Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter

editor:  Francis Ames-Lewis


Issue 14,  May 1999

Recent and forthcoming events


A symposium on ‘Illustrations of Renaissance and Baroque art and theory in books on the visual arts’

With the support of the Society for Renaissance Studies, the Leonardo da Vinci Society offered a symposium on book-illustrations of Renaissance and Baroque art  on Friday 7 May 1999, at the Warburg Institute, University of London. The programme, which included nine relatively short contributions, was richly varied. The papers were grouped into four sections, on the illustration of art-theoretical texts, of sixteenth-century architectural books, of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century books on earlier art, and on nineteenth- and twentieth-century books on Renaissance art.


Juliana Barone (Trinity College, Oxford) opened the symposium with a discussion of the two earliest series of figure-drawings made to illustrate those parts of Leonardo da Vinci’s Treatise on Painting that deal with human movement. Comparisons were drawn between the first published edition of the Treatise (Paris 1651) with illustrations by Nicolas Poussin, and the illustrations made in his copy of 1630 (Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana MS 2275) by Stefano della Bella. For Leonardo’s discussion of three types figural balance, Stefano della Bella made sketches of three figures in a style close to Leonardo’s own diagrammatic sketches. Poussin, on the other hand, drew only two figures, stressing stable, classical contrapposto poses. Similarly, to illustrate continuous motions, Stefano della Bella sketched a single figure twice, and the start and end of the action, whereas Poussin drew one figure showing only potential motion. Della Bella’s brief, broken outlines convey Leonardo’s ideas better than Poussin’s carefully drawn figures which have full internal modelling in wash. The two approaches to illustrating Leonardo reflect different artistic interests of the early seventeenth century. Sharon Gregory (Courtauld Institute, London) discussed Vasari’s woodblock portraits, based on his own drawings, made to illustrate  the second edition  of the Lives in 1568. To help to perpetuate the artists’ fame, 144 woodcuts were made, of which probably 95 are based on drawings from life. The portraits are didactic: characteristics of costume, physiognomy and expression offer meaningful visual clues. Piero di Cosimo, for instance, wears a rustic smock and a gardener’s hat, reflecting Vasari’s criticism of the painter’s rustic, bestial lifestyle. Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait, on the other hand, is urbane and courtly: his beard, cap and piercing gaze is intentionally reminiscent of classical philosopher portraits. Vasari redrew a self-portrait by Francesco Salviati to emphasise his melancholic appearance, and adapted Bronzino’s portrait of Pontormo to echo the solitary, misanthropic personality that he projects in the text. Vasari’s portraits reinforce the textual messages about the Renaissance artists as moral and social exemplars.


Vaughan Hart (University of Bath) spoke about the illustrations to book 6 (on domestic architecture; c.1550) of Serlio’s Treatise on Architecture, the first fully illustrated Renaissance architectural treatise. For the first time, these woodcuts seek to illustrate a complete range of domestic building types, from peasant’s hut to palace, in association with the social status of the dweller. Serlio rejected the current tendency towards utopianism, producing practical, realistic designs suitable for any available site. The sense of earthy pragmatism of Serlio’s woodcut illustrations, and the universal applicability of the buildings shown, it was suggested, may reflect Serlio’s own displacements and relocations and his need to adapt to different circumstances, not least when working for Franćois I. In contrast, the images and imagery of the commentary to book 1 in Daniele Barbaro’s celebrated translation of Vitruvius’ De Architectura  are set  closely within the Aristotelian scheme of knowledge. Caroline van Eck (Free University, Amsterdam) revealed how the intellectual complexities of Barbaro’s commentary were reflected in the illustrations provided by Palladio for the 1556 edition. In emphasising the basis of architecture in mathematics and science, and in the Aristotelian system of ethics, Barbaro proposed that architecture is essentially a branch of knowledge. Palladio’s woodcut illustrations are therefore instructional diagrams of faćades and sections, for example, and of orders and mouldings.


