The manuscript heritage of Leonardo is enormous. More than 4,000 folios, including those “isolated” and those collected in “codices” by Leonardo himself or by others in the form of a miscellaneous collection (Codex Atlanticus and Codex Trivulzianus both in Milan, A-M codices-collectively known as Paris Manuscripts- and Codex Ashburnham in Paris, Codex on the Flight of Birds in Turin, Codex Leicester in a private collection in USA, Codex Arundel and Codex Forster in London, Codex Windsor in Windsor, Codex Urbinas and Libro A in Vatican City, and the Codex Madrid in Madrid). This large spread of Leonardo’s manuscripts represents the fact that this heritage bequeathed by Leonardo to his student Francesco Melzi and later dispersed by his heirs has suffered significant losses and mutilations. In spite of everything, it is still so rich that its study constitutes a specialized branch of research, not only in the history of art, but in the history of science and culture in the broadest sense.

The three volumes of Codex Forster, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1487–1505 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). This Codex corresponds to five pocket notebooks bound into three volumes, they are known as the “Forster” Codices, after John Forster who bequeathed them to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1876.
List with a profile portrait, from the Codex Trivulzianus folio 30 recto, by Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1487–1490 (Biblioteca Trivulziana, Castello Sforzesco, Milan). This Codex originally included 62 sheets from which only 55 remain. The Codex Trivulzianus documents Leonardo’s attempts to improve his modest literary education, through long lists of learned words copied from authoritative lexical and grammatical sources. The manuscript also contains studies of military and religious architecture.
Studies for a building on a centralized plan, from the Codex Ashburnham folio 5 verso, by Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1492 (Bibliothèque de l’Institut de France, Paris). This Codex includes two volumes, taken out of Paris Manuscripts A and B and sold to the Earl of Ashburnham (hence its name), who returned them to Paris in 1890.
Codex Leicester folio 35 verso (left) and folio 2 recto (right), by Leonardo da Vinci, 1506–1510 (Private collection, United States). The Codex is named after Thomas Coke (later Earl of Leicester), who purchased it in 1719. This Codex includes 72 pages and a mixture of Leonardo’s observations and theories on astronomy, the properties of water, rocks, and fossils, air and celestial light. The topics addressed include: an explanation of why fossils of sea creatures can be found on mountains, hundreds of years before plate tectonics became an accepted scientific theory; the movement of water, which is the main topic of the Codex, including the flow of water in rivers and how it is affected by different obstacles put in its way, based on these observations he made recommendations about bridge construction and erosion; the luminosity of the Moon, Leonardo explained that the pale glow on the dark portion of the crescent Moon is caused by sunlight reflected from the Earth, a phenomenon that was proved 100 years later by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler. The Codex Leicester is put on public display once a year in a different city around the world.
Diving apparatus, from the Codex Arundel folio 2 verso, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1480–1518 (British Library, London). The Codex Arundel includes 283 pages of various sizes and focuses on a number of treatises on a variety of subjects, including mechanics and geometry. The name of the codex came from the Earl of Arundel, who acquired it in Spain in the 1630s. The codex is a collection of Leonardo’s manuscripts originating from every period in his working life, a span of 40 years from 1478 to 1518, and from Leonardo’s text, it appears that he gathered the pages together, with the intention of ordering and possibly publishing them. The Codex Arundel has been recognized as second in importance to the Codex Atlanticus (see pictures below).
The Treatise on Painting (Trattato della pittura) as it was published in 1651. This is an abridged version from the Codex Urbinas by Leonardo da Vinci written ca. 1530 (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City). The codex consists on an anthology of writings by Leonardo compiled after his death by his pupil Francesco Melzi. The main aim of the treatise was to argue that painting was a science. Leonardo began to write these manuscripts while he was in Milan under the service of Ludovico Sforza (between 1482 and 1499).

