Detail infra-red reflectogram mosaic of the Virgin of the Rocks, by Leonardo da Vinci and collaborators,
c. 1491-1508, National Gallery, London
The Society was founded by the late Kenneth Keele, who combined a distinguished career in medicine with important research into the work of Leonardo. Officers have included Sir Ernst Gombrich and Martin Kemp. It is notable that, while all three scholars could correctly be described as experts on the work of Leonardo, none of them was or is a specialist on Leonardo in the sense of carrying out research only into the work of Leonardo. That, of course, also tells one something about Leonardo.
The Leonardo da Vinci Society is well established as providing a forum for those interested in Leonardo or more generally in the aspects of the culture of his time to which he contributed. The Society's interests also extend to the Art/Science overlap in other periods (due account being taken of the historical evolution of both the terms concerned). See recent reviews and publications in the newsletter. ^
The Leonardo da Vinci Society would welcome new members. To become a member, complete and post the membership form PDF or MS Word document. If you pay income tax in the UK, please also consider completing the Gift Aid portion of the membership form. For further information about membership, please contact one of the following committee members:
President, Dr J. V. Field, Department of History of Art & Screen Media, Birkbeck College 43 Gordon Sq., London WC1H 0PD, UK; tel & fax +(44) (0)20 7736 9198, email: jv.field(at)hist-art.bbk.ac.uk.
Vice President, Professor Francis Ames-Lewis, Department of History of Art & Screen Media, Birkbeck College; home address: 52 Prebend Gardens, London W6 0XU, UK; tel & fax +(44) (0)20 8748 1259, email: f.ames-lewis(at)hist-art.bbk.ac.uk.
Secretary and Treasurer, Mr Tony Mann, School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences; The University of Greenwich; Maritime Greenwich University Campus, 30 Park Row, Greenwich, London SE10 9LS, UK; tel. +(44) (0)20 8331 8709, fax: +(44) (0)20 8331 8665, email: a.mann(at)gre.ac.uk.
Publicity, Web Management and Newsletter Editor, Dr Matthew Landrus, Research Fellow, Wolfson College, History Faculty, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX2 6UD, UK, and at the Rhode Island School of Design; UK tel 0753 094 2043; US tel (001) (401) 374 4159; email: matthew.landrus(at)history.ox.ac.uk.
Dr Monica Azzolini, School of History, Classics & Archeology; University of Edinburgh; William Robertson Building, 50 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JY, UK; tel. +44 (0)131 650 9964, fax: +44 (0)131 651 3070, email: m.azzolini(at)ed.ac.uk.
Dr Juliana Barone, Department of History of Art & Screen Media, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Sq., London WC1H 0PD, UK; email: juliana.barone(at)btinternet.com.
Ms Noël-Ann Bradshaw, School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences; The University of Greenwich; Maritime Greenwich University Campus, 30 Park Row, Greenwich, London SE10 9LS, UK; tel. +(44) (0)20 8331 8454, fax: +(44) (0)20 8331 8665, email: n.bradshaw(at)gre.ac.uk.
Dr Jill Burke, School of Arts, Culture and Environment; University of Edinburgh; 20 Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JZ, UK; tel. +44 (0)131 650 4124, fax: +44 (0)131 650 8019, email: jill.burke(at)@ed.ac.uk.
Dr Frank A.J.L. James, Royal Institution Centre for the History of Science and Technology, Royal Institution of Great Britain, 21 Albemarle Street, London W1X.4BS, UK; email: fjames(at)ri.ac.uk.
Dr Nick Lambert, Department of History of Art & Screen Media, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Sq., London WC1H 0PD, UK; email: nick.lambert(at)gmail.com.
The Leonardo da Vinci Society is a registered charity, no 1012878. ^
Within the history of art Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519) represents 'science' and within the history of science he represents art.
On the trivial level this means that many art historians take it for granted that his anatomical or optical drawings are correct (that is, in accord with twentieth-century views) while historians of science are sometimes at least equally impressionable, being dazzled by the beauty of the drawings with which they are confronted.