Discussing the illustrations by Otto van Veen for his Amoris Divini Emblemata (1615), Margit ThĮfner (University of Bristol) showed how the images proclaim the primacy of sight, despite the Tridentine doctrine that the divine cannot be seen by eyes or portrayed in figures. Van Veen’s exclusive use of allegorical embodiments in his 59 full-page emblematic illustrations confirms his commitment to sight. In several illustrations sight is the means of gaining divine insight, by contrast with mere mortal love; and the final emblems imply that through reading and looking the viewer gains knowledge of the divine. By using allegory, van Veen can show in his images without transgressing Catholic doctrine that it is the sense of sight that permits the contemplation of God. Thomas Frangenberg (University of Leicester) considered a very different series of illustrations, those made for Girolamo Teti’s Aedes Barberinĺ (1642) and especially the nine engravings of Pietro da Cortona’s ceiling frescoes in the Palazzo Barberini. He suggested that the illustrations were themselves intended as a text to make the frescoed images available to readers who had not visited the palace. The illustrations, based on drawings made under Pietro da Cortona’s supervision, are large and finely detailed, indicating that the book was intended to propagate the lavishness of Barberini patronage long after Urban VIII’s death in 1644. Rodney Palmer (Istituto italiano per gli studi filosofici, Naples), the organiser of the symposium, discussed the diffusion of earlier types of book illustration in Neapolitan art books around 1730. He concentrated attention on Francesco Ricciardi’s new edition of Bellori’s Lives published in Naples (then governed by the Austrian Hapsburgs) in 1728 in which the artists’ portraits and the allegorical headers of earlier editions are brought together. By contrast, de Dominici’s Lives of Neapolitan artists, produced after Charles Bourbon had been crowned King of Naples in 1734, has no portraits, reflecting the demise of the illustrated book under the new régime.


The last two papers brought the theme of the illustrated art book into recent times. Anthony Hamber (London) spoke of the many different types of photographic reproduction of works of art  that were developed in the later nineteenth century. Already by the 1850s, a generation before Berenson, photographic reproductions were an essential comparative tool for J.C. Robinson; and by the 1870s art books illustrated with a rich diversity of photographs were plentiful. Although the subject has been little researched, the influence of these books on the study of art history was great, and was perhaps felt most in the study of the Italian Renaissance art, the most popular field in photographic reproduction. Finally, Valerie Holman (Birkbeck College, London) considered the change in status of reproduction in twentieth-century books on Renaissance art. Like Anthony Hamber, she suggested that photography has played a noteworthy role in the revival of interest in the Renaissance, but pointed out the problems generated by the variability of quality in colour reproductions; angles and viewpoints from which photographs may misleadingly be taken; the limiting effects of costs of photographs and reproduction fees on the extensiveness of illustration; and well-known problems of cropping, selection of details, and the removal of context. Vasari had needed no images beyond the portraits of artists to explicate his text, but 400 years later illustrations are generally regarded as essential in books on the visual arts.


An exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci and his Followers: Drawings at Christ Church

To celebrate its re-opening after refurbishment, the Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford, is mounting an exhibition of the important group of drawings by Leonardo and his followers in the Gallery’s collection. These will be shown from 7 June to 25 August 1999. Exhibits include Leonardo’s Study of a sleeve (a preparatory drawing for the Uffizi Annunciation of c.1472-3) and the large-scale Grotesque Head of c.1504-7, and works by many of his followers, such as Boltraffio and Giampetrino, which illustrate the seductive novelty of his inventive and often visionary work.