This manuscript heritage is presented as the documentation of an always new and critically unsatisfied experimental investigation on the entire breadth and complexity of the “natural” macrocosm: from pictorial art to sculpture, to architecture, to artifacts used for celebrations and ceremonies, from technology and military mechanics to cartography and topography, from mathematics and geometry to representative optics (perspective) and physiology, from applied mechanics to pure mechanics (the physical-dynamic theory of motion forces that, in Leonardo, broadened to encompass any natural phenomenon, from waters to winds, and even arose to cosmic and cosmogonic theory), from anatomy, which ranges from man to zoology and botany, to biology; and finally, in Leonardo’s last years, from geology to hydrology and aerology, with the visions and representations of the “Flood“, mainly oriented as representations of the future than a mythical past. In these documents we can observe how drawing adds and overcomes all the written annotations by Leonardo. Indeed, the meaning and value of drawing in Leonardo shows us the essence of the relationship between art and science in the sense that his total trust in experimental science and “mathematics” is reflected in the concept that he himself stated in one of his own annotations: “such true and real sciences belong to the mechanical kind, since they cannot reach perfection if it is not through manual activity”; and with the same concepts and terms he expresses his ideas about pictorial art: “and this in principle exists in the mind of its researcher and cannot reach perfection without the work of the hand”. Drawing then represents the essential conclusion and the visual communication of the mental processes, which is at the same time aroused by the “experiencing” of nature; it is the bivalent documentation of the experimental “process” and the phenomenon that has motivated it or, as Leonardo interpreted it, of the artistic creative “process” per se. At this point, any distinction, both in conception and form between “artistic” and “scientific” drawing loses value in the sense that any graphic manifestation by Leonardo combines both terms.

A deluge, black chalk, pen and ink, wash, by Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1517-1518, 16.2 x 20.3 cm (sheet of paper) (Windsor drawing 12380, Royal Collection, United Kingdom). In the last decade of his life Leonardo, fascinated by the power of water as a natural force to be exploited and feared, produced several drawings of “deluges”. In them, armies, cities, horses, trees and even mountains are helpless before the unleashed fury of storm and flood. In this particular drawing, rock pillars and constructions fell under the movement of the wind and finally collapse while some mountainous formations also feel the storm’s powerful force. In the very foreground (at the lower border of the drawing) a landscape stretches from side to side, still completely untouched by the events, as it reveals its vegetation and grounds. We can see in this drawing how Leonardo only wants to focus on the form and structure of the geological and atmospheric events driven by a scientific sense of observation. In fact, though these famous drawings have been traditionally regarded as visions of the apocalypse, as representations of the Flood, they are properly described or interpreted as scientific visions that describe the powerful movements of wind and storm. The inscription hidden among the clouds at the top reads: “Of rain. You will show the degrees of falling rain at various distances and of varying degrees of obscurity, and let the darkest part be closest to the middle of its thickness”.

The only possible distinction is exclusively practical: it is well known, even thanks to Leonardo’s own notes, his habit of carrying notebooks in which he was sketching and writing observations on anything that aroused his unlimited curiosity and reflections. It is also true that, throughout his life and at least from the Milanese period beginning in 1482, Leonardo compiled larger notebooks (up to folio size) dedicated more organically to specific themes, reproducing almost literally (or rather broadening and deepening) some scattered notes: among the most characteristic in this sense is the small Codex on the Flight of Birds, in the Royal Library of Turin, dated to the first years of the 16th century, in which he reproduced observations and reflections included in the folios of Codex L (between the 15th and 16th centuries) and in the miscellaneous Codex Atlanticus. Also one of the two codices in Madrid (number 8,937) is made up of two fascicles: one (more organic and so perfectly arranged in the relationship between text and figures, that it suggests a preparation for printing) is dedicated to mechanics applied to the elaboration of machines (some of a universal nature for the transmission of movement, others for specific use, especially in textiles), and the other fascicle dedicated to the theory of mechanical physics, giving special importance to the composition and decomposition of forces. The drawings of applied mechanics are very similar to others found on “miscellaneous” folios at the beginning and end of the Codex Atlanticus. In the same way, in the other Codex Madrid (8,936), with a varied content, in the final fascicle dedicated to the problems of the welding of the equestrian monument of Francesco Sforza there’s a magnificent drawing “from life” representing shoulders and horse legs, very close in their conception to the celebrated folios of the Codex Windsor dedicated to external and internal anatomy and the movements of the horse. All of this is evidence of the material and empirical nature of the distinction that we make today between what we call here “codices” (“notebooks”) and scattered folios, and here are also included those that were collected, haphazardly, towards the end of the 16th century by the sculptor Pompeo Leoni in the Codex Atlanticus today in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan, which contains more than 1,600 folios with about 1,700 drawings. The other important lot of scattered folios is the one that is kept in the Royal Collection of Windsor, in which there are abundant pages dedicated to anatomy and those that we have already mentioned on the Flood.

