#ArtWednesday: Leonardo da Vinci, Part 3 of 4

Study of horses c. 1490 Silverpoint on prepared paper, 250 x 187 mm Royal Library, Windsor Leonardo displays considerable delicacy in the modelling of the outer surface of the horse, and this combines with a confidence in its figural design. Since the Adoration of the Magi Leonardo had become particularly interested in horses, and this is documented by a large number of studies of their proportions and movements.

Study of horses
c. 1490
Silverpoint on prepared paper, 250 x 187 mm
Royal Library, Windsor
Leonardo displays considerable delicacy in the modelling of the outer surface of the horse, and this combines with a confidence in its figural design. Since the Adoration of the Magi Leonardo had become particularly interested in horses, and this is documented by a large number of studies of their proportions and movements.

Leonardo da Vinci’s talents and gifts were so massive, so encompassing and his contribution to the world so great, Art Wednesday will spend the next 4 Wednesdays to do his works and him justice.

Leonardo’s many extant drawings, which reveal his brilliant draftsmanship and his mastery of the anatomy of humans, animals, and plant life, may be found in the principal European collections; the largest group is at Windsor Castle in England. Probably his most famous drawing is the magnificent Self-Portrait (c. 1510-13, Biblioteca Reale, Turin).

Because none of Leonardo’s sculptural projects was brought to completion, his approach to three-dimensional art can only be judged from his drawings. The same strictures apply to his architecture; none of his building projects was actually carried out as he devised them. In his architectural drawings, however, he demonstrates mastery in the use of massive forms, a clarity of expression, and especially a deep understanding of ancient Roman sources.

Studies of central plan buildings - Pen and ink on paper, 23 x 16 cm Institut de France, Paris. The picture shows fol. 17v of Manuscript B. It has been proposed that the central plan designs in Manuscript B were originally to be used in a collection of architectural plans. In addition to ground plans and elevations common until then, there are mainly aerial perspectival views, which were a novelty in the field of architectural drawing. However, Vitruvius had already introduced them as a third form of architectural depiction in "De Architectura", his ten books on architecture.

Studies of central plan buildings

Pen and ink on paper, 23 x 16 cm
Institut de France, Paris.
The picture shows fol. 17v of Manuscript B.
It has been proposed that the central plan designs in Manuscript B were originally to be used in a collection of architectural plans. In addition to ground plans and elevations common until then, there are mainly aerial perspectival views, which were a novelty in the field of architectural drawing. However, Vitruvius had already introduced them as a third form of architectural depiction in “De Architectura”, his ten books on architecture.

As a scientist Leonardo towered above all his contemporaries. His scientific theories, like his artistic innovations, were based on careful observation and precise documentation. He understood, better than anyone of his century or the next, the importance of precise scientific observation.

Unfortunately, just as he frequently failed to bring to conclusion artistic projects, he never completed his planned treatises on a variety of scientific subjects. His theories are contained in numerous notebooks, most of which were written in mirror script. Because they were not easily decipherable, Leonardo’s findings were not disseminated in his own lifetime; had they been published, they would have revolutionized the science of the 16th century.

Leonardo actually anticipated many discoveries of modern times. In anatomy he studied the circulation of the blood and the action of the eye. He made discoveries in meteorology and geology, learned the effect of the moon on the tides, foreshadowed modern conceptions of continent formation, and surmised the nature of fossil shells.

Studies of crabs - Drawing Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne.

Studies of crabs

Drawing
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne.

He was among the originators of the science of hydraulics and probably devised the hydrometer; his scheme for the canalization of rivers still has practical value. He invented a large number of ingenious machines, many potentially useful, among them an underwater diving suit. His flying devices, although not practicable, embodied sound principles of aerodynamics.

A creator in all branches of art, a discoverer in most branches of science, and an inventor in branches of technology, Leonardo deserves, perhaps more than anyone, the title of Homo Universalis, Universal Man.

Studies of Nature

Pure depictions of landscape, in other words of depicting directly observed nature, were a complete novelty during Leonardo’s time. While imitating nature was the central task of artists at the time, none of them had until then been so rigorous as to go out into the open and draw an actual landscape. Instead, it was customary to create a landscape in the workshop with the aid of sketches or elements copied from models.

Landscape drawing for Santa Maria della Neve on 5th August 1473 1473 Pen and ink, 190 x 285 mm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. The landscape drawing probably shows the view from Montalbano onto the Valdinievole area and the swamps of Fucecchio. It is the first artistic work of Leonardo's that is dated and can definitely be attributed to him, and is at the same time a real rarity: it appears to be the first known depiction of a landscape in Italian art that reproduces an actually existing section of a landscape in an original drawing. The depiction of the tongue of hills with the fortress, the lines of which partially cover the previously drawn landscape, is a later addition on the part of Leonardo. It was not drawn at the original location. There are also weaknesses in the way the fortress is connected into the scene perspectively, for it is not standing horizontally on the ground. The striking waterfall also appears to be a later addition. It is produced using plain yet powerful strokes, making it unlikely that this was a concrete observation. The water is falling into a pond, the extent of which is peculiarly undefined.

