Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter

editor:  Francis Ames-Lewis


Issue 16,  May 2000


Recent and forthcoming events


Annual Lecture 2000


Following the Society’s AGM, held at 5.30 pm on Wednesday 17 May, the Annual Lecture 2000 was given later that evening at the National Gallery, London, by Professore Pietro Marani. The Society would like to acknowledge with gratitude the collaboration of the National Gallery in holding this event in the Sainsbury Wing Lecture Theatre. In 1989 Pietro Marani delivered for Society’s first Annual Lecture, on the progress of the conservation programme of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in the Refectory of Sta Maria delle Grazie, which had then been underway for some ten years. In the Annual Lecture 2000, Prof Marani lectured to the title ‘Leonardo’da Vinci’s Last Supper: the Restoration and the New Findings’. The lecture opened with some remarks about the reputation of Leonardo’s mural in the sixteenth century, and a history  of  the  various  earlier  restorations and the effects that these had wrought on the painting. In the recent restoration the accretions of the past two or more centuries have been removed, revealing Leonardo’s original colours and clarifying the drawing of the figures and faces, many of which had been seriously altered, in pose or in contour, in earlier repaintings. The state of preservation of Leonardo’s paintwork is better in the lunettes than elsewhere (and in the lunettes some startling discoveries have been made); but in various places in the figures of the last Supper Leonardo’s long brushstrokes of highlighting may now be seen. Moreover, traces of the red lake used by Leonardo in the final paint layer to refine the forms have also survived, demonstrating a subtlety lost under the subsequent overpainting. Many details, of drapery, and of the still-life objects on the table, have also been recovered, and are well preserved: some of the metal dishes show reflections of the colours of the apostles’ robes, or of the fruit they contain. A colour and pigment contrast also newly revealed is that between the azurite blue used for Judas’s robe and the costlier ultramarine of the robes of Sts Peter and John the Evangelist. Although   large  areas   have  entirely  lost   their original paint and have had to be gently in-filled, the colours of the areas that do survive well are fresh, and the details of facial expression and hand-gestures are once more refined and affecting.


In fairness, we should record here an abstract of the article by Michael Daley (‘The supper’s finished’, Art Review  51 (July/Aug. 1999), pp. 22-3) that puts a rather different perspective on the conservation programme. It should be said that the Newsletter editor does not concur with the views expressed here. ‘In the run-up to completing her restoration of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, Dr. Pinin Barcilon Brambilla attracted massive criticism. By all accounts, hers has been the most intolerant and hugely invasive restoration campaign imaginable. She has systematically banished every last trace of previous restorations, including Mauro Pellicioli’s much-acclaimed work of 1951-54, thereby severing the historical continuity of the mural. In the process, she has also revealed vast amounts of bare wall, rendering necessary the single biggest repainting of the mural ever undertaken. In terms of its artistic consequences, her own repainting merits harsh criticism: it is by turns feeble, half-hearted, intrusive, unhistorical, and inconsistent’.




Recent publications on Leonardo da Vinci



The Ente Raccolta Vinciana has recently published two important contributions to Leonardo studies. The first is a volume, edited by Edoardo Villani, entitled Leonardo da Vinci. I Documenti e le Testimonianze Contemporanee, (Milano, Castello Sforzesco 1999). Building on the great register of Leonardo documents and early source references, the Documenti e memorie riguardanti la vita e le opere di Leonardo da Vinci in ordine cronologico, published eighty years ago by Luca Beltrami, this volume adds documents recently published by scholars such as Cristoph Frommel, Giovanbattista Sannazzaro, Grazioso Sironi, and Janice Shell. It omits, however, later sixteenth-century sources from Vasari onwards (on the grounds that all these have been philologically reedited and fully commented upon by scholars such as Rosanna Bettarini and Paola Barocchi), preferring to concentrate on textual comnments of the first half of the sixteenth century. The register of documents includes Leonardo’s own ricordi and personal notes, found scattered through his notebooks. Each transcription includes a bibliography of references in the scholarly literature up to 1999.