Notes on the position of a bird in flight in relationship to the wind, from the Codex on the flight of Birds folios 7 verso and 8 recto, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1505 (Biblioteca Reale, Turin). The codex comprises 18 folios and begins with an examination of the flight behavior of birds and proposes mechanisms for flight by machines. Leonardo constructed a number of these machines, and attempted to launch them from a hill near Florence. However, his efforts failed. The seventh and eight folios shown in the picture include diagrams of birds in flight and a brief description, for example, from folio 7: “Wingtip is turned toward the wind. This wing must be put above or below the wind along with the side of the tail and the rudder of the wing’s humorous”.
Drawing of the ironwork casting mold for the head of the Sforza Horse, from Codex Madrid Vol. II folio 156 verso and 157 recto, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1490s-1504, (Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid). In two volumes, the Codex Madrid vol. I (1490s) is mostly concerned with the science of mechanisms, while vol. II (1503–1504) includes miscellaneous drawings, maps of the Arno river relating to the project to divert its course and notes and drawings relating to the casting of the Sforza monument. The two volumes were brought to Spain by Pompeo Leoni, a sculptor in the court of Philip II. The two volumes contain 197 pages. The codices were inherited by Leonardo’s pupil and heir Francesco Melzi and over 50 years later Pompeo Leoni, a sculptor in the service of Philip II, purchased them from Melzi’s son Orazio and brought them to Spain.
Studies of the Fetus in the womb, from Codex Windsor (W.19102 recto), black chalk, sanguine, pen, ink wash on paper, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1478–1518 (Royal Collection, Windsor, United Kingdom). The drawings forming this codex were pasted into an album by Pompeo Leoni, probably entered the English royal collection during the reign of Charles II, and were removed from their binding in the 19th century. The folio pictured above correctly depicts the human fetus in its proper position inside a dissected uterus. Leonardo also correctly drew the uterine artery and the vascular system of the cervix and vagina. To prepare these drawings, Leonardo studied human embryology with the help of anatomist Marcantonio della Torre and saw the fetus within a dissected cadaver.
Giant crossbow, from Codex Atlanticus folio 149 recto, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1478–1519 (Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan). A codex compiled in 12 volumes including 1119 pages, it was collated in the 16th century by the sculptor Pompeo Leoni and is the largest and most important of the codices by Leonardo we know to this date as it covers Leonardo’s entire professional career through Florence, Milan, Rome, and Paris. The pages are in various sizes, from folded sheets to minute fragments. The name of the codex (“Atlanticus”) indicates the large paper used to preserve original Leonardo notebook pages, which was used for atlases. The Codex Atlanticus covers a great variety of subjects, from flight to weaponry to musical instruments and from mathematics to botany and including studies and sketches for paintings. The drawing of the Giant Crossbow (probably made in 1480-1482) represents an enlarge type of the same shooting weapon, though it was never constructed by its designer, it was instead built to a scale of 1:1 for a documentary in 2003 for the British public TV. The original idea of Leonardo, as described in these drawings, was to build a giant crossbow in order to increase the range of the dart. It was purposed to be used to fire rocks and bombs, and thus it was mostly intended as an intimidation-based weapon. The preparation of the design was likely linked to Ludovico Sforza, who wanted to expand and advance both his military and the Milan region. Leonardo was the first modern engineer to attempt to apply the geometrical mathematics of the laws of motion to the design of machines.

