Nearly 200 books on science and technology, literature, and religion stood in Leonardo’s library. Now, 500 years after his death, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) with the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and Museo Galileo has reconstructed the lost book collection for the exhibition “Leonardo’s Intellectual Cosmos,” where visitors can marvel at many of these outstanding old works.
The much-discussed antithesis between observation of nature and traditional scholarship through books was another issue Leonardo refused to deal with one-sidedly, tackling both aspects with great commitment. Compared with his predecessors, he was almost unique in how he perceived the diversity of nature, at the same time using the new medium of book printing to build up a remarkable library that influenced and corresponded to his own worldview.
The exhibition shows Leonardo’s world in a process of upheaval: in media, in the transition to a new knowledge economy, in the struggle for a new understanding of the world. Which books influenced Leonardo’s intellectual cosmos? How did he work with his books? What became of his plans to write and publish his own books? Why was it so difficult for him to bring his ideas together in book form? What was lost in the transition from the manuscript world with its many and diverse forms—in Leonardo’s case it was often a complex weave of individual notes—to the book world, and what does this loss mean for our world today and its approach to new media and knowledge economies?