Sacred Texts  Age of Reason  Index 
XII. Architectural Designs Index
  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Da Vinci Notebooks at

p. 25

Introductory Observations on the Architectural Designs (XII), and Writings on Architecture (XIII).

Until now very little has been known regarding Leonardo's labours in the domain of Architecture. No building is known to have been planned and executed by him, though by some contemporary writers incidental allusion is made to his occupying himself with architecture, and his famous letter to Lodovico il Moro,--which has long been a well-known document,--in which he offers his service as an architect to that prince, tends to confirm the belief that he was something more than an amateur of the art. This hypothesis has lately been confirmed by the publication of certain documents, preserved at Milan, showing that Leonardo was not only employed in preparing plans but that he took an active part, with much credit, as member of a commission on public buildings; his name remains linked with the history of the building of the Cathedral at Pavia and that of the Cathedral at Milan.

Leonardo's writings on Architecture are dispersed among a large number of MSS., and it would be scarcely possible to master their contents without the opportunity of arranging, sorting and comparing the whole mass of materials, so as to have some comprehensive idea of the whole. The sketches, when isolated and considered by themselves, might appear to be of but little value; it is not till we understand their general purport, from comparing them with each other, that we can form any just estimate of their true worth.

Leonardo seems to have had a project for writing a complete and separate treatise on Architecture, such as his predecessors and contemporaries had composed--Leon Battista Alberti, Filarete, Francesco di Giorgio and perhaps also Bramante. But, on the other hand, it cannot be denied that possibly no such scheme was connected with the isolated notes and researches, treating on special questions, which are given in this work; that he was merely working at problems in which, for some reason or other he took a special interest.

A great number of important buildings were constructed in Lombardy during the period between 1472 and 1499, and among them there are several by unknown architects,

p. 26

of so high an artistic merit, that it is certainly not improbable that either Bramante or Leonardo da Vinci may have been, directly or indirectly, concerned in their erection.

Having been engaged, for now nearly twenty years, in a thorough study of Bramante's life and labours, I have taken a particular interest in detecting the distinguishing marks of his style as compared with Leonardo's. In 1869 I made researches about the architectural drawings of the latter in the Codex Atlanticus at Milan, for the purpose of finding out, if possible the original plans and sketches of the churches of Santa Maria delle Grazie at Milan, and of the Cathedral at Pavia, which buildings have been supposed to be the work both of Bramante and of Leonardo. Since 1876 I have repeatedly examined Leonardo's architectural studies in the collection of his manuscripts in the Institut de France, and some of these I have already given to the public in my work on "Les Projets Primitifs pour la Basilique de St. Pierre de Rome", Pl. 43. In 1879 I had the opportunity of examining the manuscript in the Palazzo Trivulzio at Milan, and in 1880 Dr Richter showed me in London the manuscripts in the possession of Lord Ashburnham, and those in the British Museum. I have thus had opportunities of seeing most of Leonardo's architectural drawings in the original, but of the manuscripts tliemselves I have deciphered only the notes which accompany the sketches. It is to Dr Richter's exertions that we owe the collected texts on Architecture which are now published, and while he has undertaken to be responsible for the correct reading of the original texts, he has also made it his task to extract the whole of the materials from the various MSS. It has been my task to arrange and elucidate the texts under the heads which have been adopted in this work. MS. B. at Paris and the Codex Atlanticus at Milan are the chief sources of our knowledge of Leonardo as an architect, and I have recently subjected these to a thorough re-investigation expressly with a view to this work.

A complete reproduction of all Leonardo's architectural sketches has not, indeed, been possible, but as far as the necessarily restricted limits of the work have allowed, the utmost completeness has been aimed at, and no efforts have been spared to include every thing that can contribute to a knowledge of Leonardo's style. It would have been very interesting, if it had been possible, to give some general account at least of Leonardo's work and studies in engineering, fortification, canal-making and the like, and it is only on mature reflection that we have reluctantly abandoned this idea. Leonardo's occupations in these departments have by no means so close a relation to literary work, in the strict sense of the word as we are fairly justified in attributing to his numerous notes on Architecture.

Leonardo's architectural studies fall naturally under two heads:

I. Those drawings and sketches, often accompanied by short remarks and explanations, which may be regarded as designs for buildings or monuments intended to be built. With these there are occasionally explanatory texts.

II. Theoretical investigations and treatises. A special interest attaches to these because they discuss a variety of questions which are of practical importance to this day. Leonardo's theory as to the origin and progress of cracks in buildings is perhaps to be considered as unique in its way in the literature of Architecture.


Next: I. Plans for towns