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Digitizing Leonardo da Vinci

CD-ROM: Leonardo da Vinci
Corbis, 1997
reviewed by Gary L. Wolfstone

Leonardo da Vinci CD-ROM box

Seattle Attorney Gary L. Wolfstone, who is the also the President and CEO of Seattle Web Design, Inc., appeals to Bill Gates and to the British Library not only to digitize the works of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) but also to distribute da Vinci's work freely on the World Wide Web.
According to Wolfstone, "Leonardo da Vinci belongs to the world, and the poet was right when he said 'June is free to the poorest comer.'"
In 1994, Bill Gates acquired the Codex Leicester (a collection of 36 folios penned by Leonardo da Vinci sometime between 1506 and 1510) and has recently released a CD-ROM for Windows or Macintosh through Corbis at a reatail price of $35.00
In contradistinction to Bill Gates' treasure, Codex Leicester (previously known as Codex Hammer), an even greater body of Leonardo's work resides in London. The British Library owns and is digitising Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook, known as Codex Arundel, numbering a massive 283 folios.
The British Library's treasure, Codex Arundel, was owned by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and passed with the Arundel Library to the British Royal Society in 1681. In 1831, The British Museum purchased the Arundel Library who subsequently conveyed its title to the Royal Society and then the British Library.
The Corbis CD-ROM is impressive because of its primary innovation: a computerized viewing tool which permits the user to examine English translations of the Codex superimposed onto facsimiles of its pages as one slides a bar from the top to bottom or bottom to top of the page.
This interpretive, computerized viewing tool has been formally named Codescope(TM) and is a registered trademark belonging to Corbis. Codescope not only reverses Leonardo's mirror writing from its original Renaissance Italian, but also transcribes and translates the artist's calligraphy.
The Italian passages are transformed into English, and the sliding bar turns the digitised images over, which remake Leonardo's characteristic mirror writing (left handed and moving from right to left) possible to read. Indeed, any literate child may now read the lively thoughts of this Renaissance man.
Wolfstone expresses the opinion that "We should allow Corbis to recover its investment. A few thousand sales at $35.00 per CD-ROM may be reasonable with a time limit of three years. Hence, Bill Gates turns a respectable profit and bridges the gap into the Twenty First Century."
The Codex Leicester belongs to all people who flesh out this notion we call Western Civilization.
Thanks to Bill Gates, the Codex Leicester was recently exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History. Bill Gates and Corbis allowed a display of the original manuscript, and Leonardo's Codex Leicester: A Masterpiece of Science was the main focus of the exhibit.
The Codex Leicester inspires people because it gives us insight into the mind of Leonardo's creative genuis in general and the scientific process in particular. The Codex embraces a wide variety of topics from astronomy to hydrodynamics, and includes Leonardo's observations and theories from rivers to seas; rocks and fossils; and celestial light.
The people who can afford to pay $35.00 for the Corbis CD-ROM are not necessarily the people whose imaginations could be stimulated by this resurrection of Leonardo da Vinci. True, Bill Gates owes a fiduciary duty to his shareholders to maximize profits; but he owes a greater duty to Western Civilization to widely disseminate the master's work so that it might become a beacon for moral navigation in the journey we know as scientific discovery.
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