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In November 1796, Napoleon, having invaded Italy, looted the library of all da Vinci manuscripts, and shipped them to Paris. In 1844, a mathematician and book lover named Guglielmo Libri stole the codex in Paris, took it apart and sold off five pages to one collector and 13 pages to another.

In 1892, a Russian collector, Theodore Sabachnikoff, bought the 13 pages, plus one of the five sold separately, and published the work. Then he gifted the partial original to Queen Margherita of Italy, who in 1893 deposited them in the Royal Library in Turin. Ten years later, page 17 made its way to Turin, and then the remaining three pages (1, 2 and 10) were again sold, this time to an Italian collector who presented them to King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, who in turn reunited them with the others.

By the time the Wright brothers began construction of their flying machine in 1900, they had read some of da Vinci’s theories in an article in the 1897 issue of the publication Aeronautical Annual. But in their quest to conquer flight, the Wright brothers, like da Vinci, by then had long been studying birds in flight.

Once a much-traveled document, in the past 120 years the codex has left Italy only three times. Considered too fragile for too much travel, the last time it was in the U.S. was in 2008, when it was exhibited in Birmingham, Ala., and San Francisco. Last year, it was shown in Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.

And that’s that, said a Royal Library spokesman. After this American jaunt, Leonardo da Vinci goes back into the library vault for a number of years to come.

WHAT:Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex on the Flight of Birds”

WHERE:Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave., SW

WHEN: Sept. 13 to Oct. 22

TICKETS: Admission is free, but timed tickets are required during the first week (Sept. 13-19)


PHONE: 202/633-2214