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

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Milan (written)

  • Date:

    c.1495-1497 (written)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Paper, bound in parchment.

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Forster 1876

  • 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 II in a set of three written by Leonardo da Vinci between the late 15th century and the early 16th century. 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 II contains two of these notebooks and is made up of 316 pages. They were bound together before 1608/14 and are designated as Codex Forster II1 (ff. 1-63v; compiled c. 1495, Milan) and Codex Forster II2 (ff. 64r-160v; compiled c.1495-1497, Milan).

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

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).

Place of Origin

Milan (written)


c.1495-1497 (written)


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

Materials and Techniques

Paper, bound in parchment.


Height: 102 mm Head to tail of closed MS in binding Closed, Width: 82 mm width of closed MS in binding closed, Depth: 34 mm Depth of MS closed in binding closed

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 II, notebooks by Leonardo da Vinci, Milan, c. 1495-1497.

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

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.
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. 71-74.
C. Bambach, Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, 4 vols, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2019.

Labels and date

About 1495-1497
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

The V&A has five of Leonardo's notebooks, bound together in three volumes probably in the 17th century. This one was compiled over a number of years while Leonardo worked for Duke Ludovico Sforza in Milan. It contains notes and diagrams on the theory of weights, stresses and balances. The page displayed examines effective pulley systems. The left-hand page shows a diagram of figures lifting a weight from different angles.

Italy, Milan
Penk and ink on paper
Bequeathed by John Forster
Museum no. MSL/1876/Forster/141


Paper; Parchment




National Art Library; Manuscripts; Science; Medieval and renaissance; Books

Production Type



National Art Library

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