Leonardo da Vinci's Codex on the Flight of Birds

Leonardo da Vinci's Codex on the Flight of Birds

Closed October 22, 2013

Leonardo da Vinci created masterpieces of art and sculpture. Equally remarkable, his aggregate achievements in engineering, mathematics, anatomy, geology, physics, music, military technology, aeronautics, and a wide range of other fields, not only stood without peer in his own time, but were strikingly prescient for the distant future. He recorded his forward-looking ideas in thousands of notebook pages, known as codices. He produced one codex entirely on flight in 1505-1506, the Codex on the Flight of Birds. Among the many subjects Leonardo studied, the possibility of human mechanical flight held particular fascination. He produced more than 35,000 words and 500 sketches dealing with flying machines, the nature of air, and bird flight. In the Codex on the Flight of BirdsLeonardo outlined a number of observations and beginning concepts that would find a place in the development of a successful airplane in the early twentieth century. Hundreds of years before any real progress toward a practical flying machine was achieved, Leonardo expressed the seeds of the ideas that would lead to humans spreading their wings. This extraordinary document, exhibited outside of Italy only a few times, will be displayed in The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age gallery. The Codex exhibit will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appreciate the genius of da Vinci in the same space as the Wright Flyer, which made the airplane a reality four centuries after the Leonardo produced the Codex on the Flight of Birds.

This exhibit is organized by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Italian Cultural Heritage and Activities, the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC, the Biblioteca Reale in Turin, thanks to the support of Bracco Foundation, Finmeccanica, and Tenaris. It is part of 2013 - Year of Italian Culture in the U.S., an initiative held under the auspices of the President of the Italian Republic, organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC with the support of Corporate Ambassadors, Eni, and Intesa Sanpaolo.


"Leonardo's Flight" describes the content and history of this historically prescient Leonardo da Vinci notebook about flight. Courtesy of Silvia Rosa Brusin, RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana

Learn about the Codex in this short video narrated by exhibit curator Peter Jakab.