Of course, there are many other drawings that refer exclusively to Leonardo’s activity as a painter and that are kept, apart from those of the Codex Windsor, in Italian drawing cabinets (especially in the Uffizi, in the Academy of Venice, in the Royal Library of Turin) and in other collections (especially in the Louvre), but at the same time we have many folios in which “ideas” and sketches coexist for executed or just projected paintings, “scientific” drawings, and others in which the mental link between “pictorial” activity and “knowledge” of nature is indivisible. At this level, a certain chronological distinction can be made in the manuscript heritage of Leonardo, also relying on the external circumstances of his life. In summary, in the first Florentine period, until the year 1481, the “artistic” character prevailed in these manuscripts, and in fact we have many loose folios related to the theme of the Virgin and Child and the Adoration of the Magi. In the first phase of the Milanese period, until the year 1499, parallel to Leonardo’s artistic activity, his multiple scientific and naturalist interests began to be specified and diversified, which often came to fruition in practical applications worthy of a great “machine-maker”, mostly due to the insistent requests of his patron Ludovico Sforza in all fields, from the military to the hydraulic and architectural: the first “codices”, A, B, C, H, I, M, Ashburnham, Forster date back to this period. Beginning in 1500, prevails the character of “naturalist philosopher” who investigates the macrocosm and the microcosm, although in the second Florentine period (1500-1506) it comes to coexist, together with the artistic character in the studies for Santa Ana with the Virgin and Child, the Battle of Anghiari and the Mona Lisa (many graphic studies refer to the first two works), the character of “engineer” and “geometer” working at the service of the Florentine Republic. In his old age, Leonardo, both in Rome and France, finds himself more and more immersed in the meditation and universal analysis of nature, even though his architectural interests were reborn while he was under the service of Francis I.

Aerial screw (left), from the Paris Manuscripts Codex B folio 83 verso, and Vertically standing bird’s-winged flying machine (right), from the Paris Manuscripts Codex B folio 80 recto, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1488–1505 (Bibliothèque de l’Institut de France, Paris). The Paris Manuscripts include 12 volumes with the codices known as A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H (including H1, H2 and H3), I (including I1 and I2), K (including K1, K2 and K3), L and M and are composed of more than 2,500 pages. In chronological order, these codices are: B (1488–1490, with 84 folios) — with designs for flying machines (including the “aerial screw”), a submarine, centrally-planned churches and war machines; C (1490–1491, with 28 folios) — treatise on light and shade, also discusses the flow of water and percussion; A (ca. 1492) — it is a fragment of a larger manuscript which included the Codex Ashburnham II, includes painting, perspective, water and mechanics; H (1493–1494, 142 folios) — it includes three pocket notebooks bound together and discusses Euclidean geometry and the design of drawing materials; M (late 1490s–1500, 48 folios) — a pocket notebook on geometry, ballistics and botany; L (1497–1502, 94 folios) — a notebook on military engineering, used by Leonardo when he was working under Cesare Borgia; K (1503–1508, 128 folios) — three pocket notebooks, mainly on geometry; I (1497–1505, 139 folios) — two pocket notebooks with notes on geometry, architecture, Latin, perspective and proportions for painters; D (1508–1509, 10 folios with 20 drawings) — discusses theories of vision; F (1508–1513, 96 folios) — discusses water, optics, geology and astronomy; E (1513–1514, originally 96 folios) — discusses weights and the effects of gravity, an invention for draining the Pontine Marshes, geometry, painting and the flight of birds; G (1510–1515, 93 folios) — primarily discusses botany. The design for an “aerial screw” (see picture above, left) was done in the late 1480s, while Leonardo was employed as a military engineer by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The “aerial screw” was one of several aerial machines drawn by Leonardo, including an early parachute, an ornithopter and a hang glider. The pen-and-ink sketch outlines an idea for a flying machine similar to a modern helicopter, with a spiral rotor or “aerial screw” based on a water screw, but intended to push against the fluid of the air instead of water.
Determining the volume of regular and irregular solids, from Codex Forster I folio 15 verso (left) and folio 16 recto (right), by Leonardo da Vinci, 1487–1505 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). The Codex Forster includes 5 volume pocket size notebooks (Forster I, II and III, and I1, I2 and II2). They include: I2 (Milan, ca. 1487–1490) — discusses hydraulic engineering, the moving and raising of water and perpetual motion; III (Milan, ca. 1490–1493) — notes on geometry, weights and hydraulics interspersed with sketches of horses’ legs, what might be designs for ball costumes and a description of the anatomy of the human head; II1 (Milan, ca. 1495) — notes on the theory of proportions and other miscellaneous material; II2 (Milan, 1495–1497) — notes on the theory of weights, traction, stresses and balances; I1 (Florence, 1505) — notes on the measurement of solid bodies and on topology.

