade, the human figure, the practice of painting, the artist's materials, the history of the art of painting, studies and sketches for pictures and decorations, sculpture, architecture, anatomy, physiology, maxims, morals, fables, jests and tales, prophecies, draughts and schemes for his humorous writings, etc.

Physical description

This notebook is volume III in a set of three written by Leonardo da Vinci between 1487 and 1505. This ensemble comprises in fact five of his notebooks bound into three volumes. They contain texts, diagrams and drawings and are written in Italian, in mirror script.
Volume III contains one of these notebooks and is made up of 89 folios. It was compiled c. 1490-1493 and is primarily concerned with geometry, weights and hydraulics. It also contains however notes and sketches on a variety of subjects such as, for instance, acoustics (f. 5r), notes on anatomy including hair and layers of skin on the human head (ff. 27v-28r), the sketch of a crane (f. 56v), etc.

The two other volumes are MSL/1876/Forster/141/I and MSL/1876/Forster/141/II.

The bindings on all three volumes (Codex Forster I-III) are, according to Nicholas Pickwoad, the result of two campaigns: the notebooks were probably sewn in their current structures with full cartonnage covers in Italy in the late 16th century, while their parchment bindings are considered to have been made in Spain in the early 17th century (see Watson 2011, p. 633).


c.1490-1493 (written)


da Vinci, Leonardo, born 1452 - died 1519 (author)

Materials and Techniques

Paper, bound in pigskin


Height: 95 mm binding, Width: 70 mm binding

Object history note

Among the manuscripts inherited from Leonardo by Francesco Melzi (1491/3-c.1570) and bequeathed to his son Orazio Melzi. Acquired by Pompeo Leoni (1533-1608), sculptor at the court of King Philip II of Spain. In a German-speaking country in the 19th century (inscription on f. 1r of Codex I1). Acquired by Edward Robert Bulwer- Lytton (1831-1891), first earl of Lytton, probably in Vienna (see Richter 1883, p. 490), and given to John Forster (1812-1876) before August 1865 (see letter dated 11 August 1865 of Edward Bulwer-Lytton to his wife Edith published in E. Lutyens, The Birth of Rowland: an exchange of letters in 1865 between Robert Lytton and his wife, London: Hart-Davis, 1956, p. 115); part of the Forster bequest to the Museum in 1876.

Descriptive line

Manuscript, Codex Forster III, notebook by Leonardo da Vinci, Milan, c. 1490-1493.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Vol. II, no. 119 (with full bibliography).
Watson, R. Western Illuminated Manuscripts.Victoria and Albert Museum. A catalogue of works in the National Art Library from the eleventh to the early twentieth century, with a complete account of the George Reid Collection. London, 2011.
Esp. Vol. II, pp. 67-71.
C. Bambach, Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, 4 vols, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2019.
Vol. II, esp. pp. 486-488 and 490.
J. P. Richter, The Literary Works of Leonardo, 2 vols, London: S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1883.


Paper; Parchment


National Art Library; Manuscripts; Science; Medieval and renaissance

Production Type



National Art Library

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