Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter

editor:  Francis Ames-Lewis


Issue 11,  November 1997

Recent and forthcoming events


A symposium on ‘Art and Science in the Italian Renaissance: Music’

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 8 May 1998, at the Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WC1, starting at 10.15 am. The subject will be ‘Music’. Speakers will include Dr Donald Cullington (University of Ulster) on treatises on theory of music, Dr Bonnie Blackburn (University of Oxford) on ‘Music theory and the arts in Leonardo’s time’, and Professor Reinhard Strohm (University of Oxford) on mathematical structures in Ockeghem’s Missa de plus en plus. The Society’s 1998 AGM will be held during the lunchtime break in this Symposium.


Leonardesque News

The Biblioteca Comunale Leonardiana and the Museo Leonardiano at Vinci

During the summer the Comune di Vinci mounted an exhibition at the Museo Leonardiano entitled ‘L’immagine di Leonardo: Testimonianze figurative dal XVI at XIX secolo’. This was held in the Palazzina Uzielli, a new section of the Museum inaugurated and opened to the public for the first time for this exhibition. The theme was the iconography of Leonardo da Vinci himself, and the part played by this iconographical tradition in creating the myth of the artist. The three sections of the exhibition were entitled ‘The Portrait’, ‘Biography’ and ‘The Apotheosis’. The first focused on how Leonardo was depicted physiognomically;    the   second   dealt   with    the representation of events in his life, in terms of both their narrative and symbolic interpretation; and the third was given over to examination of the myth of Leonardo and its visual representation. The exhibition included painting, sculpture and graphic art works between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, with an important section dedicated to nineteenth-century historical paintings which document the genesis and development of the myth of Leonardo.                                                                                             Earlier in the year the Biblioteca Leonardiana di Vinci mounted an exhibition entitled ‘Leonardo & il Libro di Pittura’, shown first at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino. This display centred around the celebrated Codex Vaticano Urbinate 1270, the great compilation of notes on painting that Leonardo made over much of his career. Early edited manuscript copies of Vat. Urb. 1270 circulated later in the sixteenth century and the early seventeenth, heralding the editio princeps of the Trattato della Pittura which was published in 1651. The exhibition traced the publication fortunes of the Trattato up to and beyond the rediscovery of the original compilation, and the more recent publication history of the text with its progressively more knowledgeable scholarly commentaries.                Dott.ssa Vanda Bacchi, of the Biblioteca Leonardiana, informs us that the library’s catalogue is now on line, and can be visited at ‘www.trident.nettuno.it/easyweb/vinci/home.htm’.

A new President for the Ente Raccolta Vinciana

Due to ill-health, Professore Augusto Marinoni, who since 1981 has been President of the Ente Raccolta Vinciana (founded in 1905 and based at the Castello Sforzesco, Milan), has had to relinquish his post. At its meeting on 16 May 1997, the Council of the Ente conferred on Prof. Marinoni the title of Honorary President. Dott. Pietro Marani, who delivered the first Annual Lecture of the Leonardo da Vinci Society in 1989, was elected as the new President; and Dott.ssa Maria Teresa Fiorio continues as Vice-President of the Ente.

A Symposium on ‘The Treatise on Perspective: Published and Unpublished’


This Symposium was held at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, on 7-8 November 1997. J. V. Field (Birkbeck College, London) writes: The first session, moderator Hubert Damisch (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris), was concerned with the writings of Leonardo da Vinci. The opening speaker, Claire Farago (University of Colorado, Boulder) gave a careful and vivid account of an extremely delicate editorial task, under the sober title ‘Reconstructing the Earliest Known Plan for Publishing Leonardo da Vinci’s Perspective Writings: What the Codex Leicester Can Tell Us about Authorship in the Trattato della Pittura’. This was followed by Rocco Sinisgalli (Universitą degli Studi di Roma), on ‘Leonardo’s Conical Sections and Commandino’s Editions of Ptolemy’s Sphere’, which presented speculative interpretations of some Leonardo drawings.  Pauline Maguire (Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts) then spoke on ‘Towards the Publication of Leonardo’s Trattato della Pittura: Some Omitted Chapters and Their Impact on Two Seventeenth-Century Artists working in Rome’; this included showing a pair of pictures in which Poussin was apparently following prescriptions taken from Leonardo. The session ended with Janis Bell (Kenyon College) on ‘Zaccolini’s Perspective Manuscripts: Why Should We Care?’, which was largely concerned with describing the content of these unpublished works; this audience of course did care.                  Leonardo made a tenuous reappearance in Hubert Damisch’s own contribution to a later session, on the perspective treatise in France, ‘A Tale of Two Sides: Poussin between Leonardo and Desargues’; the paper mainly discussed the fate of Poussin's illustrations to the published version of the Trattato (Paris, 1651). Other sessions considered Piero della Francesca, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola and Sebastiano Serlio, and Lodovico Cigoli.

