This portrait of a man done in red chalk is believed to be a drawing Leonardo da Vinci did of himself in 1510 when he was 60 years old.

This portrait of a man done in red chalk is believed to be a drawing Leonardo da Vinci did of himself in 1510 when he was 60 years old.

Pages from one of da Vinci’s notebooks, the Codex Leicester, gives an example of his unique writing and sketching.

Pages from one of da Vinci’s notebooks, the Codex Leicester, gives an example of his unique writing and sketching.

Kids peer into a wooden battle tank modeled after one designed by Leonardo da Vinci at a

Kids peer into a wooden battle tank modeled after one designed by Leonardo da Vinci at a "Da Vinci Inventions" exhibit in West Virginia. (AP)

MacKenzie Heinaman stands in a room of small mirrors like one designed by Leonardo da Vinci at an exhibit in Charleston, West Virginia. (AP)

MacKenzie Heinaman stands in a room of small mirrors like one designed by Leonardo da Vinci at an exhibit in Charleston, West Virginia. (AP)

Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa, an oil painting on a wood panel, was probably done in about 1505.

Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa, an oil painting on a wood panel, was probably done in about 1505.

Leonardo’s 500th

Posted: March 4, 2019

People thought a lot of Leonardo da Vinci while he was alive. “Kind” and “handsome” are some words legend uses to describe this man from Vinci, Italy. (“Da Vinci” means “from Vinci” in Italian.) And we know for sure Leonardo da Vinci was a genius. Mr. da Vinci died in 1519. Even 500 years later, we are still thinking about him!

How do people mark the 500th anniversary of Mr. da Vinci’s death? For one thing, they put his famous notebook on display: the Codex Leicester. Mr. da Vinci wrote most of the notebook between 1504 and 1508. If you could leaf through its 72 pages, you would notice something unusual. He wrote it backward! You could read his words easily when held up to a mirror. (Well, you could if you could read old Italian.) People don’t know for sure why Leonardo da Vinci wrote backward. Is it because he was left-handed and writing backward meant he didn’t have to drag his hand through the ink? Maybe!

Visitors can see the notebook in the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Italy. Mr. da Vinci wrote down some of his ideas in the Codex. He wrote about tides and dams and the relationship between the Earth, Moon, and Sun. It is not neat. The notebook was a place for Mr. da Vinci to work out his complicated thoughts. He filled it with diagrams and notes. The Ambrosian Library in Milan, Italy, also shows off pages from another da Vinci notebook called the Atlantic Codex. This notebook isn’t an idea book. It’s more like an encyclopedia. It records what kinds of technology already existed in Mr. da Vinci’s lifetime. Mr. da Vinci kept many notebooks. Some tell stories. Some give recipes. Some show designs for buildings, suits for walking on water, and even flying machines.

People call Leonardo da Vinci the Renaissance Man. He gets that nickname because he was good at so many things. He was an inventor, artist, scientist, anatomist, engineer, architect, sculptor, and philosopher. Many think he was the greatest painter of all time. (You will recognize his mysterious, smiling Mona Lisa—probably the most famous painting in the world.) But only five artworks exist that people are certain Mr. da Vinci painted. He changed his style often, so it’s hard for experts to prove a painting was his. And this makes things much worse: Mr. da Vinci didn’t sign his work!

The da Vinci celebration is just beginning. Between now and the end of 2019, his sketches and artworks will be on display in museums across Europe. Can you test some of his techniques? Try making plaster and painting a fresco. Sketch a copy of the Mona Lisa. Make your own messy Codex. Try writing backward!