In Leonardo's work we are seeing into a culture in which academic specialisations make a map very different from that of our own time, and in which, moreover, there is a considerable degree of social separation between a tradition of university learning, and a tradition of practical skills, despite a notable degree of overlap in subject matter. Nor is the advantage all to the person who is 'learned' in the sense of having university training or being able to read Latin. For instance, in Italy, when it comes to geometry or arithmetic, we may not assume that the fifteenth- or sixteenth-century 'scholar' knew more than the 'craftsman'. Also, the practical tradition fares better than the theoretical one in providing lasting monuments to skill. The dome of Florence cathedral (nearly finished when its designer, Filippo Brunelleschi, died in 1446) now looks much more impressive than fifteenth-century astronomical theories - and not only to non-specialists.
Since history of art is a better established discipline than history of science, Leonardo has in fact chiefly been studied from the art side, though (for instance) his innovatory methods of illustration, such as his use of an 'exploded' view, clearly had an influence well beyond the realm of what would now be called fine art.
newsletter containing news, reviews and bibliographies, copies of which are available here. Suggestions of material, such as forthcoming conferences, symposia and other events, exhibitions, publications and so on, that would be of interest to members of the Society for inclusion in this Newsletter should be sent to: Matthew Landrus, Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter, Wolfson College, Oxford, OX2 6UD, United Kingdom; tel +(44) (0)7530 942043; email: matthew.landrushistory.ox.ac.uk. ^
The 2014 AGM was on Friday, 9 May at 5:30 pm at the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House.
At 6 pm, Dr Ashok Roy (National Gallery) discussed:
In comparison with other great painters of the European tradition, our understanding of Leonardo da Vinci's technical practices for his easel paintings has advanced quite slowly in the 20th and 21st centuries. This is partly because of the rarity of his autograph works, their often unfinished nature, and the relative infrequency of conservation treatments of Leonardo's paintings and, therefore, a lack of opportunity for accompanying scientific study under favourable conditions. The full-scale conservation treatments of the Virgin of the Rocks in London (at the National Gallery between 2009–11) and the Virgin and Child with St Anne (at the Musée du Louvre, carried out at Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France [C2RMF] between 2010–2012), both of which involved comprehensive technical study in support of conservation, have changed the state of this knowledge decisively. At the same time further recent studies of Leonardo's painted work by technical experts around the world have intensified and the results of these investigations, many of which have now appeared in print, have contributed significantly to a more integrated and scientifically-grounded view of Leonardo as a practitioner. This talk will deal with recent developments and newer assessments of Leonardo's technical procedures.
A PDF poster/announcement of the lecture is here.
Dr Ashok Roy, Director of Scientific Research at the National Gallery; Photograph: NGB
The Universal Leonardo web site (www.universal leonardo.org) is a resource on Leonardo da Vinci. Universal Leonardo is a programme of European exhibitions, scientific research and web resources on Leonardo organised by Artakt, Central Saint Martins College of Art ad Design, the University of the Arts London. Universal Leonardo is co-directed by Prof Marina Wallace, Central Saint Martins, and Prof Martin Kemp, University of Oxford. Highlights of the web site include an interactive timeline at the top of each page visualising the thematic links and interconnections in Leonardo's works over time; images revealing scientific analyses results carried out on The Madonna of the Yarnwinder (The Lansdowne Madonna); interactive games; a gallery of more than 100 zoomable images of Leonardo's works and exhibition details. ^
This is a significant update to a book published in 2010 by Pascal Cotte and Martin Kemp, on an exceptional portait on vellum executed in inks and coloured chalks. This article offers evidence of the original location of the portrait in the Warsaw Sforziad. Beginning its journey as a German 19th-century pastiche in 1998, the portrait on vellum is now considered one of the works by Leonardo, about which we know most in terms of its patronage, subject, date, original location, function and innovatory technique. The article is here. ^
This is a thorough historical assessment, as of May 2014, of the Warsaw Sforziad by Katarzyna Woźniak. As part of a larger project on this incunabulum and its possible association with La Bella Principessa, this essay is the first major historical study of the Warsaw Sforziad, developed with the help of archival evidence and previously unknown documents. The article is here. ^
ART AND SCIENCE IN THE ITALIAN
It is essentially due to what today's historians would regard as an ill chosen set of categories that Leonardo, that is his historical persona, has become a symbol for the meeting of Art and Science, though his activities are indeed unusually multifarious even by the standards of his own time. However, if the categories of Art and Science are defined in twentieth-century terms, Leonardo's work does indeed span them, and since 1990 the Leonardo da Vinci Society has organised an annual series of one-day conferences, in partnership with the Society for Renaissance Studies, on the general theme 'Art and Science in the Italian Renaissance'.