                        There are plans to publish the Symposium. The editor of the volume will be Professor Myra Nan Rosenfeld (Canadian Center for Architecture, Montreal).


‘A Cloudburst of Material Possessions’: A fantasy on a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci

A Purdy Hicks Gallery touring exhibition with this title has recently completed its run with a showing at the Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry. It was also shown earlier this year at the Towner Art Gallery & Museum, Eastbourne, the Worcester City Art Gallery, and the Purdy Hicks Gallery in London. Little noticed in public until it was selected for the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1989, the small but curious sketch generally called ‘A Cloudburst of Material Possessions’ immediately caught the attention of a number of artists. Stephen Farthing’s 1992 Annual Lecture of the Leonardo da Vinci Society was based on his responses to the strange moralising allegory, summed up by Leonardo himself in the aphorism ‘O human misery - how many things you must serve for money’ that he wrote beneath the sketch.                                                        Most of the works shown were made especially for the exhibition, which was devised by Paul Bonaventura of the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. As Martin Kemp wrote in his introduction ‘The Reign of Vanities’ for the exhibition guide, ‘The figurative yet wildly irrational qualities of the image... have clearly exercised a special appeal for painters exploring new ways of moving beyond the limitations of conventional abstraction. The drawing is being revitalised in our eyes by the dialogue it is conducting with artists who are able to intuit potential meanings which remain only partly accessible to the systematic student of art history’.                    The exhibition included several works, including Jordan Baseman’s Nothing but the truth (1996) - a wall-mounted set of human teeth set in dental acrylic - and a fine large abstract canvas (Untitled, 1996) by Simon Callery, which seemed to have little evident association with Leonardo’s sketch but are perhaps examples of works that Martin Kemp describes as ‘truly Leonardesque in a way that goes beyond literal imitation or influence’. Others, however,  including Stephen Farthing’s Absolute Shower (1989-96), an acrylic that is fairly closely based on Leonardo’s imagery, and Brian Catling’s 20-minute video entitled Blow (1996), evidently evolved out of the moralising ‘air of surreal irony’ in Leonardo’s rainstorm of consumer durables.

A lunchtime lecture at the National Gallery: ‘Delible but Durable: Leonardo da Vinci: The Last Supper

On August 1st 1997 the Rev. Tom Devonshire- Jones spoke in the National Gallery’s series called ‘Bits and Pieces’ on ‘Delible but durable: Leonardo da Vinci: The Last Supper’. Vivienne Northcote reports:

            The main thrust of the lecture given by the Rev. Tom Devonshire-Jones was that the works of Leonardo da Vinci, and The Last Supper in particular, should be given a far more thorough examination from a theological point of view. He used a brief outline of the history of the painting, including its near destruction during World War II, to underline the enduring effect of the image on the minds and hearts of so many, including a range of modern artists.                                                              While it is true to say that Andy Warhol, whose works from The Last Supper were discussed in the lecture, did use Leonardo’s image directly, this is not perhaps so true of the other group of works discussed. These were the group of images exhibited under the heading of Abendmahl in the Brüderkirche in Kassel, Germany, in 1982. The German artists who produced this group of studies of The Last Supper undoubtedly drew on much wider influences than just Leonardo’s, for this iconographical theme has been used by countless artists during the Renaissance and since then. The question of Leonardo’s influence on later artists is an interesting topic and it was courageous of Tom Devonshire-Jones to give it an airing at the National Gallery, when many of the works he showed are more often seen in the context of the Tate Gallery.                                                                                        Included in the handout for the lecture was a wise and cautious note by Martin Kemp on Leonardo’s theological position. Kemp suggests that Leonardo had little time for institutionalised religion, but nevertheless was persuaded that a supreme power had created the natural world, and of course Man. He appears to have accepted a commonplace division between reason and revelation, though he indulged little, if at all, in abstract speculation: the wonder of nature was revelation enough for him. In view of the increasing tendency to rope Leonardo into the dubious ‘theological’ discussion of the true position and nature of Christ, it is, perhaps, right that serious scholarship should now be brought to bear on the problem of Leonardo’s own theological position, and in particular on the issue of his views on the nature of Divinity and of its place in human knowledge. Many people, unaware of correct art-historical knowledge, will be forming some incorrect ideas as a result of recent publications. Tom Devonshire-Jones’s plea was, therefore, timely and should be heeded.

