Exhibition of Rare Da Vinci Notebook Opens in Dublin

He painted what is perhaps the world's most famous portrait, he was recognized as a successful engineer and anatomist during his lifetime, and more recently, he lent his name to the title of a popular and very controversial book.

Leonardo da Vinci's fame spans centuries, and now Dublin-based admirers of the artist and polymath (as well as fans of the blockbuster novel, The Da Vinci Code), will have a chance to see one reason why this is the case.

The Codex Leicester notebook, written by Leonardo between 1506 and 1510, is now on display at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. The manuscript -- comprising 36 pages in all -- offers a rare, firsthand insight into the Renaissance thinker's mind, focusing particularly on his scientific interests.

In an interview with ABC News, Professor Martin Kemp of the University of Oxford -- a leading authority on Leonardo -- said that "this notebook gives the clearest sense of Leonardo's thinking about what he called 'the body of the earth'."

"Leonardo's view was not static, he saw the earth as a living organism, a dynamic organism, and it's this view that is fully explored in the Codex Leicester notebook," said Kemp.

The manuscript focuses on a variety of subjects related to the earth's geography, as well as the properties of water, light, air, rocks, and fossils. It also includes over 300 ink illustrations and diagrams, many showing experiments carried out by the artist.

Several of the experiments in the Codex Leicester notebook actually highlight Leonardo's ability as an engineer. They include designs to make bridges stronger and help cities cope with flooding.

All of this goes to show just how far removed the 16th-century genius was from the now popular ideal of the artist as daydreamer. Instead, he lived up to his reputation as a true Renaissance man.

Dr. Michael Ryan, Director of the Chester Beatty Library, told ABC News that "Leonardo da Vinci was extremely rational, practical, and frankly, brilliant. He read widely and was very knowledgeable on matters related to engineering and the sciences."

Ryan said that he expected "the exhibition to attract a wide audience, given the strong interest in Leonardo today."

But what of the other Da Vinci -- the one Dan Brown portrayed in his book The Da Vinci Code? Could the success of that work attract a different kind of visitor to the exhibition?

Art historian, David Hemsoll, based at the University of Birmingham doesn't think so.

"The organizers of the exhibition aren't making much of Dan Brown's trivial book, and there's no reason they should!" Hemsoll told ABC News.

Ryan said: "I personally have no interest in Dan Brown's work."

"But," he conceded, ""if it brings people to the exhibition, then I suppose that's a good thing."

Given the wide range of Leonardo's interests, is it too much to expect that this exhibition will attract a similarly varied group of visitors?

Hemsoll certainly thinks so. "I wouldn't expect hordes to come and see this exhibition," he said."The Codex Leicester notebook is primarily interesting as a scientific document. It throws no light on Leonardo as an artist."

Despite his reservations, however, the notebook is well traveled, having been exhibited in the Vatican as well in France and Japan. After being displayed in Dublin, it will travel to a different country next year.

The security arrangements around the exhibition are expected to be unusually tight, practically airport-level according to some reports. But Ryan insisted that "although security measures will be strict, this level of security is not unprecedented, particularly when you are dealing with such a rare exhibit."

In fact, the Codex Leicester notebook is the only manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci that is owned privately. And its owner is none other than the world's richest man, Bill Gates, who acquired the notebook in 1994 for the princely sum of $31 million.

To ensure that the fragile, 500-year-old manuscript continues to have a long life, the organizers of the exhibition plan to showcase its delicate pages in special climate-controlled cases, regulating the degree of light it is exposed to.

Of course, this may mean that visitors may not be able to get a close view of the content of this rare notebook, but, according to Ryan, that is a small price to pay for the opportunity to see such a remarkable work.

And, should fans of Dan Brown wish to scrutinize Leonardo's notebook, Ryan won't be barring the doors shut.

"The world," he acknowledged to ABCNews.com, "seems to be divided into Dan Brown lovers and haters. And being a public institution, it's not our mission to divide the audience."

And what, ABCNews.com asked him, would Leonardo have made of this unexpected viewership of his work?

Dr Ryan replied, "It would be presumptuous of me to imagine the workings of his brilliant mind… but I daresay he would have aspired to writing classic English prose, not the stuff of popular fiction!"