The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 11

Flesh never increases on those portions of the limb where the bones are near to the surface.

At b r d a c e f the increase or diminution of the flesh never makes any considerable difference. Nature has placed in front of man all those parts which feel most pain under a blow; and these are the shin of the leg, the forehead, and the nose. And this was done for the preservation of man, since, if such pain were not felt in these parts, the number of blows to which they would be exposed must be the cause of their destruction.

Describe why the bones of the arm and leg are double near the hand and foot [respectively].

And where the flesh is thicker or thinner in the bending of the limbs.



Every part of the whole must be in proportion to the whole. Thus, if a man is of a stout short figure he will be the same in all his parts: that is with short and thick arms, wide thick hands, with short fingers with their joints of the same character, and so on with the rest. I would have the same thing understood as applying to all animals and plants; in diminishing, [the various parts] do so in due proportion to the size, as also in enlarging.



And again, remember to be very careful in giving your figures limbs, that they must appear to agree with the size of the body and likewise to the age. Thus a youth has limbs that are not very muscular not strongly veined, and the surface is delicate and round, and tender in colour. In man the limbs are sinewy and muscular, while in old men the surface is wrinkled, rugged and knotty, and the sinews very prominent.


Little children have all the joints slender and the portions between them are thick; and this happens because nothing but the skin covers the joints without any other flesh and has the character of sinew, connecting the bones like a ligature. And the fat fleshiness is laid on between one joint and the next, and between the skin and the bones. But, since the bones are thicker at the joints than between them, as a mass grows up the flesh ceases to have that superfluity which it had, between the skin and the bones; whence the skin clings more closely to the bone and the limbs grow more slender. But since there is nothing over the joints but the cartilaginous and sinewy skin this cannot dry up, and, not drying up, cannot shrink. Thus, and for this reason, children are slender at the joints and fat between the joints; as may be seen in the joints of the fingers, arms, and shoulders, which are slender and dimpled, while in man on the contrary all the joints of the fingers, arms, and legs are thick; and wherever children have hollows men have prominences.

The movement of the human figure (368-375).


Of the manner of representing the 18 actions of man. Repose, movement, running, standing, supported, sitting, leaning, kneeling, lying down, suspended. Carrying or being carried, thrusting, pulling, striking, being struck, pressing down and lifting up.

[As to how a figure should stand with a weight in its hand [Footnote 8: The original text ends here.] Remember].


A sitting man cannot raise himself if that part of his body which is front of his axis [centre of gravity] does not weigh more than that which is behind that axis [or centre] without using his arms.

A man who is mounting any slope finds that he must involuntarily throw the most weight forward, on the higher foot, rather than behind--that is in front of the axis and not behind it. Hence a man will always, involuntarily, throw the greater weight towards the point whither he desires to move than in any other direction.

The faster a man runs, the more he leans forward towards the point he runs to and throws more weight in front of his axis than behind. A man who runs down hill throws the axis onto his heels, and one who runs up hill throws it into the points of his feet; and a man running on level ground throws it first on his heels and then on the points of his feet.

This man cannot carry his own weight unless, by drawing his body back he balances the weight in front, in such a way as that the foot on which he stands is the centre of gravity.

[Footnote: See Pl. XXII, No. 4.]


How a man proceeds to raise himself to his feet, when he is sitting on level ground.


A man when walking has his head in advance of his feet.

A man when walking across a long level plain first leans [rather] backwards and then as much forwards.

[Footnote 3-6: He strides forward with the air of a man going down hill; when weary, on the contrary he walks like a man going up hill.]


A man when running throws less weight on his legs than when standing still. And in the same way a horse which is running feels less the weight of the man he carries. Hence many persons think it wonderful that, in running, the horse can rest on one single foot. From this it may be stated that when a weight is in progressive motion the more rapid it is the less is the perpendicular weight towards the centre.


If a man, in taking a jump from firm ground, can leap 3 braccia, and when he was taking his leap it were to recede 1/3 of a braccio, that would be taken off his former leap; and so if it were thrust forward 1/3 of a braccio, by how much would his leap be increased?



When a man who is running wants to neutralise the impetus that carries him on he prepares a contrary impetus which is generated by his hanging backwards. This can be proved, since, if the impetus carries a moving body with a momentum equal to 4 and the moving body wants to turn and fall back with a momentum of 4, then one momentum neutralises the other contrary one, and the impetus is neutralised.

