The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 05

But a mixture of artificial and natural perspective will be seen in this tetragon called el main [Footnote 20: el main is quite legibly written in the original; the meaning and derivation of the word are equally doubtful.], that is to say e f g h which must appear to the eye of the spectator to be equal to a b c d so long as the eye remains in its first position between c and d. And this will be seen to have a good effect, because the natural perspective of the plane will conceal the defects which would [otherwise] seem monstrous.


Six books on Light and Shade.

Linear Perspective cannot be immediately followed by either the "prospettiva de' perdimenti" or the "prospettiva de' colori" or the aerial perspective; since these branches of the subject presuppose a knowledge of the principles of Light and Shade. No apology, therefore, is here needed for placing these immediately after Linear Perspective.

We have various plans suggested by Leonardo for the arrangement of the mass of materials treating of this subject. Among these I have given the preference to a scheme propounded in No. III, because, in all probability, we have here a final and definite purpose expressed. Several authors have expressed it as their opinion that the Paris Manuscript C is a complete and finished treatise on Light and Shade. Certainly, the Principles of Light and Shade form by far the larger portion of this MS. which consists of two separate parts; still, the materials are far from being finally arranged. It is also evident that he here investigates the subject from the point of view of the Physicist rather than from that of the Painter.

The plan of a scheme of arrangement suggested in No. III and adopted by me has been strictly adhered to for the first four Books. For the three last, however, few materials have come down to us; and it must be admitted that these three Books would find a far more appropriate place in a work on Physics than in a treatise on Painting. For this reason I have collected in Book V all the chapters on Reflections, and in Book VI I have put together and arranged all the sections of MS. C that belong to the book on Painting, so far as they relate to Light and Shade, while the sections of the same MS. which treat of the "Prospettiva de' perdimenti" have, of course, been excluded from the series on Light and Shade.

[Footnote III: This text has already been published with some slight variations in Dozio's pamphlet Degli scritti e disegni di Leonardo da Vinci, Milan 1871, pp. 30--31. Dozio did not transcribe it from the original MS. which seems to have remained unknown to him, but from an old copy (MS. H. 227 in the Ambrosian Library).]




You must first explain the theory and then the practice. First you must describe the shadows and lights on opaque objects, and then on transparent bodies.

Scheme of the books on Light and shade.



[Having already treated of the nature of shadows and the way in which they are cast [Footnote 2: Avendo io tractato.--We may suppose that he here refers to some particular MS., possibly Paris C.], I will now consider the places on which they fall; and their curvature, obliquity, flatness or, in short, any character I may be able to detect in them.]

Shadow is the obstruction of light. Shadows appear to me to be of supreme importance in perspective, because, without them opaque and solid bodies will be ill defined; that which is contained within their outlines and their boundaries themselves will be ill-understood unless they are shown against a background of a different tone from themselves. And therefore in my first proposition concerning shadow I state that every opaque body is surrounded and its whole surface enveloped in shadow and light. And on this proposition I build up the first Book. Besides this, shadows have in themselves various degrees of darkness, because they are caused by the absence of a variable amount of the luminous rays; and these I call Primary shadows because they are the first, and inseparable from the object to which they belong. And on this I will found my second Book. From these primary shadows there result certain shaded rays which are diffused through the atmosphere and these vary in character according to that of the primary shadows whence they are derived. I shall therefore call these shadows Derived shadows because they are produced by other shadows; and the third Book will treat of these. Again these derived shadows, where they are intercepted by various objects, produce effects as various as the places where they are cast and of this I will treat in the fourth Book. And since all round the derived shadows, where the derived shadows are intercepted, there is always a space where the light falls and by reflected dispersion is thrown back towards its cause, it meets the original shadow and mingles with it and modifies it somewhat in its nature; and on this I will compose my fifth Book. Besides this, in the sixth Book I will investigate the many and various diversities of reflections resulting from these rays which will modify the original [shadow] by [imparting] some of the various colours from the different objects whence these reflected rays are derived. Again, the seventh Book will treat of the various distances that may exist between the spot where the reflected rays fall and that where they originate, and the various shades of colour which they will acquire in falling on opaque bodies.

Different principles and plans of treatment (112--116).


First I will treat of light falling through windows which I will call Restricted [Light] and then I will treat of light in the open country, to which I will give the name of diffused Light. Then I will treat of the light of luminous bodies.



