A Dozen Drawings From Leonardo da Vinci’s 1,200-Page ‘Codex Atlanticus’ Will Go on View in the U.S. for the First Time

Leonardo's drawings helped inspire modern excavating machines, diving mechanisms, and autonomous vehicles.

Francesco Melzi, Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. ⓒ Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Mondadori Portfolio.

A dozen drawings by Leonardo da Vinci will be on view in the U.S. for the first time in a show opening this summer in Washington, D.C. They come from the Codex Atlanticus, the largest collection of drawings and writings in Italian by the legendary polymath, which stretches across some 1,200 pages over 12 volumes.  

Leonardo maintained the Codex Atlanticus from 1478 to 1519, the year of his death, and it has been held in Milan’s Biblioteca Ambrosiana since 1637.

An array of subjects are included in the collection, such as botany, flight, mathematics, musical instruments, and weaponry. Engineers and designers have found rich material for their work in its pages. Art historian and Leonardo expert Carlo Pedretti dubbed the codex, which spans the artist’s entire career, the most important of the master’s manuscripts. 

Leonardo da Vinci, Hydraulic pump and fountain within a building. ⓒ Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Mondadori Portfolio.

“Imagining the Future—Leonardo da Vinci: In the Mind of an Italian Genius” opens June 21 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, in Washington, D.C. 

Indicating Leonardo’s great ambition, one drawing explores the concept of perpetual motion without an external energy source, along with imaginative architectural studies. Another sheet testifies to the artist’s interest in underwater exploration, showing concepts for diving machines as well as water pumps. Another contains detailed diagrams and calculations exploring mathematical principles, such as the golden ratio, in their application to art and architecture.

Some drawings in the show can be tied to modern mechanisms, the organizers point out: Leonardo’s study for a digging machine provided inspiration for the excavating machines of today; his design for a self-propelling cart has echoes in our self-driving vehicles; and his diving apparatus influenced underwater exploration.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

artnet and our partners use cookies to provide features on our sites and applications to improve your online experience, including for analysis of site usage, traffic measurement, and for advertising and content management. See our Privacy Policy for more information about cookies. By continuing to use our sites and applications, you agree to our use of cookies.

Subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.

You are currently logged into this Artnet News Pro account on another device. Please log off from any other devices, and then reload this page continue. To find out if you are eligible for an Artnet News Pro group subscription, please contact [email protected]. Standard subscriptions can be purchased on the subscription page.

Log In