You Can Now View Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks Online

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Most people know Leonardo da Vinci from his paintings, but the artist also had the mind of an engineer, as evidenced by the hundreds of pages he used to sketch out his inventions. Now, two of the notebooks he left behind are being made available for the public to view. As The Art Newspaper reports, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has published a digitized version of Codex Forster I online.

Codex Forster I—named for John Forster, who donated the book to the museum in 1876—is a bound volume consisting of two of Leonardo's personal notebooks. Dated from 1487 to 1505, it contains both the earliest and the most recent Leonardo da Vinci notebooks in the V&A's collection.

The contents feature some of the artist's inventions related to hydraulic engineering, including devices for digging canals and adjusting water levels, as well as his thoughts on measuring solids. The text is written in "mirror-writing"—which means all the letters and words are backwards and can only be deciphered when held up to a mirror. Because he was left-handed, this method of writing allowed Leonardo to write quickly without smudging the ink.

On the Victoria and Albert Museum's website, visitors can now take their time browsing and zooming in on the pages of Codex Forster I. Uploading the notebooks made them accessible to a global audience, but that's not the only reason they were digitized: Having an online version means the museum can focus on preserving the physical copy for centuries to come, instead of handing it off to researchers and shortening its lifespan.

The two other Leonardo notebook volumes in the V&A's collection, Codex Forster II and III, haven't received the web treatment yet, but the museum plans to make them fully viewable online sometime in 2019.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

If You Want to Be a Better Learner, Try Drawing (Even If You're Bad at It)

iStock
iStock

Doodling all over your notebook while sitting through class or a meeting might not be so bad after all. According to design historian and art professor D.B. Dowd, even the crudest of drawings can facilitate learning.

Dowd recently spoke with Quartzy about his new book, Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice. In it, he aims to dispel the myth that drawing is only for skilled artists or crafty Pinterest-loving types. Whether you’re doodling a smiley face or penning a map while giving directions, drawing is suitable for everyone, he argues.

“We have misfiled the significance of drawing because we see it as a professional skill instead of a personal capacity,” he writes in his book. “This essential confusion has stunted our understanding of drawing and kept it from being seen as a tool for learning above all else.”

Science seems to back this up. Over a century ago, science students were required to take drawing lessons in order to “learn to observe.” With this in mind, biology professor Jennifer Landin started introducing drawing back into her lesson plans.

“Drawing is merely making lines and dots on paper. If you can write your name, you can draw,” she writes for Scientific American. “But we all take shortcuts when we see; often our brains fool us, and we skip over most visual details. Since some species of dragonfly can only be distinguished from others by the vein patterns in their wings, skipping details is not an option.”

In addition to helping you become a better observer (and thus a better learner), one 2009 study found that drawing also improves memory. Test subjects who doodled while listening to a list of names and places scored 29 percent higher on a surprise quiz of the information than those who didn’t doodle. And while smartphones and laptops can be a distraction, doodling helps you concentrate. The researchers behind one 2011 study theorized that doodling may stimulate “default networks” in the brain, which promote activity in the cerebral cortex even when there are no outside stimuli.

Classroom research has also shown that drawing can be a useful learning aid. When a student is asked to draw a concept like sound waves, for instance, they’re forced to think about it more creatively. Plus, they often enjoy the assignment more, which can’t hurt. So go ahead—break out the pencil and paper and start doodling. It might be good for your brain.

[h/t Quartzy]

New Podcast Opens Up the Cold Case of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Heist

Ryan McBride, AFP/Getty Images
Ryan McBride, AFP/Getty Images

One of the newest true crime podcasts gathering buzz doesn't involve a murder or kidnapping—instead, it investigates one of the most infamous art heists in history. Last Seen, a collaboration between WBUR and The Boston Globe, looks at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, a case that has gone unsolved for 28 years.

The story begins on March 18, 1990, when two thieves posing as policemen infiltrated the Boston art museum and stole 13 paintings off the walls. The works are from such master artists as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Manet, and are estimated to have a cumulative value exceeding $600 million.

The scope of the heist alone would have made it historically significant, but the story became even more interesting after the crime was committed. The case never moved forward, despite a drawn-out investigation and a $10 million reward for the return of the stolen pieces. That didn't mean there weren't suspects: Two unnamed men were identified, but they were killed shortly after the theft, and according to the popular theory, information regarding the location of the stolen artworks died with them.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum case is still filled with mysteries, but the new podcast aims to make the story a little clearer. Hosted by WBUR producers and reporters Kelly Horan and Jack Rodolico, and with contributions from Stephen Kurkjian, who spent years covering the heist for The Boston Globe, Last Seen follows the saga from the night the crime was committed to today. It features interviews with investigators who worked on the case and people who were employed by the museum in the early 1990s, some of whom have never before agreed to speak publicly on the subject.

The first episode of Last Seen debuted on WBUR September 17, and the series will include 10 episodes in total.

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