Of walking up and down (375-379)


When a man wants to stop running and check the impetus he is forced to hang back and take short quick steps. [Footnote: Lines 5-31 refer to the two upper figures, and the lower figure to the right is explained by the last part of the chapter.] The centre of gravity of a man who lifts one of his feet from the ground always rests on the centre of the sole of the foot [he stands on].

A man, in going up stairs involuntarily throws so much weight forward and on the side of the upper foot as to be a counterpoise to the lower leg, so that the labour of this lower leg is limited to moving itself.

The first thing a man does in mounting steps is to relieve the leg he is about to lift of the weight of the body which was resting on that leg; and besides this, he gives to the opposite leg all the rest of the bulk of the whole man, including [the weight of] the other leg; he then raises the other leg and sets the foot upon the step to which he wishes to raise himself. Having done this he restores to the upper foot all the weight of the body and of the leg itself, and places his hand on his thigh and throws his head forward and repeats the movement towards the point of the upper foot, quickly lifting the heel of the lower one; and with this impetus he lifts himself up and at the same time extends the arm which rested on his knee; and this extension of the arm carries up the body and the head, and so straightens the spine which was curved.

[32] The higher the step is which a man has to mount, the farther forward will he place his head in advance of his upper foot, so as to weigh more on a than on b; this man will not be on the step m. As is shown by the line g f.

[Footnote: See Pl. XXIII, No. 1. The lower sketch to the left belongs to the four first lines.]


I ask the weight [pressure] of this man at every degree of motion on these steps, what weight he gives to b and to c.

[Footnote 8: These lines are, in the original, written in ink] Observe the perpendicular line below the centre of gravity of the man.

[Footnote: See Pl. XXIII, No. 2.]


In going up stairs if you place your hands on your knees all the labour taken by the arms is removed from the sinews at the back of the knees.

[Footnote: See Pl. XXIII, No. 3.]


The sinew which guides the leg, and which is connected with the patella of the knee, feels it a greater labour to carry the man upwards, in proportion as the leg is more bent; and the muscle which acts upon the angle made by the thigh where it joins the body has less difficulty and has a less weight to lift, because it has not the [additional] weight of the thigh itself. And besides this it has stronger muscles, being those which form the buttock.


A man coming down hill takes little steps, because the weight rests upon the hinder foot, while a man mounting takes wide steps, because his weight rests on the foremost foot.

[Footnote: See Pl. XXIII, No. 4.]

On the human body in action (380-388).



When you want to represent a man as moving some weight consider what the movements are that are to be represented by different lines; that is to say either from below upwards, with a simple movement, as a man does who stoops forward to take up a weight which he will lift as he straightens himself. Or as a man does who wants to squash something backwards, or to force it forwards or to pull it downwards with ropes passed through pullies [Footnote 10: Compare the sketch on page 198 and on 201 (S. K. M. II.1 86b).]. And here remember that the weight of a man pulls in proportion as his centre of gravity is distant from his fulcrum, and to this is added the force given by his legs and bent back as he raises himself.


Again, a man has even a greater store of strength in his legs than he needs for his own weight; and to see if this is true, make a man stand on the shore-sand and then put another man on his back, and you will see how much he will sink in. Then take the man from off his back and make him jump straight up as high as he can, and you will find that the print of his feet will be made deeper by the jump than from having the man on his back. Hence, here, by 2 methods it is proved that a man has double the strength he requires to support his own body.



If you have to draw a man who is in motion, or lifting or pulling, or carrying a weight equal to his own, in what way must you set on his legs below his body?

[Footnote: In the MS. this question remains unanswered.]



A man pulling a [dead] weight balanced against himself cannot pull more than his own weight. And if he has to raise it he will [be able to] raise as much more than his weight as his strength may be more than that of other men. [Footnote 7: The stroke at the end of this line finishes in the original in a sort of loop or flourish, and a similar flourish occurs at the end of the previous passage written on the same page. M. RAVAISSON regards these as numbers (compare the photograph of page 30b in his edition of MS. A). He remarks: "Ce chiffre 8 et, a la fin de l'alinea precedent, le chiffre 7 sont, dans le manuscrit, des renvois."] The greatest force a man can apply, with equal velocity and impetus, will be when he sets his feet on one end of the balance [or lever] and then presses his shoulders against some stable body. This will raise a weight at the other end of the balance [lever], equal to his own weight and [added to that] as much weight as he can carry on his shoulders.


