Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter

editor:  Francis Ames-Lewis


Issue 17,  November 2000


Recent and forthcoming events

A Symposium on the 1651 editio princeps of Leonardo da Vinci’s Trattato della Pittura


A two-day symposium, organised by Thomas Frangenberg and Claire Farago, will be held at the Warburg Institute on September 0-0, 2001. The tiopic under discussion will be the first printed edition, with illustrations by Nicolas Poussin, of Leonardo da Vinci’s Trattto della Pittura, as reconstructed by Francesco Melzi on the basis of Leonarod’s notes, and its international fortuna. peakers will consider how the editio princeps came into being, and how it was received in many different copuntries all over Europe in the seventeenth century. The speakers, and the provisional titles of their papers, will be:



Leonardesque News




Leonardo drawings at the Spectacular Bodies exhibition, Hayward Gallery, London, 19 October 2000 — 14 January 2001


Predictably, almost inevitably, anatomical drawings by Leonardo lead the way in various sections of the Spectacular Bodies exhibition, an exploration of how the human body has been represented over the past five centuries. Curated by Marina Wallace and the Society’s former Hon. President Martin Kemp, this exhibition is, they write, ‘...an open exercise in contextual looking, which invites the viewer of the images to play creative and imaginative roles in thinking about images of the subject that is literally closest to our hearts and minds, that is to say, “knowing ourselves”’. ‘Know Thyself’ is indeed the subtitle of the Introduction, in which the curators explore the symbiosis between art and anatomy during the centuries between the Renaissance and the nineteenth century. ‘The purpose of anatomical images during [this] period... had as much to do with what we would call aesthetics and theological understanding as with the narrower intentions of medical illustration...’. Moreover, during the Renaissance, ‘theorists and artists of the avant-garde came to insist that it was necessary for the artist to acquire a mastery of the body as a functiuonal system of motion and emotion’, so not surprisingly ‘the makers of [anatomical] images were, for the most part, trained as artists and continued to call themselves “painters” or “sculptors”’.

            In 1543 Andreas Vesalius published his ‘large and seminal volume’, the De humani corporis fabrica (Basel, J. Oporinus), which is ilustrated with a series of magnificent woodcuts, based on drawings by Jan Stephan van Calcar, of flayed and dissected cadavers. At least fifty years before this, however, Leonardo da Vinci had undertaken dissections and had started to accumulate a large collection of diagrammatic drawings based on his own observations of human anatomy. Perhaps the best known of his dissections was of a centenarian who died in Leonardo’s presence in the hospital of S. Maria Nuova in Florence, sometime during the winter of 1508-9. Of this old man Leonardo wrote:’...’.

            Three drawings that can be related to this dissection are displayed in sections of Part I the exhibition, ‘The Divine Machine’: a sheet of Studies of the hand (RL 19009r), aStudy of the Tendons and Muscles of the Foot, Ankle and Lower Leg (RL 19017r) and the Muscles of the Shoulders and Spine (RL19015). Two sheets of drawings of the foetus in the womb (RL 19101 and 19103) introduce a fascination series of drawings, engravings and wax models of pregnancy and childbirth. Part II of the exhibition, ‘The House of the Soul’ also includes Leonardo drawings lent from the Royal Library: both sides of his sheet of finely-drawn studies of a sectioned skull (RL 19058), an early consideration of the parts of the brain in a study of the Vertical and Horizontal Sections of the Human Head (RL 12603r), and two studies of emotional expression, the red chalk Head of a Man and a Lion (RL 12502) and a sheet of Studies of Rearing Horses with Snarling Man and Lion (RL 12326).

            This exhibition, as spectacular as the bodies of its title, includes much else, of course — not least some rather unnerving sections on phrenology, eugenics and other dubious theories of intellectual capacity and development, and a series of contemporary works of art that extrapolate from the long tradition of anatomical illustration that the show examines. But for readers of this Newsletter, it may be the opportunity to see once again some of the most impressive of the Royal Library’s great collection of anatomical drawings by Leonardo da Vinci that constitutes the principal attraction of this remarkable exhibition.


An exhibition of ‘Leonardo e la Leda’ in Vinci


An exhibition entitled ‘Leonardo e la Leda’ is to be held at the Palazzino Uzielli del Museo Leonardiano in Vinci from 23 June to 23 September 2001. It will be organized by the Comune di Vinci in conjunction with the Soprintendenza per i Beni Artistici e Storici delle provincie di Firenze, Pistoia e Prato and with the Ministero dei beni Culturali. The joint curators are Gigetta Dalli Regoli (Professor of the History of Art at the Universitą di Pisa), Romano Nanni (Director of the Biblioteca e Museo Leonardiano di Vinci) and Antonio Natali (Director of the Department of Renaissance and Mannerist Paintings at the Uffizi, Florence). The exhibition will consider the relationships between classical representations of the story of Leda, the choices and reasons underlying Leonardo’s compositions (looking at both of his versions, the kneeling and the standing Leda), and the alternative solutions to Leonardo’s, especially those devised early in the sixteenth century. A separate section of the exhibition will be devoted to each of these three themes.