A final note on the Society’s October 1996 Colloquium on equestrian groups

The results of metallurgical tests carried out by Mr Jean-Marie Welter on the Ven equestrian group, promised in issue 10 of this Newsletter, have not yet been made available to us. However, sometime this summer an undated  letter was received from Mr Ven. He concedes that all the expert advice he has received about his group shows clearly that all its parts were ‘made by the sand cast technique’. He confesses that ‘this result has confused [the] members’ of the Centre des Amis du Quattrocento of Antwerp. Nevertheless, he is not yet ready to accept what was generally clear to those assembled for the October 1996 Colloquium, that his equestrian group is a nineteenth-century version of Verrocchio’s Colleoni Monument and has nothing whatsoever to do with Leonardo da Vinci. Unless radically unexpected new evidence comes to light, nothing further on this news item will be published in this Newsletter.



Recent Publications




   Bramly, Serge, Mona Lisa, London: Thames and Hudson, 1996   

   Brizio, Anna Maria, ed., Scritti scelti di Leonardo da Vinci ; Torino: Unione tipografico editrice torinese, 1996

   Clayton, Martin, Leonardo da Vinci: one hundred drawings from the collection of Her Majesty the Queen, London: Merrell Holberton, 1996

   Collins, Bradley I., Leonardo, psychoanalysis & art history: a critical study of psychobiographical approaches to Leonardo da Vinci, Evanston, Ill., Northwestern University Press, 1997       

...Field, J.V., The Invention of Infinity: Mathematics and Art in the Renaissance, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997

   Galluzzi, Paolo, ed., Gli Ingegneri del Rinascimento da Brunelleschi a Leonardo da Vinci, Firenze: Giunti : Istituto e Museo di storia della scienza, 1996.     

   Letze, Otto, and Thomas Buchsteiner, eds, Leonardo da Vinci: scientist, inventor, artist; with contributions by Nathalie Guttmann, and others, and excerpts from Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Treatise on painting’, Ostfildern-Ruit : G. Hatje, 1997.

   Neumayr, Anton, Kunst und Medizin: Leonardo da Vinci, Francisco Goya, Vincent van Gogh, Wien: Pichler, 1996.                






Leonardo da Vinci [interactive multimedia, Windows version], Bellevue, WA: Corbis, 1996. [1 computer optical disc : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 user’s guide (178 pp. : ill. ; 28 cm) laid in container. System requirements: Windows 3.1, 3.11 or Windows 95; color card; sound card; CD-ROM drive. Disc characteristics: CD-ROM].





   Ames-Lewis, Francis, ‘Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci at the Queen’s Gallery’ [exhibition review], Apollo, 143, May 1996, 50-1

   Bourdon, David, ‘Leonardo da Vinci at the Museum of Natural History’, Art in America, 84, December 1996, 106

   Field, J.V., ‘Rediscovering the Archimedean polyhedra: Piero della Francesca, Luca Pacioli, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Daniele Barbaro, and Johannes Kepler’, Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 50, 1997, 241-89

   Holberton, Paul, review of Michael W.  Kwakkelstein, ‘Leonardo da Vinci as a physiognomist’, The Burlington Magazine, 137, 1995, 188-9

   Jermanok, Stephen, ‘Doubting Leonardo’, Art and Antiques, 20 May 1997, 19

   Landrus, Matt, ‘Leonardo da Vinci’s non-reductive method: representing chaos’, Athanor, 14, 1996, 9-19       

   ‘Londres: cent Vinci’ [exhibition review], Connaissance des Arts, 530, July/August 1996, 34

   Pesci, Flavia, ‘Il mito di Leonardo nella storiografia rinascimentale dell’Ottocento: nuovi percorsi alle fonti della cultura simbolista francese’, Storia dell’Arte, 87, 1996, 260-85

   Pizzorusso, Ann, ‘Leonardo’s geology: the authenticity of the Virgin of the Rocks’, Leonardo, 29 no. 3, 1996, 197-200

   Poseq, Avigdor W.G., ‘Left and right in Leonardo’, Konsthistorisk Tidskrift, 66, 1997, 37-50

   Rosenbaum, Lee, ‘Leonardo in D-drive’, Art in America, 84, December 1996, 25

   Simon, Robert B., review of Patricia Trutty-Coohill, ‘The drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and his circle in America’, Florence: Giunti, 1993 [exhibition review], Drawing, 17, 1995-96, 103-4

   Sita, Lisa, ‘Bringing Leonardo to life: introducing students to the Codex Leicester’, Curator, 40 June 1997, 101-7

   Stefaniak, Regina, ‘On looking into the abyss: Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks’, Konsthistorisk Tidskrift, 66, 1997, 1-36

















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.

            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.

            Secretary/Treasurer: Dr Thomas Frangenberg, Department of Art History, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, LE1 7RH, UK; tel.: 0533 522522. fax.: 0533 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