Leonardesque News

The restoration of the Last Supper


After a campaign of conservation and restoration that has lasted for twenty years, Leonardo’s Last Supper in the Refectory of S. Maria delle Grazie, Milan, is on view once again, under controlled conditions to protect it against changes in humidity and the effects of pollution. Conservation had become essential on account of an increase in flaking from the surface of the mural, exacerbated by the atmospheric conditions in the refectory. With the removal of all the layers of repaint that had been added to the mural from the eighteenth century onwards, it was found that only about 20% of Leonardo’s original paint layer has survived. In a documentary broadcast on the British television Channel 4 on 27 December 1998, Carlo Bertelli, Director of the Istituto Centrale di Restauro in Rome which was responsible for the restoration campaign, admitted that the mural is a ruin. This can come as little surprise. Writing as early as 1518, Antonio de’ Beatis observed that already the Last Supper  ‘is beginning to be spoiled, due either to the dampness of the wall or to some other accident’, and Vasari lamented in 1568 that ‘nothing can be seen any more but a faded smudge’.


Problems were generated from the start, of course, by Leonardo’s unorthodox technique: this was noted already late in the sixteenth century by Giampaolo Lomazzo who criticised Leonardo for his use of oil on an inappropriate ground layer. The early deterioration has been exacerbated over the centuries by rising damp, which caused the extensive cracking in the ground that in turn has led to flaking of the paint layers. Successive restorers from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries have removed previous repaints in a variety of techniques, and probably removed a good deal of Leonardo’s paint with them. What remains has been described as no more than an ‘archaeological map’, but it does appear to be Leonardo’s work, freed now of more recent heavy repainting and from the dangers that such later restorations have imposed. In a seminar presentation at the National Gallery on 10 May 1999, Pietro Marani, Director of the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, and co-director of the restoration campaign, said that chemical analysis of highlights on some of the draperies show that they belong to Leonardo’s original paint layer, and that in the shadows Leonardo’s lake pigments bound in oil (probably walnut oil) survive in fragments. The unexpectedly blond colours of the fragmentary remains of the mural, very different in tonality from the panel paintings produced by Leonardo in his first Milanese period, suggest indeed that he had originally applied a good deal more of such translucent oil-based glazes to deepen and enrich the overall tonality.


Where enough survives of Leonardo’s paint to show his expressive intentions, the strength of his treatment of human feeling through facial expression and hand gestures is apparent, especially by comparison with these features in their pre-restoration, overpainted state. Touches of oil-based paint in the shadows of St Philip’s draperies, for example, and in expressive refinements of his face are likely to be Leonardo’s final brush-strokes over his pupils’ work in the lower layers of pigment. The Royal Academy’s copy by Giampetrino of the Last Supper, which now hangs in the Chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford, suggests that the tapestries lining the walls behind the supper table were originally decorated with a Netherlandish-style ‘millefleur’ pattern. In places this decoration has now been recovered from beneath overpainting by the first two eighteenth-century restorers. Pinin Brambilla Barcilon, the leader of the team of restorers, has been criticised for her infilling of areas of loss with neutral colour, which amounts in places (such as the head of Christ) virtually to complete repainting. However, it seems likely that it was advisable, to improve the legibility of the whole scene, to reintegrate passages such the still-life detail on the table by applying a light watercolour wash in the lost areas, where otherwise the light ground would be too intense and visually disturbing. It is true that this restoration has revealed how little original paint has survived the vicissitudes of time, atmospheric conditions and ill-judged attempts at conservation. It is also true that too little survives to leave an entirely coherent, readable picture. Nevertheless, we are now able to see some, at least, of the expressive subtlety of Leonardo’s narrative masterpiece, restored to view from beneath nearly three centuries of overpaint.



The 1999 Lettura Vinciana


The 39th Lettura Vinciana, on ‘Leonardo apprendista’, was given by David Alan Brown at the Biblioteca Leonardiana, Vinci, on 17 April 1999.



An exhibition of Leonardo a Piombino


The Palazzina Uzielli del Museo Leonardiano at Vinci is currently (until 27 June 1999) hosting an exhibition, curated by Alemio Fara and others, on ‘Leonardo a Piombino e l’idea della cittą moderna tra Quatro e Cinquecento’. The principal focus is on Leonardo da Vinci’s urban projects of 1502 and 1504 for the town of Piombino. Other areas under consideration are the relationships between Leonardo and Dürer with regard to perspective study and military architecture, and Leonardo’s interest in landscape, all of which are closely linked with his proposals for Piombino and its surroundings.