Going back to the theme of the Virgin with the Child, belonging to the first Florentine period, we find a decided evolution from the Madonna of the Carnation of the Alte Pinakothek of Munich to the composition of the Virgin of the Rocks. This evolution can be followed in a series of numerous studies and sketches that represent, in a great variety of hypotheses of structures and dynamism, the studies of the Madonna and Child with a Cat. Regarding this, we have two annotations by Leonardo: “… 1478 I began the two Virgin Marys” (this annotation on a drawing that is preserved in the Uffizi), an “almost finished Virgin Mary and another Virgin Mary” (these in the inventory of his study, when he was on his way to Milan). Generally excluded from these references is the Madonna of the Carnation of Munich, which was in the style of Verrocchio’s workshop and consequently dated between 1478-1480. The only one of these Virgins that has been identified and accepted almost unanimously by Leonardo’s hands corresponds to one of the two Virgins cited by him and that is now known as Madonna “Benois” today in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. It is an unfinished work that represents the Virgin offering a flower to the Child in the dim light of a room lit only by the cold light coming through a small window located far behind them. Under that apparent delicacy and the rare spatial indeterminacy (especially uncommon for a Florentine artist), we also note the appearance of light and structural conceptions that break the mold of Verrocchio‘s influence in the sense of deepening and producing an intimate connection between movement and sentimental relationship among the two figures, and translated in terms of composition and light. It is a “Nordic” light, cold but enveloping with tenderness, that undoubtedly served as a prototype for the many works on a similar subject that were produced by Leonardo’s Lombard pupils, from Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio to Cesare da Sesto and Giampietrino.

Study of a child with a cat (facsimile), pen and ink on paper, by Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1478, 206 x 143 mm (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). A child and a cat are captured in the moments they play together. In this drawing, Leonardo proved to have a keen sense of observation and the ability to recognize characteristic moments and movement and sketch them swiftly. The studies demonstrate the manner in which Leonardo was working towards greater vividness and naturalness in his paintings and sharpening his observational skills.
Madonna with a Flower (also known as “Madonna Benois”), oil on  canvas transferred from wood, by Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1478, 50 x 32 cm (Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg). The painting is known as the “Madonna Benois” because of the family who previously owned it. Mary and her child appear to be engaged in playing, and their gazes make them appear lifelike to a degree that was very rarely found in contemporary Italian paintings of the Madonna, the child seems to be guiding his mother’s hands into his central vision to get a better view of the object she’s holding at him. Leonardo achieved this quality by means of studies from nature. This canvas demonstrates the newly developed method of chiaroscuro, a lighting/shading technique that made the figures appear three dimensional. The composition of this Madonna and Child was one of Leonardo’s most popular. It was extensively copied by young painters, including Raphael (see the Madonna of the Pinks, 1506-1507).

