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Click for da Vinci codices

The British Library can now offer virtual access to all the original Renaissance man's notes, reports Mark Chillingworth

British Library Turning the Pages 2.0 Leonardo da Vinci codices

British Library; www.bl.ukonlinegalleryttpttpbooks.html Free; 12-plus

The Da Vinci Code, the bestselling novel by Dan Brown, reignited interest in Leonardo da Vinci, artist, sculptor, scientist, engineer and all-round Renaissance thinker. And key stage 3 history teachers can reap the benefits. Now, for the first time since the 15th century, the British Library and Microsoft have reunited Leonardo's Codex Arundel and Codex Leicester notebooks.

The codices are part of a new Turning the Pages virtual book application from the national library, Turning the Pages 2.0. Art, history and science teachers can use them to demonstrate the significant developments made in their subject areas during the Renaissance and by Leonardo.

The codices offer unique glimpses of his personal studies, which included anatomy, geology, gravity, flight and optics. Together they form 7,000 pages of notes (written backwards), drawings and ideas, some of which were 500 years ahead of his time.

The British Library has used animation technology and high-quality scanning to turn the historic texts into virtual reality. The pages turn as real ones would and cast the same shadows.

The only major drawback is that you need Microsoft's new Vista system to access the Codex Leicester online: the text belongs to Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, who has lent it to the British Library for digitisation in a bit of marketing-led philanthropy.

Codex Arundel, the British Library's own treasure, is available on the existing Turning the Pages application that non-Vista operating system computers can access (and which also offers manuscripts by Jane Austen and Lewis Carroll, among others).

The reunited da Vinci codices on Turning the Pages 2.0 are an intuitive and rewarding experience - simply click on to the "view book" button and a historic document is there on the screen.

There is a host of fun and practical tools below the codices for rotating the title, zooming in on page detail, and a mirror tool that reverses da Vinci's writing. Notes can be made within the application and shared with the class and the wider Turning the Pages user community

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