Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was fascinated by the possibility that humans might fly like birds. Some of his musings on the subject are collected in the “Codex on the Flight of Birds” , eighteen handwritten double-sided pages in Leonardo’s unique mirror script. Written in 1505-1506, and once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Codex is now in the Biblioteca Reale, Turin, Italy. One page from the Codex is shown below.
Leonardo’s curiosity regarding how birds fly was inspired by the desire to build and control a “flying machine”. In the Codex, Leonardo anticipated the recognition and fame that would come from being the first to fly: “….this great bird, filling the universe with awe, filling all writings with its fame, and eternal glory to the nest where it was born”. Unfortunately for Leonardo, such accolades had to wait for the Wright brothers some 400 years later.
There is no evidence that Leonardo ever flew in one of his machines. A watercolor called “A Bird’s-Eye View of a Landscape” painted by da Vinci in 1502 has led some imaginative observers to suggest that he did actually fly.
The da Vinci Museum in Florence, Italy has constructed full-size replicas of many of Leonardo’s designs. The one shown below was modeled after a bird with flapping wings. It had a circular cockpit so that the pilot could “….balance himself, as he does in a boat”.
LEARN MORE ABOUT LEONARDO’S WINGS
Listen to the text on Leonardo da Vinci
KIDS QUESTION: We asked: Is Leonardo da Vinci famous because he studied birds?
The answer is: No, he is best known as an artist and inventor
Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa (La Gioconda in Italian), some time after 1500 and it is one of the most well known paintings in the world. It is remarkable that da Vinci excelled in so many different fields – engineering, mathematics, art, anatomy and others.