Interesting Facts about Leonardo Da Vinci's Journals
Leonardo 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 on 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 Da Vinci was born in 1452 and during his life it is estimated he produced between 20,000 to 28,000 pages of notes and sketches about work related subjects and everything else that interested him.
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. (They are the same thing)
Was Leonardo da Vinci left-handed and dyslexic?
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 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.
On recent years, the theory that Leonardo Da Vinci was also dyslexic is gaining supporters because mirror writing seem to be easier to people with this dyslexia (See the Smithsonian’s video above.)
Was Leonardo da Vinci a messy journal writer?
There seem 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 limited one idea per page and if the page was not enough he made a note that he had continued onto the next page.
- He usually wrote at both sides of the page.
- While he wrote whenever he was inspired and about whatever he wanted, he didn’t comment personal matters; his journal was all work.
- There are only two short personal entries in the journals regarding to 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.
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.
Many of his works, like his anatomy and physiology studies, could have accelerated dicoveries 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” it to be easily readable by others.
After he died, all his works 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 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.
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You can read Leonardo's notebooks here:
- In the Internet Archive, Leonardo de Vinci's Notebooks, Arranged And Rendered Into English by Edward McCurdy, digitized by Google from the library of New York Public Library
- The text translation by Jean Paul Richter in the or in the .
- The webpage www.universalleonardo.org has plenty of information on Leonardo da Vinci's views and images of the codices.
© 2014 Gabriela Hernández Paulín