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Rutgers Art Library’s Acquisition Is a Window into the Genius of Leonardo da Vinci

May 12, 2016
Student worker with oversized book

Luis Infante, a student worker at the Libraries, explores Disegni

The book slips free of its protective case, revealing a luxurious leather cover, embossed in gold. It may be a cold winter afternoon in New Jersey, but in the Art Library archives—known as the X Room—the sunny warmth of 15th-century Italy is spilling across the pages of this rare and impressive work.

Composed of two back-breaking volumes that are 50 centimeters tall and weigh in at more than 30 pounds, Disegni by Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most sought after books in the world. It is also a recent acquisition by the archives at the Rutgers University Art Library.

For art librarian Megan Lotts, the acquisition of this book is a point of pride. “There are only a few of these books available in the world and the price would be prohibitive for individual purchase,” explains Lotts. “We are incredibly proud to make these volumes available to the Rutgers community.” 

The oversized books contain reproductions of 506 drawings and sketches by Leonardo da Vinci on 323 leaves, arranged chronologically, with introductions, source information, and commentaries. Vol. 1 includes leaves 1-108; vol. 2 includes leaves 109-323. In these pages, intrepid explorers will discover the familiar—the Vitruvian Man makes a requisite appearance—alongside the unexpected—sketches of animals, rough drafts, doodles, and more.

According to Thomas Izbicki, librarian emeritus at Rutgers University Libraries, the acquisition of Disegni is part of a larger effort to acquire facsimiles of important books created in manuscript form. “Few libraries can afford to collect the most impressive of these cultural monuments, but they can provide reproductions made with the best means technology provides to us,” notes Izbicki. “Facsimiles are used by art historians, historians, and others who want to study the originals. By seeing the original presentation of the texts and images, students can learn how classic works were created and how ideas got about in the era before the printing press prevailed.”

Disegni is available upon demand for viewing. Please send a note to art librarian Megan Lotts if you would like to schedule some time with this book.

Want to get a taste of what’s in Disegni?