The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London is sharing Leonardo da Vinci's coveted notebooks with anyone connected to a computer. The V&A digitized the Renaissance artist's illustrated writings, known as Codex Forster in honor of English biographer John Forster who donated his copy of the notebooks to the museum in 1876. These writings have long appeared in unwieldy book form. Now it's accessible with the click of a mouse. Whether you're into art, science, or the world around you, this collection is a page-turner.

The bigger picture

Da Vinci's interests were wide.

As you'd expect, there's a lot of material on art: drawings of the human figure and theories of perspective, light and shade, color, and even the construction of an eye ball. Da Vinci also paid attention to matters of science like botany, biology, zoology, and more. He covered the waterfront – literally – not only analyzing the movement of water but also ways of swimming. Oh, wait, did I mention music?

In fact, given Da Vinci's voluminous writings and drawings, it's a wonder that he ever got around to paint the pictures he's famous for -- “The Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper.” Of course, he never finished either one. According to The Guardian in 2005, as Da Vinci was working on his famous portrait at age 51, his right hand became paralyzed, which would account for why he never gave Mona her painting and kept it with him until his death.

As for "The Last Supper,” it's plain to see that Christ's head is incomplete. According to Giorgio Vasari, art historian in the artist's time, he took forever to render the image, prompting the prior of the church it stood in to chide him for staring at it without lifting a brush. His preliminary sketches for this work are included in the notebooks.

Words vs pictures

There's an odd twist to this story. “The Last Supper” is deteriorating badly. German art historian Jean Paul Richter wrote in 1970 that the decay is due to faulty restorations in the 17th and 18th century, but according to Vasari, Da Vinci had a bigger interest than painting – writing -- which would account for why he painted so few works.

So in that sense, it's a good thing he cared more about words than pictures. It's the words that will last.

By the way, digitizing Da Vinci notebooks isn't new. The British Library did it five years ago. According to The Guardian in 2013, these compilations (originally left to his student, Francesco Melzi) were sold in book form to royal/wealthy collectors. Business Insider reported in 1994 that Bill Gates purchased one of these volumes for $30 million, making it the priciest book ever sold. Now it's free to all.

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