            1. ‘Il mito nell’antico’: the first section of the exhibition is dedicated to the treatment of the Leda story in classical antiquity, taking into consideration the pair of lovers, Leda and the Swan-Jupiter, and the children, as seen in works both of painting and of sculpture.

            2. ‘La Leda per Leonardo’: consideration of Leonardo’s choices emphasises their novelty in relation to the fifteenth-century treatment of the theme, and relates them to the range of Leonardo’s researches, with special reference to his interests in anatomy and in the natural world. This second section of the exhibition will also consider the similarities and differences between the kneeling Leda, physically and emotionally protective of both the swan and the twins, and the standing Leda who is more serene and composed in the attitude she takes towards the babies and towards her lover.

            3. ‘L’altra Leda’: the exhibition ends with some consideration of sixteenth-century compositions of the standing Leda, and the important type of the recumbent Leda surmounted by the swan. This ranges from a gem in the Medici collection and the version on Filarete’s bronze doors for St Peter’s to the large variety of sculptural and pictorial representations that followed from Michelangelo’s contribution to the theme.


Leonardo da Vinci. The Complete Paintings, by Pietro Marani. New York (Abrams), 2000. ISBN 00000. $ 75.00


First published in Italian in 1997 (Milan, ...), Pietro Marani’s grand-scale monograph has now been published also in English, in a translation by...



A Website on Leonardo da Vinci’s Treatise on Painting


A template entry, on ‘Della prospectiva che colori ne lochi osscuri’ (Codex Urbinas 73r (§ 240)), for a website designed by Janis Bell, which would provide on-line access to Leonardo’s Trattato della Pittura, can be visited at www2.kenyon.edu/leonardo. It includes: an Italian transcription of the text; an illustration of the folio in the Codex Urbinas containing this text; notes and emendations; English translations of the text; a transcription of the text in the autograph notebook which Francesco Melzi used to compile the Treatise on Painting; commentary on the meaning of the text; a list of related texts; and a bibliography. Janis Bell writes:: http://www2.kenyon.edu/leonardo was originally prepared, Janis Bell writes, as a pilot project for a new annotated edition of the Trattato della pittura that Claire Farago, Thomas Frangenberg, Mary Pardo and I were planning to do. I was the one pushing for computerization, since I believed that a hypertext edition could provide several advantages:  [1] commentary could be added by numerous scholars over many years; [2] the frames or windows capacity of the computer would facilitate the juxtaposition of multiple texts and variants; [3] the site could be used by students and scholars, each requiring diffierent levels of detail.  My pilot project was presented at a session of the Society for Textual Scholarship meeting in 1995, but by that time, several members of the editorial committee had lost interest in the project and our plans were aborted. Consequently, I posted the computer project on the website of my home institution, expanding it by linking to my own publications and planning to contact other scholars to contribute in the hope that another group would be interested in taking up the cause of a hypertext Trattato. Serious health problems have prevented me from working on this project for the past 5 years.

            I invite all Leonardisti to visit the site and consider contributing to it in some way, even hosting the site at your own institution, expanding it as time and resources allow. Please contact me at bell@kenyon.edu with your questions and comments.


The conservation of the Uffizi Annunciation


Dr Antonio Natali, the director of the recent programne of conservation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation in the Uffizi, Florence, writes: An international workshop on ‘Experimenting in Arts and Sciences’


This workshop will explore the role ofexperimentation in the arts and sciences. It  is organized by Ruth Benschop, Dr Geert Somsen and Professor Robert Zwijnenberg, with the practical assistance of Carlijn Diesfeldt. It will be held in Maastricht, The Netherlands, on January 25 and 26, 2001.




The Leonardo da Vinci Society


We would always be grateful for 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 on the webpage, which can be visited at <http://giorgio.hart.bbk.ac.uk/davinci/>


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

            Vice-President: Professor. Francis Ames-Lewis, School of History of Art, Film and Visual Media, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H.0PD; 020.7631.6108; e-mail: f.ames-lewis@bbk.ac.uk

            Secretary/Treasurer: Dr Thomas Frangenberg, Department of History of Art, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, LE1. UK; e-mail: tf6@leicester.ac.uk

            Committee members:

            Rodney Palmer, 88 Ifield Road, London SW10.9AD;  e-mail: rodpalmer63@hotmail.com

            Frank A.J.L. James, Royasl Institution Centre for the History of Science and Technology, Royal INstitution of Great Britain, 21 Albemarle Street, London W1X.4BS; e-mail: fjames@ri.ac.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: 020.7631.6107; e-mail: f.ames-lewis@hart.bbk.ac.uk