Landscape drawing for Santa Maria della Neve on 5th August 1473
1473
Pen and ink, 190 x 285 mm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
The landscape drawing probably shows the view from Montalbano onto the Valdinievole area and the swamps of Fucecchio. It is the first artistic work of Leonardo’s that is dated and can definitely be attributed to him, and is at the same time a real rarity: it appears to be the first known depiction of a landscape in Italian art that reproduces an actually existing section of a landscape in an original drawing.
The depiction of the tongue of hills with the fortress, the lines of which partially cover the previously drawn landscape, is a later addition on the part of Leonardo. It was not drawn at the original location. There are also weaknesses in the way the fortress is connected into the scene perspectively, for it is not standing horizontally on the ground. The striking waterfall also appears to be a later addition. It is produced using plain yet powerful strokes, making it unlikely that this was a concrete observation. The water is falling into a pond, the extent of which is peculiarly undefined.

Study sheet with cats, dragon and other animals 1513-15 Pen, ink, black chalk on paper, 271 x 204 mm Royal Library, Windsor.

Study sheet with cats, dragon and other animals
1513-15
Pen, ink, black chalk on paper, 271 x 204 mm
Royal Library, Windsor.

The landscape was seen as an accessory designed to support the central subject in compositions of the time, the human figure. Thus Leonardo’s drawings depicting real Italian landscapes are of great importance.

During classical times, plants were studied mainly because of their healing powers, but during the Christian Middle Ages a symbolic dimension was added to it. (For example, the lily appears as a symbol of the purity of Mary in paintings of the Annunciation.) In his early paintings Leonardo also used symbolic plants to extend the visual syntax.

Lily (detail) 1480-85 Pe and ink, black chalk on paper, 314 x 177 mm Royal Library, Windsor. The outline of the lily is perforated for transferring the drawing to a wood panel.

Lily (detail)
1480-85
Pe and ink, black chalk on paper, 314 x 177 mm
Royal Library, Windsor.
The outline of the lily is perforated for transferring the drawing to a wood panel.

Fruit, vegetables and other studies 1487-89 Pen and ink on paper, 235 x 176 mm Institut de France, Paris. The pods and fruit are painted in colour over an ink blot. This "watercolour" is unique amongst Leonardo's surviving works on paper and can, together with the lunettes of the Last Supper, be considered a precursor of the still-life genre. The sheet is part of the oldest remaining manuscript by Leonardo. In addition to architectural studies, the codex also contains designs for military equipment and flying machines.

Fruit, vegetables and other studies
1487-89
Pen and ink on paper, 235 x 176 mm
Institut de France, Paris.
The pods and fruit are painted in colour over an ink blot. This “watercolour” is unique amongst Leonardo’s surviving works on paper and can, together with the lunettes of the Last Supper, be considered a precursor of the still-life genre.
The sheet is part of the oldest remaining manuscript by Leonardo. In addition to architectural studies, the codex also contains designs for military equipment and flying machines.

In the 1490s his awakened interest in anatomy and proportion, visible in his studies of horses, altered fundamentally his study of botany. In order to understand the process of genesis and growth, Leonardo moved his attention from the appearance of the shape and began to investigate the influences on plants of light, earth and water. He grew to realize the importance of water for the nutrition of plants and was able to explain the various shapes of roots in terms of the varying capacity of soils to store water.

Drawings of engineering themes

Leonardo was associated with engineering projects in all his life. In 1482 he offered his abilities in a letter to Lodovico Sforza, in ten points he presented himself as a designer and inventor of war machines – of movable bridges, battering rams, scaling ladders, mines, explosive devices, cannon and guns, naval arms, tunnels, armoured vehicles, catapults, projectiles and other things – as well as an architect of public and private buildings and water pipes. In his final years in France he dealt with architectural projects as well as hydrological projects intended for several French rivers.

Cannon foundry 1487 Pen and ink on paper Royal Library, Windsor. The project for casting a gigantic cannon leads us to assume that Leonardo was familiar with the customary process for casting cannon. The heavy cannon was to be moved by means of levers and block and tackle, then to be mounted on a moving undercarriage. Even though this is merely a drawing on a technical subject, one can clearly see what an enormous effort the figures are having to make to shift the weight.

Cannon foundry
1487
Pen and ink on paper
Royal Library, Windsor.
The project for casting a gigantic cannon leads us to assume that Leonardo was familiar with the customary process for casting cannon. The heavy cannon was to be moved by means of levers and block and tackle, then to be mounted on a moving undercarriage. Even though this is merely a drawing on a technical subject, one can clearly see what an enormous effort the figures are having to make to shift the weight.

Study of water c. 1513 Pen and ink on paper, 154 x 216 mm Royal Library, Windsor. Even when Leonardo was working on technical subjects, he never lost sight of his interests as a painter: the water studies, and the note in which he comments on similarities between the fall of the hair and the movements of the water, appear to have been expressed visually in the hair of the St John the Baptist in the Louvre.