The conditions of shadow and light [as seen] by the eye are 3. Of these the first is when the eye and the light are on the same side of the object seen; the 2nd is when the eye is in front of the object and the light is behind it. The 3rd is when the eye is in front of the object and the light is on one side, in such a way as that a line drawn from the object to the eye and one from the object to the light should form a right angle where they meet.



This is another section: that is, of the nature of a reflection (from) an object placed between the eye and the light under various aspects.



As regards all visible objects 3 things must be considered. These are the position of the eye which sees: that of the object seen [with regard] to the light, and the position of the light which illuminates the object, b is the eye, a the object seen, c the light, a is the eye, b the illuminating body, c is the illuminated object.


Let a be the light, b the eye, c the object seen by the eye and in the light. These show, first, the eye between the light and the body; the 2nd, the light between the eye and the body; the 3rd the body between the eye and the light, a is the eye, b the illuminated object, c the light.




The first kind of Light which may illuminate opaque bodies is called Direct light--as that of the sun or any other light from a window or flame. The second is Diffused [universal] light, such as we see in cloudy weather or in mist and the like. The 3rd is Subdued light, that is when the sun is entirely below the horizon, either in the evening or morning.



The lights which may illuminate opaque bodies are of 4 kinds. These are: diffused light as that of the atmosphere, within our horizon. And Direct, as that of the sun, or of a window or door or other opening. The third is Reflected light; and there is a 4th which is that which passes through [semi] transparent bodies, as linen or paper or the like, but not transparent like glass, or crystal, or other diaphanous bodies, which produce the same effect as though nothing intervened between the shaded object and the light that falls upon it; and this we will discuss fully in our discourse.

Definition of the nature of shadows (119--122).



Shadow is the absence of light, merely the obstruction of the luminous rays by an opaque body. Shadow is of the nature of darkness. Light [on an object] is of the nature of a luminous body; one conceals and the other reveals. They are always associated and inseparable from all objects. But shadow is a more powerful agent than light, for it can impede and entirely deprive bodies of their light, while light can never entirely expel shadow from a body, that is from an opaque body.


Shadow is the diminution of light by the intervention of an opaque body. Shadow is the counterpart of the luminous rays which are cut off by an opaque body.

This is proved because the shadow cast is the same in shape and size as the luminous rays were which are transformed into a shadow.


Shadow is the diminution alike of light and of darkness, and stands between darkness and light.

A shadow may be infinitely dark, and also of infinite degrees of absence of darkness.

The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased. Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form.

The forms of bodies could not be understood in detail but for shadow.



Shadow partakes of the nature of universal matter. All such matters are more powerful in their beginning and grow weaker towards the end, I say at the beginning, whatever their form or condition may be and whether visible or invisible. And it is not from small beginnings that they grow to a great size in time; as it might be a great oak which has a feeble beginning from a small acorn. Yet I may say that the oak is most powerful at its beginning, that is where it springs from the earth, which is where it is largest (To return:) Darkness, then, is the strongest degree of shadow and light is its least. Therefore, O Painter, make your shadow darkest close to the object that casts it, and make the end of it fading into light, seeming to have no end.

Of the various kinds of shadows. (123-125).


Darkness is absence of light. Shadow is diminution of light. Primitive shadow is that which is inseparable from a body not in the light. Derived shadow is that which is disengaged from a body in shadow and pervades the air. A cast transparent shadow is that which is surrounded by an illuminated surface. A simple shadow is one which receives no light from the luminous body which causes it. A simple shadow begins within the line which starts from the edge of the luminous body a b.


A simple shadow is one where no light at all interferes with it.

A compound shadow is one which is somewhat illuminated by one or more lights.



An inseparable shadow is that which is never absent from the illuminated body. As, for instance a ball, which so long as it is in the light always has one side in shadow which never leaves it for any movement or change of position in the ball. A separate shadow may be and may not be produced by the body itself. Suppose the ball to be one braccia distant from a wall with a light on the opposite side of it; this light will throw upon the wall exactly as broad a shadow as is to be seen on the side of the ball that is turned towards the wall. That portion of the cast shadow will not be visible when the light is below the ball and the shadow is thrown up towards the sky and finding no obstruction on its way is lost.



Of the various kinds of light (126, 127).

