Explore the Largest Online Archive Exploring the Genius of Leonard da Vinci

We dare not spec­u­late as to what Leonar­do DaVin­ci would make of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

We are, how­ev­er, fair­ly con­fi­dent that he would love the Inter­net.

The Renais­sance-era genius applied his sophis­ti­cat­ed under­stand­ing of the human body and the nat­ur­al world to oth­er types of sys­tems, includ­ing plans for civ­il engi­neer­ing projects, mil­i­tary pro­jec­tiles, and fly­ing machines.

Google Arts & Culture’s new ini­tia­tive Inside a Genius Mind offers an inter­ac­tive expe­ri­ence of the codices in which Da Vin­ci made his sketch­es, dia­grams, and notes.

It’s also a cura­to­r­i­al col­lab­o­ra­tion between a human — Oxford art his­to­ry pro­fes­sor Mar­tin Kemp  — and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

Pro­fes­sor Kemp, author of Liv­ing with Leonar­do: Fifty Years of San­i­ty and Insan­i­ty in the Art World and Beyond, brings a life­time of rig­or­ous study and pas­sion for the sub­ject.

His non-human coun­ter­part used machine learn­ing to delve into the note­books’ con­tents, inves­ti­gat­ing some 1040 pages from 6 vol­umes and “draw­ing the­mat­ic con­nec­tions across time and sub­ject mat­ter to reflect Leonardo’s spir­it of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary imag­i­na­tion, inno­va­tion and the pro­found uni­ty at the heart of his appar­ent­ly diverse pur­suits.”

Upon launch­ing the exper­i­ment, you bush­whack your way through the indi­vid­ual codices by click­ing on the sketch­es float­ing toward you like ele­ments in a clas­sic space-themed video game, or choose to enjoy one of five curat­ed sto­ries.

We went with Earth as Body, which gath­ers sev­en pages from the UK’s Roy­al Col­lec­tion Trust’s Codex Wind­sor, and one from the Codex Leices­ter, which inspired an ani­mat­ed mod­el that should sure­ly please its cur­rent own­er, Bill Gates.


Using a dis­creet and some­what fid­dly nav­i­ga­tion bar on the left side of the screen, we toured Leonardo’s ren­der­ings of the flayed mus­cles of the upper spine, the ves­sels and nerves of the neck and liv­er, the Arno val­ley with the route of a pro­posed canal that would run from Flo­rence to Pisa, a view of the Alps from Milan, the fall of light on a face, stud­ies of optics and men in action, and obser­va­tions of the moon and earth­shine.

How are these things relat­ed?

“Leonar­do believed that the human body rep­re­sent­ed the whole nat­ur­al world in minia­ture” and the selec­tions do offer food for thought that Leonardo’s pas­sion for the under­ly­ing laws of nature is the com­mon thread run­ning through his research and art.

Each image is accom­pa­nied a but­ton invit­ing you to “explore” the work fur­ther. Click it for infor­ma­tion about dimen­sions, prove­nance, and media, as well as some tan­ta­liz­ing bio­graph­i­cal tid­bits, such as this, adapt­ed from the cat­a­logue for the 2019 exhib­it Leonar­do da Vin­ci: A Life in Draw­ing:

Leonar­do had first stud­ied anato­my in the late 1480s. By the end of his life he claimed to have per­formed 30 human dis­sec­tions, intend­ing to pub­lish an illus­trat­ed trea­tise on the sub­ject, but this was nev­er com­plet­ed, and Leonardo’s work thus had no dis­cernible impact on the dis­ci­pline. His only doc­u­ment­ed dis­sec­tion was car­ried out in the win­ter of 1507–8, when he per­formed an autop­sy on an old man whose death he had wit­nessed in a hos­pi­tal in Flo­rence. The stud­ies on this page from Leonardo’s note­book are based on that dis­sec­tion: on the ver­so Leonar­do depicts the ves­sels of the liv­er; and in notes else­where in the note­book he gives the first known clin­i­cal descrip­tion of cir­rho­sis of the liv­er.

Per­haps you’d like to cir­cum­vent the machine learn­ing and use your own genius mind to make  con­nec­tions a la Da Vin­ci?

Try mess­ing around with the AI tags. See what you can cob­ble togeth­er to forge a cohe­sive alliance between such ele­ments as wing, horse, map, musi­cal instru­ments, and spi­ral.

Or cleanse your palate by putting a mash-up of two codex sketch­es on a dig­i­tal sticky with the help of Google AI, mind­ful that the mas­ter, who lived to the ripe old age of 67, was prob­a­bly a bit more inten­tion­al with his time…

Begin your explo­rations of Google Arts & Culture’s Inside a Genius Mind here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Inge­nious Inven­tions of Leonar­do da Vin­ci Recre­at­ed with 3D Ani­ma­tion

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

A Com­plete Dig­i­ti­za­tion of Leonar­do Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanti­cus, the Largest Exist­ing Col­lec­tion of His Draw­ings & Writ­ings

How Leonar­do da Vin­ci Made His Mag­nif­i­cent Draw­ings Using Only a Met­al Sty­lus, Pen & Ink, and Chalk

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.