Leonardo Da Vinci’s To Do List (Circa 1490)

da vinci todo list

Most people’s to-do lists are, almost by def­i­n­i­tion, pret­ty dull, filled with those quo­tid­i­an lit­tle tasks that tend to slip out of our minds. Pick up the laun­dry. Get that thing for the kid. Buy milk, canned yams and kumquats at the local mar­ket.

Leonar­do Da Vin­ci was, how­ev­er, no ordi­nary per­son. And his to-do lists were any­thing but dull.

Da Vin­ci would car­ry around a note­book, where he would write and draw any­thing that moved him. “It is use­ful,” Leonar­do once wrote, to “con­stant­ly observe, note, and con­sid­er.” Buried in one of these books, dat­ing back to around the 1490s, is a to-do list. And what a to-do list.

NPR’s Robert Krul­wich had it direct­ly trans­lat­ed. And while all of the list might not be imme­di­ate­ly clear, remem­ber that Da Vin­ci nev­er intend­ed for it to be read by web surfers 500  years in the future.

[Cal­cu­late] the mea­sure­ment of Milan and Sub­urbs

[Find] a book that treats of Milan and its church­es, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cor­du­sio

[Dis­cov­er] the mea­sure­ment of Corte Vec­chio (the court­yard in the duke’s palace).

[Dis­cov­er] the mea­sure­ment of the castel­lo (the duke’s palace itself)

Get the mas­ter of arith­metic to show you how to square a tri­an­gle.

Get Mess­er Fazio (a pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine and law in Pavia) to show you about pro­por­tion.

Get the Brera Fri­ar (at the Bene­dic­tine Monastery to Milan) to show you De Pon­deribus (a medieval text on mechan­ics)

[Talk to] Gian­ni­no, the Bom­bardier, re. the means by which the tow­er of Fer­rara is walled with­out loop­holes (no one real­ly knows what Da Vin­ci meant by this)

Ask Benedet­to Poti­nari (A Flo­ren­tine Mer­chant) by what means they go on ice in Flan­ders

Draw Milan

Ask Mae­stro Anto­nio how mor­tars are posi­tioned on bas­tions by day or night.

[Exam­ine] the Cross­bow of Mas­tro Gian­net­to

Find a mas­ter of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lom­bard man­ner

[Ask about] the mea­sure­ment of the sun promised me by Mae­stro Gio­van­ni Francese

Try to get Vitolone (the medieval author of a text on optics), which is in the Library at Pavia, which deals with the math­e­mat­ic.

You can just feel Da Vinci’s vora­cious curios­i­ty and intel­lec­tu­al rest­less­ness. Note how many of the entries are about get­ting an expert to teach him some­thing, be it math­e­mat­ics, physics or astron­o­my. Also who casu­al­ly lists “draw Milan” as an ambi­tion?

Lat­er to-do lists, dat­ing around 1510, seemed to focus on Da Vinci’s grow­ing fas­ci­na­tion with anato­my. In a note­book filled with beau­ti­ful­ly ren­dered draw­ings of bones and vis­cera, he rat­tles off more tasks that need to get done. Things like get a skull, describe the jaw of a croc­o­dile and tongue of a wood­peck­er, assess a corpse using his fin­ger as a unit of mea­sure­ment.

On that same page, he lists what he con­sid­ers to be impor­tant qual­i­ties of an anatom­i­cal draughts­man. A firm com­mand of per­spec­tive and a knowl­edge of the inner work­ings of the body are key. So is hav­ing a strong stom­ach.

You can see a page of Da Vinci’s note­book above but be warned. Even if you are con­ver­sant in 16th cen­tu­ry Ital­ian, Da Vin­ci wrote every­thing in mir­ror script.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in Decem­ber, 2014.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Thomas Edison’s Huge­ly Ambi­tious “To-Do” List from 1888

Watch Leonar­do da Vinci’s Musi­cal Inven­tion, the Vio­la Organ­ista, Being Played for the Very First Time

The Anatom­i­cal Draw­ings of Renais­sance Man, Leonar­do da Vin­ci

An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry Of Avi­a­tion: From da Vinci’s Sketch­es to Apol­lo 11

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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Comments (15)
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  • Kairam says:

    Draw Milan is not an ambi­tion, it’s a chore on a to do list.

  • Nick Winter says:

    “Build­ing walls with­out loop­holes”. This must sure­ly refer to put­log holes. Holes for scaf­fold­ing which one invari­ably sees on medieval walls and which sup­port­ed the scaf­fold­ing nec­es­sary for build­ing the walls. Hence Leonardo’s enquiry as to how the tow­er was built with­out them.

  • David Ruud says:

    I tru­ly wish I could read the writ­ings of Davin­ci and not have to rely on a translator’s words. I often won­der why there is so many “sec­tions” torn from the pages of Davinci’s writings…as obvi­ous in this page. Yes I know they’re “quite old” and dam­age is bound to occur. But many appear to be inten­tion­al­ly “edit­ed”. Like many many paint­ings that have clear­ly been censored…painted over to hide “details”. Some I believe even relat­ing to Davin­ci by oth­er artists. I believe the “Art Mar­ket” is prob­a­bly respon­si­ble for the “cen­sor­ship”. Let’s be hon­est. When you’re deal­ing with bil­lions of dol­lars of “mon­ey” there will always be an over abun­dance of “peo­ple” that will do any­thing to pro­tect it.

  • Marcel Kincaid says:

    It’s only a chore if he has to do it. In oth­er words, it’s an ambi­tion.

  • Marcel Kincaid says:

    David Ruud: not a word of your con­spir­a­to­r­i­al, para­noid spec­u­la­tions is true.

  • Kim Ryan Krebs says:

    Leonar­do moved to Milan (from Flo­rence) with inten­tions of offer­ing his ser­vices as a mil­i­tary direc­tor to Ludovi­co Sforza … Milan’s ruler at the time. Milan was a strate­gic (mil­i­tary) strong­hold for South­west­ern Europe and, it was a tar­get for adver­saries. Many of the top­ics that Leonar­do had in his jour­nals to do list cen­ter around ideas of making/creating improve­ments to the for­ti­fi­ca­tions of city.

  • Franchesco says:

    For an artist draw­ing and paint­ing is not anchore

  • Bernie Daniel says:

    Wow Mar­cel Kin­caid that is one impres­sive rebut­tal of Mr Ruud’s the­o­ry.

  • sarah says:

    Wow! Won­der if he would have just “Googled It” if he had the inter­net back then.

  • Martin says:

    I could be mis­tak­en, but could it be that the pic­ture is mir­rored?

  • Isabella Luciani says:

    His name is Leonar­do Da Vin­ci. Davin­ci is cul­tur­al appro­pri­a­tion.

  • Lenen says:

    If it were so then he would have a pletho­ra of infor­ma­tion that is not valid or sit­ed.

  • McMike says:

    Loop­holes refers to arrow slits. Which the Torre dei Leoni does­n’t appear to have any (on a cur­so­ry check of Google image). So, Da Vin­ci might be inter­est­ed in ask­ing a bom­bardier (a per­son whose job is to destroy cas­tles in war­fare) why the tow­er was built with­out this defen­sive capa­bil­i­ty- pre­sum­ably mak­ing the attack­er’s job eas­i­er.

  • Scot says:

    His name is “Leonar­do” not “Da Vin­ci”.

  • Ted says:

    Mar­cel Kin­caid;
    Prove your rebut­tal of Ruud’s the­sis

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