Separate light is that which falls upon the body. Inseparable light is the side of the body that is illuminated by that light. One is called primary, the other derived. And, in the same way there are two kinds of shadow:--One primary and the other derived. The primary is that which is inseparable from the body, the derived is that which proceeds from the body conveying to the surface of the wall the form of the body causing it.


How there are 2 different kinds of light; one being called diffused, the other restricted. The diffused is that which freely illuminates objects. The restricted is that which being admitted through an opening or window illuminates them on that side only.

[Footnote: At the spot marked A in the first diagram Leonardo wrote lume costretto (restricted light). At the spot B on the second diagram he wrote lume libero (diffused light).]

General remarks (128. 129).


Light is the chaser away of darkness. Shade is the obstruction of light. Primary light is that which falls on objects and causes light and shade. And derived lights are those portions of a body which are illuminated by the primary light. A primary shadow is that side of a body on which the light cannot fall.

The general distribution of shadow and light is that sum total of the rays thrown off by a shaded or illuminated body passing through the air without any interference and the spot which intercepts and cuts off the distribution of the dark and light rays.

And the eye can best distinguish the forms of objects when it is placed between the shaded and the illuminated parts.



I ask to have this much granted me--to assert that every ray passing through air of equal density throughout, travels in a straight line from its cause to the object or place it falls upon.


On the nature of light (130. 131).


The reason by which we know that a light radiates from a single centre is this: We plainly see that a large light is often much broader than some small object which nevertheless--and although the rays [of the large light] are much more than twice the extent [of the small body]--always has its shadow cast on the nearest surface very visibly. Let c f be a broad light and n be the object in front of it, casting a shadow on the plane, and let a b be the plane. It is clear that it is not the broad light that will cast the shadow n on the plane, but that the light has within it a centre is shown by this experiment. The shadow falls on the plane as is shown at m o t r.

[Footnote 13: In the original MS. no explanatory text is placed after this title-line; but a space is left for it and the text beginning at line 15 comes next.] Why, to two [eyes] or in front of two eyes do 3 objects appear as two?

Why, when you estimate the direction of an object with two sights the nearer appears confused. I say that the eye projects an infinite number of lines which mingle or join those reaching it which come to it from the object looked at. And it is only the central and sensible line that can discern and discriminate colours and objects; all the others are false and illusory. And if you place 2 objects at half an arm's length apart if the nearer of the two is close to the eye its form will remain far more confused than that of the second; the reason is that the first is overcome by a greater number of false lines than the second and so is rendered vague.

Light acts in the same manner, for in the effects of its lines (=rays), and particularly in perspective, it much resembles the eye; and its central rays are what cast the true shadow. When the object in front of it is too quickly overcome with dim rays it will cast a broad and disproportionate shadow, ill defined; but when the object which is to cast the shadow and cuts off the rays near to the place where the shadow falls, then the shadow is distinct; and the more so in proportion as the light is far off, because at a long distance the central ray is less overcome by false rays; because the lines from the eye and the solar and other luminous rays passing through the atmosphere are obliged to travel in straight lines. Unless they are deflected by a denser or rarer air, when they will be bent at some point, but so long as the air is free from grossness or moisture they will preserve their direct course, always carrying the image of the object that intercepts them back to their point of origin. And if this is the eye, the intercepting object will be seen by its colour, as well as by form and size. But if the intercepting plane has in it some small perforation opening into a darker chamber--not darker in colour, but by absence of light--you will see the rays enter through this hole and transmitting to the plane beyond all the details of the object they proceed from both as to colour and form; only every thing will be upside down. But the size [of the image] where the lines are reconstructed will be in proportion to the relative distance of the aperture from the plane on which the lines fall [on one hand] and from their origin [on the other]. There they intersect and form 2 pyramids with their point meeting [a common apex] and their bases opposite. Let a b be the point of origin of the lines, d e the first plane, and c the aperture with the intersection of the lines; f g is the inner plane. You will find that a falls upon the inner plane below at g, and b which is below will go up to the spot f; it will be quite evident to experimenters that every luminous body has in itself a core or centre, from which and to which all the lines radiate which are sent forth by the surface of the luminous body and reflected back to it; or which, having been thrown out and not intercepted, are dispersed in the air.



Although the points of luminous pyramids may extend into shaded places and those of pyramids of shadow into illuminated places, and though among the luminous pyramids one may start from a broader base than another; nevertheless, if by reason of their various length these luminous pyramids acquire angles of equal size their light will be equal; and the case will be the same with the pyramids of shadow; as may be seen in the intersected pyramids a b c and d e f, which though their bases differ in size are equal as to breadth and light.