The second major contribution published by the Ente Raccolta Vinciana in 1999, The Manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci in the Institut de France: Manuscript A,  is the first volume in a new series of English translations of the group of Leonardo manuscripts in the Institut de France in Paris. Published with the assistance of the Getty Grant Program, the new English edition of Manuscript A has been translated and annotated by John Venerella; publication of Manuscripts I, M and C will follow shortly. Since these volumes are seen as complements to the recently completed series of high-quality facsimiles, there are few illustrations. By correcting earlier uncertain readings and errors in translation, and by offering new interpretations of obscure terms and passages, however, the translator is providing authoritative texts for the English-speaking readership of Leonardo’s notebooks.




Raccolta Vinciana XXVIII, 1999



The 1999 issue of Raccolta Vinciana, also published by the Ente Raccolta Vinciana in Milan, includes the following articles:


R. Nanni, ‘Osservazione, convenzione, ricomposizione nel paesaggio leonardiano del 1473’;

V. Pini, ‘Vicende del privilegio di Saronno concesso da Ludovico il Moro a Cecilia Gallerani (1491-1513)’;

L. Brescia and L. Tomďo, ‘Leonardo da Vinci e il segreto del vetro cristallino, pannicolato, flessibile e infrangibile’;

P.C. Marani, ‘Presentazione del restauro del Cenacolo di Leonardo da Vinci’;

E.Villata, ‘Ancora sul San Giovanni Battista di Leonardo’;

C. Pedretti, ‘“Non mi fuggir, donzella...”’;

C.D. Duane, ‘The San Cristoforo irrigation outlets in Milan’;

R. Antonelli, ‘Gli studi preparatori di Giuseppe Bossi per il cartone del “Parnaso”’;

M.V. Guffanti, ‘Contributo alla fortuna di Leonardo in Inghilterra’;

ibid, ‘Nota sull’edizione del 1859 del Trattato Della Pittura di Leonardo’.

There is also a substantial and important section devoted to the ‘Bibliographia leonardiana, 1997-1999’.


On Friday 9 June 2000 a presentation of all these new publications will be held by the Ente Raccolta Vinciana at the Villa Melzi, Vaprio d’Adda; the speakers will be David Alan Brown (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.), Maria Teresa Fiorio (Director, Musei d’Arte Anticha, Castello Sforzesco, Milan) and Pietro Marani.




Select Leonardo bibliography,1998-1999


Bernard, G. G., ed., Leonardo e le meraviglie della Biblioteca reale di Torino, exh. cat (Biblioteca reale, Turin, 1998-9), Milano: Electa; Torino: Biblioteca reale, 1998.

Brambilla Barcilon, P., and P. C. Marani, Leonardo : L’ultima cena , Milano : Electa, 1999.

Brown, D. A., Leonardo da Vinci : origins of a genius , New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

Daley, M., ‘The supper’s finished’, Art Review  51 (July/Aug. 1999), pp. 22-3.

Dunton, C., ‘Meaning and appearance — a Merleau-Pontian account of Leonardo’s studies from life’, Art History 22, no.3 (September 1999), pp. 331-46.

Eichholz, G., Das Abendmahl Leonardo da Vincis: eine systematische Bildmonographie, Munchen: Scaneg, 1998.

Fabjan, B. and P. C. Marani, eds, Leonardo : la Dama con l’ermellino, exh cat., Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome,1998,  Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, 1998, and Palazzo Pitti, Florence, 1998-9), Cinisello Balsamo (Milano): Silvana, 1998.

F. Frosini, ed., Tutte le opere non son per istancarmi : raccolta di scritti per i settant’anni di Carlo Pedretti, Roma: Edizioni associate, 1998.

Herding, K., Freuds Leonardo : eine Auseinandersetzung mit psychoanalytischen Theorien der Gegenwart, Munchen: Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung, 1998.

I Leonardeschi : l’ereditą di Leonardo in Lombardia (saggi di G. Bora et al.), Milano: Skira, 1998.

Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519, (G. Bologna, ed.): Leonardo a Milano, Novara : De Agostini, 1998.

Marani, P. C., Leonardo : una carriera di pittore, Milano: F. Motta, 1999.

Marani, P. C., L’Ambrosiana e Leonardo, exh. cat. (Biblioteca-Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, 1998-9), Novara: Interlinea ; Milano: Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, 1998.

Masters, R. D., Fortune is a river : Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolė Machiavelli’s magnificent dream to change the course of Florentine history, New York/London: Free Press, 1998.

Pedretti, C., ed., Leonardo e la Pulzella di Camaiore : inediti vinciani e capolavori della scultura lucchese del primo Rinascimento, exh. cat. (Camaiore, 1998-9), Firenze: Giunti, 1998.