In its different graphic hypotheses is even more revolutionary the conception of the Madonna and Child with a Cat, perhaps the second Virgin to which Leonardo refers to, and whose painting has never been found: the presence of a “third element”, in this case the cat in addition to the Virgin and Child, is of fundamental importance for the purposes of the definitive dissolution of the graphic immobility of the Florentine tradition of the Virgin and Child theme (culminating in those years in the Virgins of Botticelli) and of the plastic-architectural tradition of the works by Piero della Francesca (who still made his influence felt in Perugino’s and in Raphael’s early works). The presence of this third element (the cat) opens up to the dynamics of space, the conciseness of the group with the initial two figures (the Virgin and the Child), and originates a whole series of balanced compensations which later will constitute the essence of the pyramidal and ellipse structures typical of the 16th century until reaching the “over imposed” system of the works by Michelangelo and the Mannerism, as well as introducing the counterpoints of psychological nature: the humanization of the divine by introducing the figure of the Child playing with the cat.

Indeed, in Leonardo’s last Florentine works before his departure to Milan, the sacred themes became the central point of reference (visual and symbolic) of a conceptual and spiritual vision that involved more aspects of the human and natural realities. Here are included two works that Leonardo left unfinished on the occasion of his departure to Milan in 1482: the Adoration of the Magi, today in the Uffizi, and Saint Jerome, currently in the Pinacoteca Vaticana. The great altarpiece of the Adoration was commissioned by the monks of San Donato di Scopeto in 1481. In the state in which Leonardo left this work, with a complete graphic description and with a partial monochrome indication of the masses, shadows and light, it’s more than enough to see it as a completely revolutionary work. In this painting Leonardo already began to propose and resolve, with awareness and determination, a large part of the artistic themes of the first decades of the 16th century: we just need to compare this work by a then 30 year old Leonardo, with a similar panel on the same subject by his contemporary Botticelli, at the Uffizi, only eight years older and also a fellow student in Verrocchio’s workshop.

Adoration of the Magi, watercolor, ink and oil on wood, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1481-1482, 244 x 240 cm (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). The 6 of January has for long been celebrated as the feast of Epiphany, the appearance of God amongst men in the form of Jesus Christ. Mankind is represented by the Three Kings, who arrived from their far away lands to pay homage to the newborn Messiah. The fall of the pagan world began at that same time, and Leonardo seems to have depicted this moment in this panel. It remained unfinished because Leonardo left Florence and moved to Milan, the reasons for that decision are not clearly known to this date. With this painting Leonardo declared his independence from Verrocchio’s workshop, and emerged with a fresh, personal style. The composition of this painting was influenced by an earlier work of Rogier van der Weyden, the Entombment of Christ (1460). The composition is constructed around a central, pyramidal grouping of figures (unlike the traditional linear composition of contemporary works), and, most significantly, Leonardo here incorporates lights and darks in the under-drawing of this painting. The figures are grouped in a circle around Mary and are expressing, with more or less vigorous gestures, their emotion at the first demonstration of divinity of the Christ Child. The painting also differs from the traditional way of depicting the Adoration in Florence by means of the puzzling scenes in the background, the equestrian battles and an unfinished staircase. Behind Mary and Jesus is a semicircle of accompanying figures, including what may be a self-portrait of the young Leonardo (on the far right). In the background on the left is the ruin of a pagan building, on which workmen can be seen, apparently repairing it. On the right are men on horseback fighting and a sketch of a rocky landscape. The ruins are a possible reference to the Basilica of Maxentius, which, according to Medieval legend, the Romans claimed would stand until a virgin gave birth. It is supposed to have collapsed on the night of Christ’s birth (in fact it was not even built until a later date). The palm tree in the center has associations with the Virgin Mary and is also a symbol of triumph. The other tree in the painting is from the carob family (Leguminosae), the seeds from the tree were used as a unit of measurement for valuable stones and jewels, thus this tree and its seeds were associated with crowns, suggesting Christ as the king of kings or the Virgin as the future queen of heaven. The painting was commissioned by the Augustinian monks of the convent of San Donato in Scopeto in Florence in 1481. After Leonardo’s departure to Milan, the commission of the painting was handed over to Filippino Lippi, who painted another Adoration of the Magi (1496), in substitution of the one commissioned to Leonardo.
Study for the Adoration of the Magi, pen and ink over silverpoint on paper, by Leonardo da Vinci, 1478-1481, 285 x 215 mm (Musée du Louvre, Paris). This compositional plan is clearly related to the panel of the Adoration of the Magi (see picture above), though the composition underwent several alterations before Leonardo decided on the final appearance of the painting.
Perspectival study of the Adoration of the Magi, pen and ink, traces of silverpoint and white on paper, by Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1481, 163 x 290 mm (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). In this study in central perspective, Leonardo worked out a background for the Adoration of the Magi (see picture above). In the center at the front there is already an indication of how Leonardo intended to achieve a connection between the perspectival space and the figural space: we can see some sketched rocks and grasses. In the panel he took this solution further, but decided to omit the planned roof construction, which would have been a reminder of the stable in Bethlehem.