[Footnote: 51--55: This supplementary paragraph is indicated as being a continuation of line 45, by two small crosses.]

The difference between light and lustre (132--135).


Of the difference between light and lustre; and that lustre is not included among colours, but is saturation of whiteness, and derived from the surface of wet bodies; light partakes of the colour of the object which reflects it (to the eye) as gold or silver or the like.



Suppose the body to be the round object figured here and let the light be at the point a, and let the illuminated side of the object be b c and the eye at the point d: I say that, as lustre is every where and complete in each part, if you stand at the point d the lustre will appear at c, and in proportion as the eye moves from d to a, the lustre will move from c to n.



Heigh light or lustre on any object is not situated [necessarily] in the middle of an illuminated object, but moves as and where the eye moves in looking at it.



What is the difference between light and the lustre which is seen on the polished surface of opaque bodies?

The lights which are produced from the polished surface of opaque bodies will be stationary on stationary objects even if the eye on which they strike moves. But reflected lights will, on those same objects, appear in as many different places on the surface as different positions are taken by the eye.


Opaque bodies which have a hard and rough surface never display any lustre in any portion of the side on which the light falls.


Those bodies which are opaque and hard with a hard surface reflect light [lustre] from every spot on the illuminated side which is in a position to receive light at the same angle of incidence as they occupy with regard to the eye; but, as the surface mirrors all the surrounding objects, the illuminated [body] is not recognisable in these portions of the illuminated body.


The relations of luminous to illuminated bodies.

The middle of the light and shade on an object in light and shade is opposite to the middle of the primary light. All light and shadow expresses itself in pyramidal lines. The middle of the shadow on any object must necessarily be opposite the middle of its light, with a direct line passing through the centre of the body. The middle of the light will be at a, that of the shadow at b. [Again, in bodies shown in light and shade the middle of each must coincide with the centre of the body, and a straight line will pass through both and through that centre.]

[Footnote: In the original MS., at the spot marked a of the first diagram Leonardo wrote primitiuo, and at the spot marked c--primitiva (primary); at the spot marked b he wrote dirivatiuo and at d deriuatiua (derived).]

Experiments on the relation of light and shadow within a room (137--140).



Although the balls a b c are lighted from one window, nevertheless, if you follow the lines of their shadows you will see they intersect at a point forming the angle n.

[Footnote: The diagram belonging to this passage is slightly sketched on Pl. XXXII; a square with three balls below it. The first three lines of the text belonging to it are written above the sketch and the six others below it.]


Every shadow cast by a body has a central line directed to a single point produced by the intersection of luminous lines in the middle of the opening and thickness of the window. The proposition stated above, is plainly seen by experiment. Thus if you draw a place with a window looking northwards, and let this be s f, you will see a line starting from the horizon to the east, which, touching the 2 angles of the window o f, reaches d; and from the horizon on the west another line, touching the other 2 angles r s, and ending at c; and their intersection falls exactly in the middle of the opening and thickness of the window. Again, you can still better confirm this proof by placing two sticks, as shown at g h; and you will see the line drawn from the centre of the shadow directed to the centre m and prolonged to the horizon n f.

[Footnote: B here stands for cerchio del' orizonte tramontano on the original diagram (the circle of the horizon towards the North); A for levante (East) and C for ponete (West).]


Every shadow with all its variations, which becomes larger as its distance from the object is greater, has its external lines intersecting in the middle, between the light and the object. This proposition is very evident and is confirmed by experience. For, if a b is a window without any object interposed, the luminous atmosphere to the right hand at a is seen to the left at d. And the atmosphere at the left illuminates on the right at c, and the lines intersect at the point m.

[Footnote: A here stands for levante (East), B for ponente (West).]


Every body in light and shade is situated between 2 pyramids one dark and the other luminous, one is visible the other is not. But this only happens when the light enters by a window. Supposing a b to be the window and r the body in light and shade, the light to the right hand z will pass the object to the left and go on to p; the light to the left at k will pass to the right of the object at i and go on to m and the two lines will intersect at c and form a pyramid. Then again a b falls on the shaded body at i g and forms a pyramid f i g. f will be dark because the light a b can never fall there; i g c will be illuminated because the light falls upon it.