Topics treated have included anatomy, optics, engineering, maps, proportion, botany, Vitruvian studies and music. The liveliness of the discussions has tended to confirm that the Society is providing a useful opportunity for the meeting of minds, and helping historians of science, medicine, engineering, architecture and art to bridge the gaps that, since Leonardo's time, have opened up between the disciplines in which he took an active interest. Notes about previous meetings are in the Society newsletters and archives. ^
A symposium at the
S009. Leonardo da Vinci and the History of Science
Thu 25 July, 09:00–10:30 ▪ Location: Roscoe 3.5
J. V. Field | Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom
Matthew Landrus | University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Matthew Landrus | University of Oxford, United Kingdom
J. V. Field | Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom
Leonardo has often had an ambiguous treatment from historians. Historians of art have never dealt with anything that looks to them so ‘scientific’ and historians of science have never had to deal with diagrams that are so beguilingly beautiful. The difficulties are partly caused by the narrow specialisms of our day. In Leonardo’s time the pattern of division into recognised areas of specialised intellectual and practical work were very different. The obvious division is largely social: between university education, in Latin, and practical instruction, in the vernacular, but the borders seem to have been fairly porous (at least in Italy). Unlike university graduates, trained in the arts of the trivium and the qualdrivium (the four mathematical ones often called ‘sciences’), craftsmen were expected to make direct use of practical knowledge in their workplaces. In the practical world, ‘art’ also had a specialised meaning for the trades associated with guilds; for instance the wool guild was called the Arte della Lana. These changes in the meaning of the terms ‘art’ and ‘science’ can make it difficult to use “actors’ categories” properly, but whatever terms one uses it is clear that the intellectual map was very different from what it is today and that craftsmen (among them painters and sculptors) regularly brought considerable ‘scientific’ knowledge to their work.
In recent years some bridges have been built across today’s disciplinary divide, and the emergence of a healthier body of literature on Leonardo offers some opportunities to historians of science to integrate him into a viable image of the natural philosophy, mathematics, medicine and technology of his time - and, of course, to assess his possible contributions to what happened next.
J. V. Field | Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom
In the fifteenth century, technology (the crafts) was doing better than either natural philosophy or the sciences in producing works that still have something to say to the twenty-first century. We may contrast Brunelleschi's dome for Florence cathedral (still standing) with contemporary theories of the motion of the Sun (which could not correctly predict dates of equinoxes). Craftsmen, whose activities were attracting increasing attention from the learned, had much to teach scholars about the power of approximate, non-rigorous methods and the usefulness of focussed observation.
The paper addresses the state of Leonardo's research on natural science around 1508-12, with particular interest in the Codex Leicester and his studies of water, hydrology, astronomy, cosmology, fossils, geology, and more generally, the '"body" of the earth.
Traditional academic assessments of preliminary or unconstructed mechanical engineering projects often address the authors' intuitive approaches to this 'paper engineering'. Estimates for machine studies, compared with detailed calculations for practical engineering projects, were often rooted in similar systematic approaches. In both cases, structural intuitions and measured calculations often extended from standard assessments of proportional geometry. Standard systematic methods helped with updates to projects, from their initial stages to advanced stages. As reflections of antique engineering methods, Renaissance engineers valued these geometric standards for their supposed structural and stylistic reliability and permanence. The present discussion addresses Leonardo da Vinci's systematic approaches to the art of engineering and the means by which he responded to similar approaches in medieval and classical antiquity. Recognized in his plans for treatises on military and mechanical engineering, this work involved research on Greek and Roman systems of proportional geometry. To address a general question with regard to his engineering drawings: for what purposes were they developed? Evidence of their development with systematic proportional methods provides part of the answer.