In the Adoration of Leonardo all the rigidity posed by the graphic isolation of the figures and of the schematism of perspective have been decidedly abandoned and overcome by the relationship of plasticity and light treatment between the semicircular mass of worshipers and the sweetly emotional group of the Madonna and Child. This last is symbolically isolated by the treatment of the light, but it is reintegrated into the whole by the perfect “pyramidal” structure that has its base in the three Magi: the one kneeling on the right — towards which the Virgin and the Child turn their heads in order to counterbalance the whole—, and the Magi kneeling and prostrate on the left. Also at the two extremes, and reciprocally opposed, are two figures which presence would become the general rule in all pictorial compositions of the 16th century. From the large block of elements in the foreground, peremptorily closed by the human hemicycle over which stands, with an “eccentric” but brilliant placement, a leafy tree very similar to the portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci‘s juniper tree, the viewer’s gaze slides, without obstructing intermediate planes, to the images of the background, which are as revolutionary from a conceptual as well as from a pictorial point of view. The traditional parade of the procession of the Magi, decorative and representative of customs (see the famous Gozzoli fresco in the Medici-Riccardi Palace, only 20 years older) has here given way to a kind of free “spectacle” of nature and men, between rocks, battles on horseback, “postures” of naked figures… Codex A: “You will make the figures in the appropriate posture that serves to demonstrate what the figure carries in its soul”. There are also architectural ruins with complex intersections in perspective, which will be emulated and repeated in numerous 16th century paintings. This is already the visual manifestation of those principles of universality and omnipotence representative of the real world, which induced Leonardo to proclaim the “primacy” of painting (and therefore of the graphic representation) over all the other arts, or rather over “all human works”. In Codex A, which can be dated to 1492 a decade after the Adoration was painted, when Leonardo had already finished his Virgin of the Rocks, it is written: “But if we know that painting embraces and contains in itself all the things produced by nature and by the casual work of men and in short everything that can be covered with the eyes, it seems to me a mediocre master that who is only capable of making a single type of figure. Now, don’t you see how many and which acts are done only by men? Don’t you see how many different animals and trees, herbs, flowers, variety of mountainous and flat places, fountains, rivers, cities, public and private buildings, instruments suitable for man’s use, various habits and ornaments and devices there are? All these things must be used with the same technical skill and capacity by whoever wants to be considered a good painter”.

8 thoughts on “LEONARDO DA VINCI, part II

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