Forster Codices

ms “Forster” - Victoria and Albert Museum (London, United Kingdom)

Alternate Titles:

I Codici Forster, Forster-Codizes

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Alternate Titles

I Codici Forster

Extent / Format

3 volumes / 14.5 x 10.0 cm
9.5 x 7.0 cm
9.0 x 6.0 cm

Artist / School

Leonardo Da Vinci

Former owners

Francesco Melzi
Pompeo Leoni
Earl Edward George Lytton
John Forster

Short description

The so-called Forster Codices are three notebooks belonging to Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest universal geniuses in history. The private notebooks, originating in the years 1493-1505, contain exciting material related to Leonardo’s research and artistic creativity, but also personal, autobiographical notes, and the genius’ spontaneous thoughts. The eventful history of the bundle of three codices makes them all the more entertaining!

Facsimile editions available


Forster Codices

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1505) left behind an unbelievable graphic and written body of work. His passionate work as a researcher and discoverer in every possible field and his outstanding position in the art of the Italian Renaissance lead to the impressive, precious legacy that is spread across the entire world. An ambitious project was begun in Italy in 1964, whose purpose was to preserve the memory of the national hero Leonardo da Vinci: the great National Edition of the manuscripts and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, known as the Leonardo Codices.

A Bundle in London

Three of Leonardo’s notebooks, known as the Forster Codices, are stored today in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The bundle, consisting of three volumes measuring 14.5. x 10 cm, 9.5 x 7 cm, and 9 x 6 cm respectively, is a real treasure of Leonardo research, offering a truly comprehensive overview of wide-ranging themes with which the universal genius concerned himself. Additionally, the three notebooks originate from 3 different epochs during the time period 1493-1505.

The Universal Genius Made Tangible

The Forster-Codices grant an unmitigated inside look into the idea world of Leonardo da Vinci. Here he recorded spontaneous thoughts on various scientific, artistic, and private themes: important mathematical and geometric studies, explorations into hydraulic machines, physical considerations and comments on grammar, cosmological studies, fables, jokes and quips, and so much more that needed to be discovered. Additionally, one finds a few studies of horses in the three books, e.g. of the bronze figure of the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, and autobiographical notes, e.g. regarding the expenses for the burial of his mother Caterina.

A Sought-After Gem

Alongside the masterful studies and drawings, the informative text gives us an additional aspect that makes the Forster Codices so interesting: the eventful history. Originating from the entire written and graphic inheritance of Leonardo da Vinci, the three notebooks passed from Francesco Melzi into the possession of Pompeo Leoni, then reached Venice and were acquired by Earl Edward George Lytton in the 19th century. After his death in 1873, the three volumes came into the possession of John Forster, whose name they bear today, and who bequeathed them to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1876.

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