Eduardo Kickhöfel | Universidade Federal de São Paulo (UNIFESP), Brazil
The Renaissance was a period dominated by the Aristotelian philosophy. Varchi, in the preface of second of his "Two lessons on painting and sculpture", says that science is "nothing more than the knowledge of the universal things, necessary and consequently eternal, obtained by demonstration", and art is "the disposition to make involving a true course of reasoning", following the definitions of Nicomachean Ethics. Toletus, in his "Commentary on Aristotle's Physics", divides the philosophy into speculative, practical and productive, following the beginning of the sixth book of Metaphysics. However, instead of the higher value given to the vita contemplativa in the Antiquity still present in the Middle Ages, Renaissance men like Salutati and Manetti gave new values to the vita activa, and craftsmen-writers like Alberti, Ghiberti and Martini aimed to elevate the value of their knowledge and their own social status. Different from the unlettered craftsmen, the craftsman imagined by them was a sort of lettered man who could work from the knowledge of principles and was able to speak about them. However, the definitions and the organizations of knowledge of the ancient texts were well established and clear. Leonardo da Vinci tried to surpass them and tried to identify art and science. After his education at Verrocchio's atelier, in Milan Leonardo began to study matters like optics, physics and anatomy. In the case of anatomy, Leonardo took a very distinctive path, separating himself progressively from the craftsmen and the physicians. Without the prejudices of the university professors, he did dissections, and for him the painter-anatomist had to know "the good draughtsmanship", "the knowledge of perspective", "the methods of geometrical demonstration and the method of calculation of the forces and power of the muscles". Using his art of drawing, his experience of dissection and his knowledge of mechanics, he could recreate the human figure "without seeing the living [and] without error". However, the definitions and the organizations of knowledge did not permit the synthesis Leonardo da Vinci was proposing. He did not have disciples as an anatomist. It is argued here that Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical studies are products of an active view of life, but still facing the limits of the Aristotelian philosophy present in the Renaissance. The natural philosophy, part of the speculative branch of philosophy, could be aided by the arts, but not directly elaborated by them.
A PDF of the programme is here.
The Leonardo da Vinci Society is a registered charity, number 1012878. ^
The Lives of Leonardo, edited by Thomas Frangenberg and Rodney Palmer, Warburg Institute, Nino Aragno Editore, Turin, 2013. Available at The School of Advanced Study, University of London.
Re-Reading Leonardo: The Treatise on Painting across Europe, 1550-1900, edited and introduced by Claire Farago, Ashgate, 2009.Available at Ashgate and Amazon.
Rise of the Image: Essays on the History of the Illustrated Art Book, edited by Rodney Palmer and Thomas Frangenberg, Ashgate, 2003. Available at Ashgate and Amazon.
Le armi e le macchine da guerra: il De re militari di Leonardo, by Matthew Landrus, Disegni di Leonardo dal Codice Atlantico 5, DeAgostini, 2010. Available on request from the author and at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.
The Correspondence of Michael Faraday, edited by Frank A.J.L. James, Volumes 1-6, The Institution of Engineering and Technology, 1991-2011. Available at The Institution of Engineering and Technology, and Amazon.
The Invention of Infinity: Mathematics and Art in the Renaissance, by J.V. Field, Oxford University Press, 1997. Available at Amazon.
Isabella and Leonardo: The Artistic Relationship Between Isabella D'Este and Leonardo Da Vinci, by Francis Ames-Lewis, Yale University Press, 2012. Available at Amazon.
Leonardo da Vinci and his circle: drawings in British collections, edited by Martin Kemp and Juliana Barone, Giunti, 2010. Available at Giunti.
Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Drawings, by Frank Zollner and Johannes NathanSpringer, 2003, 2011. Available at Amazon.Leonardo: Studies of Motion, by Juliana Barone, Disegni di Leonardo dal Codice Atlantico 8, DeAgostini, 2011. Available at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.
Lezioni dell'occhio, Leonardo da Vinci discepolo dell'esperienza, by Martin Kemp, Vita e Pensiero, 2004. Available at LibroCo.
Reactions to the Master: Michelangelo's Effect on Art and Artists in the Sixteenth Century, edited by Francis Ames-Lewis and Paul Joannides, Ashgate, 2003. Available at Ashgate and Amazon.
Re-Reading Leonardo: The "Treatise on Painting" Across Europe, 1550-1900, edited by Claire Farago, Ashgate, 2009. Available at Ashgate and Amazon.
Rethinking the High Renaissance (Visual Culture in Early Modernity), edited by Jill Burke, Ashgate, 2012. Available at Ashgate and Amazon. ^