Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter

editor:  Francis Ames-Lewis


Issue 8,  May 1996

Recent and forthcoming events


1996 Annual Lecture

The Society’s 1996 Annual Lecture was given in the Kenneth Clark lecture theatre at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, on Friday 17 May 1996 by Professor Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt (Institute of Fine Art, New York). Her title was ‘Leonardo and Sculpture’. That Leonardo’s own words and works emphasise the primacy of painting and disegno masks the strength of his responses to quattrocento sculpture. In a series of telling comparisons, Prof. Brandt demonstrated the importance of sculpture as the source of many of Leonardo’s stylistic and expressive means. Raised as he was in the workshop of a sculptor and painter, Leonardo’s consciousness of the processes of sculpture and the qualities of sculptural form was highly developed. His drawing practice, such as his ‘reiteration’ method for evolving invenzioni, developed out of the wide-ranging draughtsmanship of the Verrocchio workshop, there used for exploring both three-dimensional forms and their transcription to the two-dimensional surface. Nevertheless, Prof Brandt proposed, Leonardo’s drawing mode had less to do with sculptors’ drawings than with his responses to sciacciato relief, privileged because of all sculptural types this comes closest to painting. Depending on incision not excavation, sciacciato relief produced unified effects of landscape and atmosphere that Leonardo translated into his atmospheric sfumato.                     Prof Brandt drew telling parallels between both Leonardo’s angel in the Verrocchio workshop Baptism for S. Salvi and the angel in the Madonna of the Rocks, and the angels in Verrocchio’s Forteguerri Monument (Pistoia, Duomo); and between figures in Leonardo’s unfinished Uffizi Adoration of the Magi and those on Desiderio da Settignano’s tabernacle in S. Lorenzo. These in particular underlie the ‘ideal








beauty’ of Leonardo’s female facial types and expressions: this point was crystallised in the ‘sfumato loveliness’ of the face of St Anne in the Paris Madonna and Child with St Anne, which once more echoes one of Desiderio’s S. Lorenzo angels.                                                                                              Although little evidence survives, Leonardo must have worked in three dimensions, relying on wax models for the Adoration, and later in Milan demonstrating his confidence in bronze casting techniques as he worked on the Sforza Horse. That he extrapolated from Verrocchio’s interests as a sculptor was several times clear in Prof Brandt’s illuminating lecture, for the subtle, spontaneous movements in Verrocchio’s works suggest their shared concern with physical motion as expressive of emotion. The ‘travelling eye’ of the observer of sculpture equates with the workshop practice of drawing from the pivoted clay model; in Leonardo’s drawing practice this results in ‘reiterated’ drawings as he tracked his model through a range of movements and poses on a single sheet. As a result of Prof Brandt’s discussion, Leonardo’s debt to quattrocento sculpture not only in similarities of motif but also the principles of form, atmosphere and movement became more apparent than many in her audience had previously appreciated.

