Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus in Milan

The world’s largest collection of original drawings from Leonardo Da Vinci – his Codex Atlanticus – can be found on exhibition in the Basilica of Santa Maria Delle Grazie and the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. Leonardo completed these works from 1478 to 1519. The variety of contents is astounding. Subjects include weaponry, musical instruments, SCUBA gear, orbital orientations of the moon and planets, as well as advanced mathematics.


While the Basilica of Santa Maria Delle Grazie Convent is best known as the location of Leonardo’s The Last Supper, it’s worth a visit to the Convent Sacrestia del Bramante just inside the garden to get a closer look at how his incredible mind worked. In his will, Leonardo donated his writings to his loyal disciple Francesco Melzi who followed the master to France during the years he spent at the court of King Francis I.


Melzi was very aware of the inestimable value of this legacy and of the the enormous trust that his Master put in him and he jealously kept the folios in his villa in Vaprio D’Adda near Milan, until his death in 1570. Unfortunately, his descendants did not prove equally zealous and let the huge heritage become prey of unscrupulous art dealers. In the late 1500’s, the sculptor Pompeo Leoni gathered more than 1700 drawings and writings of Leonardo in one atlas-type format, called a Codex.


This Codex Atlanticus originally contained 402 pages. In 1637 the Codex, together with 11 other manuscripts by Leonardo were donated to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan (one of the first public libraries in the world). It is now is bound into 12 volumes and 1,119 pages. Because the books were so heavy, the pages were in danger of being damaged. They were disassembled in 2009 and are now rotated with 22 pages being shown at each location.


The Codex was transferred to Paris after the conquest of Milan by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796. For 17 years it was kept in the Louvre Museum and then in 1815, when the Congress of Vienna ratified the return of all artworks stolen by Napoleon to their countries of origin, it was given back to the Ambrosiana, where it is still jealously conserved.


There is nothing like the thrill of seeing the works of Leonardo Da Vinci in person. To be able to look closely at the writing he so painstakingly he produced and puzzle out the right to left style of something so valuable to the world of science is a unique treat. However, if you’re unable to visit Milan in the near future and are interested in Leonardo’s work, it’s possible to view a Virtual Codex here.

It’s fun to speculate on how Leonardo Da Vinci was so advanced for his time. Seeing his manuscripts and trying to decipher the mysteries of his mind is a fun pastime. It’s clear we’re big fans of his work!


About the author

Lisa is a traveler, photographer and pharmacist. She and her partner Cheryl MacDonald enjoy sharing inspiration and good health with fellow travelers!


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    • I know you will LOVE Italy! It’s such a interesting and beautiful place. At the same church, Da Vinci’s Last Supper fresco is also on display. It covers an entire wall and will give you goosebumps looking at it 🙂

  • Fascinating history, I saw a special exhibit at the Venetian with his drawings and some of the original prototypes and actual armanents and designs from Leonardo. I have no idea how the Venetian was able to host this impressive collection. I would love to visit this place and see more of his drawings.

  • There must be a traveling exhibit of some of his work because I remember visiting an exhibit at a local science/tech museum in San Jose, CA. He was a fascinating man of his times, wasn’t he? Absolutely fascinating.

    • Yes, I believe there are several traveling exhibits with parts of his works, so hopefully even more people can get a chance to see the Codex. It’s an inspiration to see someone so ahead of his time.

  • I would LOVE to see this!! But if I can’t get to Milan while the exhibition is still on at least I can view it virtually – I actually had no idea all of this existed in collection form, so thank you for that!

  • There’s nothing more thrilling than being within touching distance of drawings from the hand of a person you admire –
    I guess that’s why I love hand written journals so much – the physicality of them transcends time 🙂

  • How thrilling to be so close to all that creativity. I’m glad to see it is preserved now for generations to enjoy. This is a real treasure house. Thanks for taking us inside.

  • One of the best things about traveling is the chance to dig into the history of each new location and “personalize” it which gives us a chance to connect with different cultures across the centuries. We’re hoping to have the opportunity to see Da Vinci’s works in the near future and enjoyed your virtual tour. P.S. I was also a pharmacist before we began traveling and find it much more fun!

    • Yes, Anita – traveling trumps pharmacy most days 🙂 We’ve even combined the two with our new site The Traveling Pharmacist (www.thetravelpharmacist.com) because we couldn’t seem to find travel health info in one place. So it’s the best of both worlds! But still prefer the traveling 🙂

  • It’s utterly amazing that so many of Da Vinci’s drawings are still around and in fine shape. It is inspiring to be able to see the work of this genius. We’re planning a trip to Italy next year this will have to be included. Thanks for sharing this terrific story.

  • I was fortunate to see/visit his “Last Supper” about 10 years ago when we traveled to Italy. What a fantastically talented man.

  • Incredible information about an incredible (but under-appreciated man) you must be congratulated for taking the time to follow this through

  • I love Italy and what I think I love the most is learning so much history that I should have learned in school of course 😉 Wonderful that you were able to take photos of such amazing works.

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