The largest surviving collection of notes by Leonardo da Vinci, the Codex Atlanticus is a priceless set of documents and the crown jewel of Milan’s historic Biblioteca Ambrosiana library. The more than 1,120 pages of the Codex Atlanticus contain handwritten text and drawings dating from 1478 to 1519 and a glimpse into da Vinci’s genius.
Only portions of the 12-volume Codex Atlanticus are on display in the library’s Sala Federiciana and at the adjacent Pinacoteca Ambrosiana gallery. Pages on display at Biblioteca Ambrosiana are usually grouped by subject matter, which ranges from mathematics and astronomy to inventions for war and engineering machines, essays and fables, and even studies and sketches for paintings.
A stop at Biblioteca Ambrosiana can be paired with a private or small-group tour of Milan to see highlights such as the Duomo and Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, home to da Vinci’s Last Supper. Many city tours include top attractions such as Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Pinacoteca di Brera, Sforza Castle, and Navigli canal district. A hop-on hop-off bus tour, Milan Segway tour, and bicycle-powered rickshaw tour are convenient ways to see Milan's attractions.
Things to Know Before You Go
- If you wish to see both the Codex Atlanticus at Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and The Last Supper, prebook on a single ticket or choose a tour that incorporates both.
- Both the library and the gallery are active research spaces, and strict silence must be observed, including turning off all cell phones and other mobile devices.
- Large bags, food and drink, and umbrellas are not allowed inside.
- Photography is strictly forbidden.
- The library and gallery are accessible to wheelchair users.
How to Get There
The Biblioteca Ambrosiana and the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana are located inside Palazzo dell'Ambrosiana, located on Piazza Pio XI, a short walk from the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. By public transportation, take the metro red line to the Cordusio or Duomo stops, or the yellow line to the Duomo stop.
When to Get There
The Biblioteca Ambrosiana is open Monday through Friday; the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is open Tuesday through Sunday. Both are closed on major holidays. It’s advised to confirm in advance that pages of the Codex will be on display during your visit.
History of the Codex Atlanticus
Leonardo da Vinci kept extensive notes in code and drew exacting yet enigmatic sketches so his discoveries wouldn't be stolen. In the 16th century, many of those notes were collected by sculptor Pompeo Leoni into what is now known as Codex Atlanticus. It was acquired by the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in the 1630s and later stolen by Napoleon's army. After the Napoleonic occupation, the Codex was returned to Milan, and it's been restored repeatedly.