Art and Science in the Italian Renaissance: Botany

Anne Tockwell writes: Martin Kemp’s voicing that the Society’s 1996 symposium, held at the Warburg Institute on 26 January 1996, might be a Harbinger of Spring proved to be premature, but those who braved the Siberian conditions to come along did have a wonderful botanical feast to awaken their winter senses. Professor Stearn opened with an examination of a broad span of botanical indices. His survey began with the Dioscorides Codex of 512 A.D. This work was evidence both of the stylization of Byzantine art and of spiritual diversity - the contemporary Sultan’s physician was Jewish; the Mount Athos Codex was translated into Arabic. The tendency to illustrate plants as decorative ornament rather than concentrating on botanical accuracy was a theme that ran through several of the lectures given; one delightful Flemish herbal of 1415 showed a fig-leaf in the context of a curious narrative featuring the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Paduan herbal shown to us by Prof. Stearn showed an increasingly naturalistic approach but with the text taken from Dioscorides. Martin Schongauer, a predecessor of Dürer, made detailed observations of the peony flower that contributed to a body of botanical knowledge in an age when plants were generally acknowledged for their medicinal usage. Prof. Stearn gave us some fascinating examples of these practices, such as the lilium candidum, whose mucilage formed a flexible gauze in the dressing of wounds. In looking at Leonardo’s plant drawings we see his characteristic concern for pattern and underlying geometric order; this was juxtaposed here with Dürer’s ‘ecological’ studies of plants growing together in a particular community, such as his famous ‘Large Clod of Grass’.                                                                                    Dr Catherine Reynolds examined in detail the marvellous ambiguities of plants and language in painting. We saw how flowers conveyed meaning, often through their names - pansies (pensées) for thoughts, marigolds for anxiety (sourcis), columbines for melancholy. Thus a common flower such as the forget-me-not could acquire a pan-European meaning when depicted on canvas or panel to an informed audience. We were shown works such as Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Maestą at Massa Marittima where the angels are shown about to throw roses down at the Virgin - this awakens ambivalent feelings about sensuality, innocence and passion; whilst Crivelli’s depictions of a lily from 1476 served as a description of purity and chastity. The iconography of the rose and the lily is extensive and it was refreshing to recall this complexity when looking at Leonardo’s paintings such as the Madonna of the Rocks, in which plant life is depicted as background to the central subject.                                                                                                  This led neatly into Dr Francis Ames-Lewis’ fascinating forensic analysis of the possible incorporation of Leonardo’s lilium candidum into paintings from Verrocchio’s workshop. He went on to discuss the helical movement that is present in so many of Leonardo’s drawings, such as the Chatsworth ‘Leda’ where the serpentine lines of Leda’s hair echo the curves of her body and that of the sensuous swan. They recur in his depiction of the Star of Bethlehem flower, both here and particularly in his separate study of this plant, making a link with his many drawings examining elemental forms of nature. Dr Ames-Lewis also discussed the technical aspect of Leonardo’s red chalk drawings, drawing attention to the sfumato effect that this created: an atmosphere similar to that created in certain of his paintings in oils.                                   Dr Gill Saunders, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, gave us a splendid overview of botanical - or rather, plant - illustration, being careful to point out that botany only emerged as a discipline distinct from that of medicine (herbalism) in the 17th century. She conveyed the close relationship between printing techniques and the resulting images in herbals, describing how distortions arose partly because of the layout of the text with image, with the text given priority. In fact, Thomas Bankes’ herbal of 1525 had no illustrations at all. Dr Saunders introduced the audience to a wonderful world of ‘faction’ - grotesqueries, narratives, and sometimes botanical observation. Plants were exposed as heraldic devices, copied from earlier drawings, and modified to fit into, and to decorate, the page. In the 16th century plant illustration became more useful as a botanical diagnostic tool, filling page-plates rather than fitting around the text or decorating it in the so-called ‘chintz’ effect. Artists has a tendency to use a maximum amount of their rectangular wooden block, so plants also adopted this unusual tendency.                                  Professor Tongiorgi Tomasi, from the University of Siena, completed the symposium with a wealth of imagery from 17th-century botanical artists, which she discusses in her latest book. She located the passionate interest about plants and botany as a living Theatre of Nature in and around Rome in the 17th century, when patrons and their gardeners were developing rare and bizarre species of plants. In 1603 the Academy was founded in Rome and observations of the external forms and workings of nature were carried out. This marked the first use of the microscope. It was as if the rest of his country was catching up with Leonardo with his inquisitive and analytical quest for understanding. At this point botany and botanical prints were central to the cultural life of 17th-century Rome, and Prof. Tomasi pointed to the consequent interchange of art and science at this fertile time. One was left with several tantalising questions. How far did Leonardo’s plant drawings deal with plants symbolically or didactically? What were his underlying concerns? It seems to me that he could not escape his tendency to create ‘laws’ of nature, a geometry bearing fruit within forms, even when drawing from life. Was he making an analysis of beauty in his plant studies? He described not irregularities, as in his grotesques, but rhythms and pleasing proportions; and yet he seems to have been engaged in a search for truth. His methodology here may yet be further examined following this fruitful symposium.

