Leonardo's "Self-Portrait" from circa 1510–13

What's inside Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks?

Packed with intricate sketches and detailed notes, Leonardo's personal diaries reveal his countless passions—from the structures of human anatomy to the possibilities of human flight.

Leonardo's "Self-Portrait" from circa 1510–13 is housed in the Biblioteca Reale, Turin. Leonardo signed off in his notebooks as "disscepolo della sperientia," which would be rendered in modern Italian as discepolo dell’esperienza (disciple of experience).
Image courtesy of Realy Easy Star / Toni Spagone / Alamy Stock Photo

Leonardo da Vinci may be best remembered as an artist, with his enigmatic “Mona Lisa” and his fresco “The Last Supper” ranking among the world’s most famous paintings. But, going by the numbers, art may be the least of his contributions to the world: He has only 22 paintings on display around the world and a few hundred other personal drawings. Instead this true-to-form Renaissance man, who lived at the height of the Italian Renaissance—the late 15th and early 16th centuries when art and architecture flourished—excelled at a whopping number of subjects, from architecture to science to mathematics to engineering. 

His notebooks are filled with original scientific observations, speculations, and hypotheses, most of which would be born out and supported by independent researchers in the coming centuries. He sketched designs for countless engines and machines, many of which would later make an actual appearance in the world. The seeds of Western science and technology, which germinated and flowered in the scientific revolution, were planted in the Italian Renaissance, and no one sowed more of those seeds than Leonardo.

Here is a peek into some of the genius’s notebooks, showcasing his forward-thinking insights, observations, and discoveries.

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