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Interesting Facts About Leonardo Da Vinci's Journals

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Portrait in the third page of Carlo de Blasis Book "Studi intorno all'arte e al genio di Leonardo da Vinci" published in 1872

Portrait in the third page of Carlo de Blasis Book "Studi intorno all'arte e al genio di Leonardo da Vinci" published in 1872

Da Vinci's Reverse Handwriting and Other Journal Oddities

When you look at Leonardo da Vinci’s journals, your first impression may be of awe at the sketches; but then, if you are curious enough to look at the words, you suddenly discover that the writing seems to be reversed. Was this done on purpose? Was this a method for protecting his trade secrets?

I’ll tell you the answer (and more!) about why Leonardo da Vinci’s handwriting has fascinated the world for centuries but first let me give you a little (and very fast) background information.

Leonardo's Notebooks

Leonardo Da Vinci was born in 1452 and it is estimated he produced between 20,000 to 28,000 pages of notes and sketches over the course of his life. There are entries on anatomy, engineering, philosophy, painting, botany, physiology, landscapes, proportion, perspective, architecture, warfare, geography, zoology, light and shade, theories, and inventions.

  • He started writing his journals when he was 26 and continued writing for the rest of his life.
  • The notebooks that we know were written between 1478 and his death at age 67 in 1519.
  • They consist of pages of different sizes, sometimes loose and sometimes bound.
  • It is believed that he produced at least 50 notebooks.
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s journals are also called notebooks, manuscripts, codex (pl. codices), sketches, or notes.

Was Leonardo da Vinci left-handed and dyslexic?

Handwritting Peculiarities

The experts seem to agree that Leonardo was left-handed; however, he wrote in an unusual way even for a lefty. In most texts:

  • He started writing at the right and continued to the left.
  • Letters are inverted (back to front).

This is called mirror writing because you can read the text reflected in a mirror as if it was written, well as everyday texts (left to right, letters in the right direction). Putting a page face down against a light source can also do the trick.

People have wondered if this style of writing was deliberate to keep his notes private and safe (he designed tanks and other warfare machines after all).

It is more likely that did it because if you are left-handed you don't have to write over your words making a mess by pressing your hand over wet ink and because it is easier to pull the pen than to push it.

But that was not all, Leonardo would sometimes combine words and even invent new ones, he didn’t use punctuation often and used contractions and shorthand symbols.

In recent years, the theory that Leonardo Da Vinci was also dyslexic is gaining supporters because mirror writing seems to be easier for people with this dyslexia (see the Smithsonian’s video above).

Leonardo's drawing of Baby in the Womb

Leonardo's drawing of Baby in the Womb

Was Leonardo Da Vinci a Messy Writer?

There seems to be a lack of order in the notebooks, you find a list of groceries next to the sketch of a masterpiece, and a vast majority of pages don't show any order, it must be noted that:

  • Some sketches are hasty and filled with notes, while others are carefully drawn and clean.
  • He usually was limited to one idea per page and if the page was not enough he made a note that he had continued on the next page.
  • He usually wrote on both sides of the page.
  • While he wrote whenever he was inspired and about whatever he wanted, he didn’t comment on personal matters; his journal was all work.
  • There are only two short personal entries in the journals regarding the death of Leonardo’s father.
  • That's why we do not know much about his private life, which adds to the fascination we have for him.
  • He wrote math, measurements, and other scientific concepts in his journals.
  • It is said that he could simultaneously sketch with one hand and write with the other.
Old Man with Water Studies

Old Man with Water Studies

Leonardo's Journals After His Death

Leonardo da Vinci’s journals were probably the most valuable work he did for the world. In them, he registered not only sketches and art, but science and technique that were way ahead of his time.

Leonardo's sketch of a horse

Leonardo's sketch of a horse

Many of his works, like his anatomy and physiology studies, could have accelerated discoveries and knowledge in areas such as medicine and engineering if they had been consulted after his death by other scientists and inventors.

Unfortunately, Da Vinci’s peculiar handwriting worked against him. It didn't help either that he moved to a new project right away after finishing the former without putting his notes in order.

It is believed that he had the intention to publish some of his notes but he never came to “translate” them to be easily readable by others.

After he died, all his works were passed on to his apprentice and friend Count Francesco Melzi. Melzi’s descendants sold Leonardo’s journals and his work was lost or in the hands of private collectors.

Some of Leonardo’s amazing experiments and scientific work remained unknown and could not be used as a reference by scientists and researchers in the following centuries. It was until the last 20th century that modern scholars began studying the codices and understanding their scientific merit and value.

Who is your favorite Reinassance artist?

Full Notebooks

  • The text translation by Jean Paul Richter in the or in the .

© 2014 Gabriela Hdez


um on September 24, 2019:


Diana Bertha Krausser on July 28, 2019:

I still make research on "Da Vinci"' s parents portraits...Such a great painter did not paint (even from memory) his MOTHER ("Caterina"?) and his father?...

i like m big i like m chunkey on March 12, 2019:

gg no re

gg on December 04, 2018:

gg my dude

stella lina on November 15, 2018:

for citation purposes?

Sadagopan.A on April 26, 2018:

But..i need to know more infermation about Leonardo

I think he wrote many notes....but we speaking about few notes why?

Carlos Omphroy on December 03, 2017:

Excellent article, full of information despite its brevity. And don't worry about the editing, it's very impressive work considering that English is your 2nd, or 3rd. or nth language.

borinv on May 31, 2017:

cool article

V on March 02, 2017:

PLEASE get a better editor or learn to proofread. There are some glaring errors, most notably "The text translation by Jean Paul Richter in the or in the ."

Credibility out the window.

FREYA THAKKAR on January 03, 2017:


leonardo on March 28, 2016:

This helped me so much keep up the good work you are so good a making point form i dont like reading so i looked at point form and helped thx :)

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 14, 2015:

Wonderfully informative hub about a truly remarkable man. Voted up.

Gabriela Hdez (author) from Valencia, Spain on December 03, 2014:

Thanks for the comment. I will check it out, English is not my native tongue.

?????? on November 20, 2014:

Some grammar errors, but very factual. Great article

Gabriela Hdez (author) from Valencia, Spain on May 11, 2014:

Thanks RosaLocke,

I'm happy to hear you found it interesting!

Rosa Locke from Oregon on May 09, 2014:

Very factual and interesting!

Gabriela Hdez (author) from Valencia, Spain on February 10, 2014:

Xinyang Zhang

Thanks, I'm happy you liked it!

Xinyang Zhang from Dublin, Ireland on February 10, 2014:

Well, we learn something new everyday.

Great article.