The Leonardo da Vinci Society and the Society for Renaissance Studies’ joint symposium on ‘Art and Science in the Italian Renaissance: Vitruvian Themes.’

The next in the series of joint Leonardo da Vinci Society and Society for Renaissance Studies symposia on the general theme of ‘Art and Science in the Italian Renaissance’ will be held on Friday 31 January 1997, at the Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WC1. The subject will be ‘Vitruvian Themes’. The speakers and the titles of their contributions will be listed in the November issue of the Newsletter. If you have any enquiries, please contact Dr J.V. Field, Department of History of Art, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD; FAX 0171.631.6107.


1997 Annual Lecture

The provisional date for the Leonardo da Vinci Society AGM and Annual Lecture for 1997 is Friday 2 May 1997. The lecture will be given by Dr Evelyn Welch (University of Sussex), provisionally on the subject of ‘Leonardo and the Ladies of Milan’. The venue and other details of this event will be announced in the next issue of the Newsletter.


A Colloquium on equestrian sculptures by Leonardo and others

Preliminary evidence concerning a hitherto unknown equestrian model, perhaps by Leonardo da Vinci, which appears to be related to Verrocchio’s Colleoni Monument has been communicated to the Society by Mr L.D. Ven, of the Cercle des Amis du Quattrocento in Antwerp. As a result, we propose to organise a colloquium at which members and sculpture specialists can review this evidence. Contributions to the proceedings will be invited from a number of scholars, to complement Mr Ven’s presentation of his hypotheses. The colloquium will probably be held on Friday 18 October 1996, at a venue in London to be announced in due course. Any members who would like to participate in this colloquium should write or telephone as soon as possible for further details to Francis Ames-Lewis, Department of History of Art, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD; tel. 0171.631.6108; FAX 0171.631.6107.

Leonardesque News

The 1996 Lettura Vinciana

The Lettura Vinciana for 1996 was delivered at the Biblioteca Leonardiana in Vinci on 13 April 1996 by Prof. Amelio Fara, who spoke on the subject of ‘Leonardo e l’architettura militare’.

An exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace

A fine selection of drawings from the Royal Library is on view at the Queen’s Gallery until January 1997. The exhibition’s curator, Martin Clayton, has chosen one hundred drawings both familiar and relatively unknown: much of his selection complements the large group of Windsor drawings displayed at the Hayward Gallery exhibition in 1989.                                                                              The exhibition is arranged chronologically. The earliest drawings date from Leonardo’s time in Verrocchio’s workshop and include such masterpieces as the study, in silverpoint on buff prepared paper, for the hands of Ginevra de’Benci. A number of lesser-known drawings for horses in the Uffizi Adoration of the Magi introduces a recurrent theme in the exhibition: Leonardo’s concern with equine anatomy and the study of the movements and emotions of the horse. While these early drawings do not show high accomplishment in representing the horse convincingly, the studies made in Milan for the Sforza Horse show Leonardo’s increasingly deep and conscientious study of the animal’s anatomy and movement. Further drawings of horses’ violent reactions to combat were made in connection with the Battle of Anghiari; and another group of studies relates to the Trivulzio Monument project in Milan around 1511. New and important evidence of French watermarks in the paper that Leonardo drew on suggests that a last group of studies for an equestrian monument date from his last years at Amboise, and were for a hitherto unknown monument that he worked on between  1517 and 1519. These studies use a soft grey chalk handled with great delicacy, and show similarities in treatment with the mysterious series of drawings for masquerade figures, or the celebrated ‘Pointing Lady’. Also on French paper are several drapery studies for the Madonna and Child with St Anne, which suggests that Leonardo was still working on this panel in his final years at Franćois I’s court.                                                              One wall in the main exhibition space is almost entirely taken up with a series of Leonardo’s magnificent maps. These show important innovations in cartographic techniques and a rich use of colour. The colourfulness of Leonardo’s drawings is a noteworthy feature throughout. As well as his use of watercolours, the variety of colours of his prepared papers for silverpoint drawing; his careful selection of red or black chalk for the detailed studies for the Last Supper; his use of red chalk on red-toned paper (as in the delicate study of a female torso probably associated with the ‘Madonna of the Yarnwinder’ composition); and his complex combination of chalks and coloured  papers in the late drapery studies demonstrate the unusual range but purposeful choice of his colours.


Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist. An exhibition at the Accademia Italiana, London.


The exhibition announced in the November 1995 issue of this Newsletter as on view over the winter in Rotterdam is moving to London. It opens at the new premises of the Accademia Italiana (shared with the European Academy for the Arts) at 8, Grosvenor Place, close to Hyde Park Corner, on 13 June 1996. The exhibition, which will be on view until 1 December, has a strong educational focus, and may therefore be of particular interest to students and to school children and their teachers. It brings together facsimile copies of some 144 drawings by Leonardo to complement the concurrent exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, six interactive computer programmes on CD-ROM, and a number of hands-on operational working models built on the basis of engineering designs by Leonardo. Together these and other exhibits provide a varied survey of Leonardo’s multifaceted genius, his interest both in engineering and in general in the Renaissance world.


Further news on the casting of Leonardo da Vinci’s Sforza Horse

On 1 August last year the eight-foot model of the Sforza Horse that had been constructed by Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse Inc (LDVHI) in their studio at Fogelsville, Pennsylvania, was dispatched to the Tallix foundry in Beacon, NY, to be enlarged threefold and cast in bronze. It is proposed that the 24-foot clay model will be complete by the middle of this year, and in two years’ time the final casts of sections of this model will be ready for transport to Italy. A number of issues, such as constructing the Horse’s pedestal, raising the remaining funds required for transport and future maintenance of the bronze, and negotiating Italian approval for its installation, remain however to be solved.

Recent books on Leonardo da Vinci and related subjects 


Leonardo da Vinci: Kunstler, Erfinder, Wissenschaftler. (exh. cat., MalmĮ; Ostfildern, 1995).

ed. Campioni,  Rosaria (with introduction by Carlo Pedretti), Leonardo artista delle macchine e cartografo, Florence, c1994.

Caroli, Flavio, Storia della fisiognomica : arte e psicologia da Leonardo a Freud, Milan, 1995.

ed. Cole Ahl, Diane, Leonardo da Vinci’s Sforza monument horse : the art and the engineering, Bethlehem, PA / London, c1995.

Dann, Jack, The memory cathedral : a secret history of Leonardo da Vinci, New York, 1995

Hüttel, Richard, Spiegelungen einer Ruine : Leonardos Abendmahl im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Marburg, c1994.

Kwakkelstein, Michael, Leonardo da Vinci as a physiognomist. Theory and drawing practice, Leiden, 1994.

Maidani Gerard, Jean-Pierre, Léonard de Vinci : mythologie ou théologie, Paris, c1994.

Migliore, Sandra (with introduction by Carlo Pedretti), Tra Hermes e Prometeo : il mito di Leonardo nel decadentismo europeo, Florence, 1994

Zoellner, Frank. Das Porträt der Mona Lisa del Giocondo : Legende und Geschichte, Frankfurt am Main, 1994


The Leonardo da Vinci Society


Proposals for future events - conferences, symposia, lectures, or other activities that the Society might sponsor or undertake - are always welcomed by the Committee. Please write to any of the officers listed below if you have any suggestions to offer. The Committee is also anxious to recruit new blood to its membership, so if any members would be interested in serving, please will they let us know.

            President: Professor Martin Kemp, Department of History of Art, University of Oxford, 35 Beaumont Street, Oxford, OX1.2PG

            Vice-President: Dr. Francis Ames-Lewis, Department of History of Art, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD

            Secretary/Treasurer: Dr Thomas Frangenberg, Department of History of Art, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, LE1.7RH, UK. 

            Please send items for publication to the editor of the Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter, Francis Ames-Lewis, Department of History of Art, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD; FAX 0171.631. 6107; Email: f.ames-lewis@hart.bbk.ac.uk