Light and shadow with regard to the position of the eye (141--145).


Every shaded body that is larger than the pupil and that interposes between the luminous body and the eye will be seen dark.

When the eye is placed between the luminous body and the objects illuminated by it, these objects will be seen without any shadow.

[Footnote: The diagram which in the original stands above line 1 is given on Plate II, No 2. Then, after a blank space of about eight lines, the diagram Plate II No 3 is placed in the original. There is no explanation of it beyond the one line written under it.]


Why the 2 lights one on each side of a body having two pyramidal sides of an obtuse apex leave it devoid of shadow.

[Footnote: The sketch illustrating this is on Plate XLI No 1.]


A body in shadow situated between the light and the eye can never display its illuminated portion unless the eye can see the whole of the primary light.

[Footnote: A stands for corpo (body), B for lume (light).]


The eye which looks (at a spot) half way between the shadow and the light which surrounds the body in shadow will see that the deepest shadows on that body will meet the eye at equal angles, that is at the same angle as that of sight.

[Footnote: In both these diagrams A stands for lume (light) B for ombra (shadow).]



If the sun is in the East and you look towards the West you will see every thing in full light and totally without shadow because you see them from the same side as the sun: and if you look towards the South or North you will see all objects in light and shade, because you see both the side towards the sun and the side away from it; and if you look towards the coming of the sun all objects will show you their shaded side, because on that side the sun cannot fall upon them.

The law of the incidence of light.


The edges of a window which are illuminated by 2 lights of equal degrees of brightness will not reflect light of equal brightness into the chamber within.

If b is a candle and a c our hemisphere both will illuminate the edges of the window m n, but light b will only illuminate f g and the hemisphere a will light all of d e.



That part of a body which receives the luminous rays at equal angles will be in a higher light than any other part of it.

And the part which the luminous rays strike between less equal angles will be less strongly illuminated.


Gradations of strength in the shadows (148. 149).



That part of the object which is marked m is in the highest light because it faces the window a d by the line a f; n is in the second grade because the light b d strikes it by the line b e; o is in the third grade, as the light falls on it from c d by the line c h; p is the lowest light but one as c d falls on it by the line d v; q is the deepest shadow for no light falls on it from any part of the window.

In proportion as c d goes into a d so will n r s be darker than m, and all the rest is space without shadow.

[Footnote: The diagram belonging to this chapter is No. 1 on Plate III. The letters a b e d and r are not reproduced in facsimile of the original, but have been replaced by ordinary type in the margin. 5-12. The original text of these lines is reproduced within the diagram.--Compare No 275.]


The light which falls on a shaded body at the acutest angle receives the highest light, and the darkest portion is that which receives it at an obtuse angle and both the light and the shadow form pyramids. The angle c receives the highest grade of light because it is directly in front of the window a b and the whole horizon of the sky m x. The angle a differs but little from c because the angles which divide it are not so unequal as those below, and only that portion of the horizon is intercepted which lies between y and x. Although it gains as much on the other side its line is nevertheless not very strong because one angle is smaller than its fellow. The angles e i will have less light because they do not see much of the light m s and the light v x and their angles are very unequal. Yhe angle k and the angle f are each placed between very unequal angles and therefore have but little light, because at k it has only the light p t, and at f only t q; o g is the lowest grade of light because this part has no light at all from the sky; and thence come the lines which will reconstruct a pyramid that is the counterpart of the pyramid c; and this pyramid l is in the first grade of shadow; for this too is placed between equal angles directly opposite to each other on either side of a straight line which passes through the centre of the body and goes to the centre of the light. The several luminous images cast within the frame of the window at the points a and b make a light which surrounds the derived shadow cast by the solid body at the points 4 and 6. The shaded images increase from o g and end at 7 and 8.

[Footnote: The diagram belonging to this chapter is No. 2 on Plate III. In the original it is placed between lines 3 and 4, and in the reproduction these are shown in part. The semi circle above is marked orizonte (horizon). The number 6 at the left hand side, outside the facsimile, is in the place of a figure which has become indistinct in the original.]

On the intensity of shadows as dependent on the distance from the light (150-152).


The smaller the light that falls upon an object the more shadow it will display. And the light will illuminate a smaller portion of the object in proportion as it is nearer to it; and conversely, a larger extent of it in proportion as it is farther off.

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