Study of water
c. 1513
Pen and ink on paper, 154 x 216 mm
Royal Library, Windsor.
Even when Leonardo was working on technical subjects, he never lost sight of his interests as a painter: the water studies, and the note in which he comments on similarities between the fall of the hair and the movements of the water, appear to have been expressed visually in the hair of the St John the Baptist in the Louvre.

Leonardo dealt with themes that had been considered by engineers before him and usually also written about in treatises. Nonetheless, Leonardo the engineer remains an exciting figure, for his method of developing machines is one that can still be called exemplary today.

He made a systematic study of the flying movements of birds and investigated the anatomy of the wing. He also studied general forms of movement in nature and understood that motion was the result of force and counterforce. He studied the element of air, and conducted extensive studies of water.

Drawings of Water Lifting Devices 1480-82 Drawing Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan. From the Codex Atlanticus. Leonardo was involved in several engineering projects, for irrigation, drainage and digging canals.

Drawings of Water Lifting Devices
1480-82
Drawing
Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan.
From the Codex Atlanticus.
Leonardo was involved in several engineering projects, for irrigation, drainage and digging canals.

Canal bridge c. 1495 Pen and ink on paper, 27 x 20 cm Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan. On this sheet (Codex Atlanticus, fol. 126v) Leonardo designed a canal bridge crossing over a second water course flowing beneath it. A lock would be used to enable a ship to pass from one to the other despite the height difference.

Canal bridge
c. 1495
Pen and ink on paper, 27 x 20 cm
Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan.
On this sheet (Codex Atlanticus, fol. 126v) Leonardo designed a canal bridge crossing over a second water course flowing beneath it. A lock would be used to enable a ship to pass from one to the other despite the height difference.

As a canal engineer, he built canals, bridges and locks and therefore had to understand the effects of forces such as whirlpools, surface eddies and rates of flow, as these had an effect on the direction of flow. Comparative phenomena can also be observed in the air. The science of winds, which Leonardo studied by observing water, helped him the understand air thermals.

Flying machine c. 1487 Metalpoint, pen and ink on paper, 235 x 176 mm Institut de France, Paris.

Flying machine
c. 1487
Metalpoint, pen and ink on paper, 235 x 176 mm
Institut de France, Paris.

Above: Manuscript page: Codex B, fol. 180r.

Next to the car, the flying machine was one of mankind’s great dreams and it is, therefore, not surprising that the inventive Leonardo should have devoted himself to this problem as well. His flying machines underwent several developmental stages. The machine illustrated here was meant to be powered by the muscle power of a man standing upright. He had to move the pairs of wings, that beat crosswise on top of each other, up and down like those of a bird. If built, the machine would have been so heavy that it would have been completely unsuitable for flight. Leonardo recognized this problem and attempted to reduce the weight by using lighter materials.

Automobile 1478-80 Metalpoint, pen and brush on paper, 27 x 20 cm Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan

Automobile
1478-80
Metalpoint, pen and brush on paper, 27 x 20 cm
Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan

Above: Codex Atlanticus, fol. 812r.

The automobile that Leonardo attempted to power with a modified clockwork mechanism is one of his best-known inventions. It was not, however, an invention in the strict sense of the word, for other engineers before him had also made attempts to produce a self-powered vehicle. It is probable that Leonardo was familiar with these studies, though it is remarkable how intense Leonardo’s research of this technical phenomenon was.

Drawing of a flying machine c. 1485 Pen and ink on paper, 23 x 16 cm Bibliothèque de l'Institut de France, Paris

Drawing of a flying machine
c. 1485
Pen and ink on paper, 23 x 16 cm
Bibliothèque de l’Institut de France, Paris

Next week, Art Wednesday featuring Part 4 of Leonardo da Vinci.

On the Web:

Leonardo da Vinci – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.com

Leonardo da Vinci – Biography.com

Leonardo da Vinci and the Virgin of the Rocks, A different point of view

Da Vinci Decoded Article from The Guardian

Works by or about Leonardo da Vinci

References for the Art Wednesday 4-part series:

My personal notes and papers when I was working at the Louvre, Paris completing my Master of Arts and my international art master’s degree.

Frank Zollner (2003). Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Drawings. Taschen.

Martin Kemp (2004). Leonardo. Oxford University Press.

Theophilus (1963). On Divers Arts. U.S.: University of Chicago Press.

Angela Ottino della Chiesa (1967). The Complete Paintings of Leonardo da Vinci. Penguin Classics of World Art series.

Fritjof Capra (2007). The Science of Leonardo. U.S.: Doubleday.

Müntz, Eugène (1898). Leonardo da Vinci. Artist, Thinker, and Man of Science. Volume 1. London: William Heinemann.

Müntz, Eugène (1898). Leonardo da Vinci. Artist, Thinker, and Man of Science. Volume 2. London: William Heinemann.

Leonardo da Vinci: anatomical drawings from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1983.

Fred Bérence (1965). Léonard de Vinci, L’homme et son oeuvre. Somogy. Dépot légal 4° trimestre 1965.

Crash

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