Pizzagalli, D., La dama con l’ermellino : vita e passioni di Cecilia Gallerani nella Milano di Ludovico il Moro, Milano: Rizzoli, 1999.

Schramm, G. (ed.), Leonardo : Bewegung und Ruhe, Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach Verlag, 1999.

Schröder, K. and K. Irle, “Ich habe quadriere den Kreis...”: Leonardo da Vincis Proportionsstudie, Munster / New York: Waxmann, 1998.

Vecce, C., Leonardo, Roma: Salerno, 1998.

Zwijnenberg, R., The writings and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci : order and chaos in early modern thought, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.




The restoration of the Uffizi Annunciation


0n 13 May the Sindaco of Vinci, Giancarlo Faenzi, hosted a presentation by Antonio Natali and Alfio Del Serra of the recently completed programme of conservation on Leonardo da Vinci’s early Annunciation in the Uffizi, Florence. We hope to carry a report of this programme and its findings in a future issue of the Newsletter.




Lettura Vinciana XL, 2000


The fortieth Lettura Vinciana, entitled ‘L’Autonoma programmabile di Leonardo’, was delivered at the Biblioteca Leonardiana, Vinci, on Saturday 15 April 2000 by Mark Elling Rosheim. The lecture revolved around Leonardo’s design in Codex Atlanticus, f.812 recto, for a programmable ‘robot’. In 1478, at the age of twenty-six, Leonardo designed a programmable automaton, perhaps the prototype of the legendary mechanical lion of some forty years later. The influence of ancient texts on Leonardo and the affinity of his early technological conception with an eighteenth-century Japanese automaton were reviewed and illustrated in the lecture. Mark Elling Rosheim proceeded to speculate about the possible loss of detailed studies for automata from Codex Madrid I, where only hints of these remain. In order to understand these better, he introduced the famous De motu animalium by Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608-79), because of its striking similarities to Leonardo’s studies on the mechanics of human movement. Leonardo’s programmable ‘robot’ was then interpreted on the basis of sketches and fragmentary construction drawings in the Codex Atlanticus and elsewhere in the Leonardo corpus. Finally, the detailed operation and control of the reconstructed automaton was explained and illustrated.


The lecturer is the author of various important studies on the history of robotics, and especially of anthroporobotics (notably his Robot Evolution: the Development of Anthroporobotics, 1994). Mark Elling Rosheim is President of Ross-Hime Designs Inc of Minneapolis, which works inter alia for NASA, the US space agency. Several years ago he took up the problem of the interpretation of the leonardesque documents and designs for his ‘robot’. The results of his initial research were published as ‘Leonardo’s Lost Robot’ in Achademia Leonardo Vinci 9, 1996. An initial digital reconstruction of Leonardo’s ‘robot’ was displayed in the New York edition of the Florentine Instituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza’s exhibition of Renaissance Engineers from Brunelleschi to Leonardo.




The art of invention at the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London.


The run of the exhibition entitled ‘The art of invention: Leonardo da Renaissance engineers’, reviewed by J.V. Field in the last issue (issue 15, November 1999) of this Newsletter, has been extended until the end of August 2000. Having been ‘strongly advised’ by our Hon. President to see this exhibition, readers of this issue who hitherto have not heeded the advice still therefore have the opportunity to visit this splendid exhibition. At the entrance to the exhibition is a long showcase containing facsimiles of all Leonardo da Vinci’s surviving notebooks: this offers a valuable chance to compare the sizes and principal contents of these books. Your editor can confirm J.V. Field’s experience that the models of machine designs by Brunelleschi, Mariano Taccola, Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Leonardo himself are impressive, elegantly constructed and beautifully finished. It is understandable, though a pity, that they are not displayed under working conditions, but the smaller-scale metal-geared models effectively demonstrate how the machines worked, and allow the visitor to build up a picture of the technological development of machine design during the fifteenth century in Tuscany.

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.


            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; tel.: 0171.631.6108; fax: 0171.631.6107; e-mail: f.ames-lewis@hart.bbk.ac.uk

            Secretary/Treasurer: Dr Thomas Frangenberg, Department of Art History, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, LE1 7RH, UK; tel.: 01533 522522. fax: 01533 522220.                                                     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