The Biblioteca Civica at Legnano


On 20 February 1999, a little over a year after the death of the great Leonardo scholar Augusto Marinoni, the Biblioteca Civica at Legnano was renamed after Marinoni and dedicated to him in tribute to the town’s celebrated citizen.



The Leonardo da Vinci Centre at the State University of Odessa, Ukraine


The Director of the Leonardo da Vinci Centre at Odessa, Dr Anna Ryapolova, has sent the Editor a copy of Perspectivy 2, 1998. In this issue of the Centre’s house journal, Dr Ryapolova publishes an article in which she analyses the presence of ‘philosophical-aesthetic’ elements in Leonardo’s creativity. Taking as her point of departure Leonardo’s assertion in the Treatise on Painting that ‘Painting can be shown to be philosophy because it deals with the motions of bodies... and philosophy [too] deals with augmented and diminished motion...’, she discusses in particular the Last Supper and the Windsor drawing of ‘Five caricature heads’ (Royal Library 12495).


More news on Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse


The latest issue of The Scribe, the Journal of Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse, Inc., offers for sale five-inch high versions of the final model by Nina Akamu for Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse, due to be unveiled in Milan early in September. Cast by the lost wax technique, ‘these jewel-like bronze castings are remarkable in their detail and likeness to the full-size versions’. The price of each fully registered and numbered bronze is $ 750. The Director of Tallix Marketing, a subsidiary of the foundry where the bronzes are being cast, believes that ‘much like Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s first maquette casts of the Statue of Liberty and Daniel Chester French’s small bronze editions of “Seated Lincoln”, these five-inch bronze Horses will be valuable collector’s pieces in the future’. They may be ordered by phone ((914) 679-7608), fax ((914) 679-7627) or e-mail at talmark@ulster.net.


The Scribe IX no.2, Spring 1999 also includes a lengthy description of the process of casting the sixty or so sections of the 24-foot high Horse. Most of these sections were cast in sand moulds, but a few, in areas like the mane, ears and tail where many minute details are grouped together, or where there are undercuts in the sculpture, were cast by the lost wax technique. The next issue of The Scribe promises to describe the processes of assembly, armature construction and patination.



New and forthcoming publications


An important new book is published this month by Cambridge University Press. Entitled Leonardo da Vinci..., it is by . (Free University, Amsterdam). A review will be published in the next issue of this Newsletter.


Garland Publications Inc, of New York, have in preparation a four-volume compendium of recent writings in English on Leonardo da Vinci. The collection, which is edited by Claire Farago (University of Colorado, Boulder), is due to be published in.....


The Ente Raccolta Vinciana is considering the possibility of publishing a new complete register of the documents and early textual sources on Leonardo and his work, to replace the magnificent but now outdated volume published by Luca Beltrami in 1919. This register has been assembled by Edoardo Villata and includes four unpublished Leonardo documents. The Ente also proposes to publish a new edition, with English translation, of Leonardo’s Manuscript A. An application has been submitted to the Getty Center for the Humanities, Los Angeles, for financial support for this project.



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 readers have ideas to contribute and would be interested in serving, please will they let us know of them.


The Leonardo da Vinci Society now has a webpage: the address is  

 We would always be grateful for suggestions of material, such as forthcoming conferences, symposia and other evens, exhibitions, publications and so on, that would be of interest to members of the Society for inclusion on the webpage.


            President: Dr J.V. Field, Department of History of Art, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD; e-mail: jv.field@hart.bbk.ac.uk

            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. UK.

            Committee members:

            Rodney Palmer,

            Frank James,

            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; e-mail: f.ames-lewis@hart.bbk.ac.uk