No animal can simply move [by its dead weight] a greater weight than the sum of its own weight outside the centre of his fulcrum.


A man who wants to send an arrow very far from the bow must be standing entirely on one foot and raising the other so far from the foot he stands on as to afford the requisite counterpoise to his body which is thrown on the front foot. And he must not hold his arm fully extended, and in order that he may be more able to bear the strain he must hold a piece of wood which there is in all crossbows, extending from the hand to the breast, and when he wishes to shoot he suddenly leaps forward at the same instant and extends his arm with the bow and releases the string. And if he dexterously does every thing at once it will go a very long way.


When two men are at the opposite ends of a plank that is balanced, and if they are of equal weight, and if one of them wants to make a leap into the air, then his leap will be made down from his end of the plank and the man will never go up again but must remain in his place till the man at the other end dashes up the board.

[Footnote: See Pl. XXIV, No. 3.]


Of delivering a blow to the right or left.

[Footnote: Four sketches on Pl. XXIV, No. 1 belong to this passage. The rest of the sketches and notes on that page are of a miscellaneous nature.]


Why an impetus is not spent at once [but diminishes] gradually in some one direction? [Footnote 1: The paper has been damaged at the end of line 1.] The impetus acquired in the line a b c d is spent in the line d e but not so completely but that some of its force remains in it and to this force is added the momentum in the line d e with the force of the motive power, and it must follow than the impetus multiplied by the blow is greater that the simple impetus produced by the momentum d e.

[Footnote 8: The sketch No. 2 on Pl. XXIV stands, in the original, between lines 7 and 8. Compare also the sketches on Pl. LIV.] A man who has to deal a great blow with his weapon prepares himself with all his force on the opposite side to that where the spot is which he is to hit; and this is because a body as it gains in velocity gains in force against the object which impedes its motion.

On hair falling down in curls.


Observe the motion of the surface of the water which resembles that of hair, and has two motions, of which one goes on with the flow of the surface, the other forms the lines of the eddies; thus the water forms eddying whirlpools one part of which are due to the impetus of the principal current and the other to the incidental motion and return flow.

[Footnote: See Pl. XXV. Where also the text of this passage is given in facsimile.]

On draperies (390--392).



That part of a fold which is farthest from the ends where it is confined will fall most nearly in its natural form.

Every thing by nature tends to remain at rest. Drapery, being of equal density and thickness on its wrong side and on its right, has a tendency to lie flat; therefore when you give it a fold or plait forcing it out of its flatness note well the result of the constraint in the part where it is most confined; and the part which is farthest from this constraint you will see relapses most into the natural state; that is to say lies free and flowing.


[Footnote 13: a c sia. In the original text b is written instead of c--an evident slip of the pen.] Let a b c be the fold of the drapery spoken of above, a c will be the places where this folded drapery is held fast. I maintain that the part of the drapery which is farthest from the plaited ends will revert most to its natural form.

Therefore, b being farthest from a and c in the fold a b c it will be wider there than anywhere else.

[Footnote: See Pl. XXVIII, No. 6, and compare the drawing from Windsor Pl. XXX for farther illustration of what is here stated.]



How figures dressed in a cloak should not show the shape so much as that the cloak looks as if it were next the flesh; since you surely cannot wish the cloak to be next the flesh, for you must suppose that between the flesh and the cloak there are other garments which prevent the forms of the limbs appearing distinctly through the cloak. And those limbs which you allow to be seen you must make thicker so that the other garments may appear to be under the cloak. But only give something of the true thickness of the limbs to a nymph [Footnote 9: Una nifa. Compare the beautiful drawing of a Nymph, in black chalk from the Windsor collection, Pl. XXVI.] or an angel, which are represented in thin draperies, pressed and clinging to the limbs of the figures by the action of the wind.


You ought not to give to drapery a great confusion of many folds, but rather only introduce them where they are held by the hands or the arms; the rest you may let fall simply where it is its nature to flow; and do not let the nude forms be broken by too many details and interrupted folds. How draperies should be drawn from nature: that is to say if youwant to represent woollen cloth draw the folds from that; and if it is to be silk, or fine cloth or coarse, or of linen or of crape, vary the folds in each and do not represent dresses, as many do, from models covered with paper or thin leather which will deceive you greatly.

[Footnote: The little pen and ink drawing from Windsor (W. 102), given on Pl. XXVIII, No. 7, clearly illustrates the statement made at the beginning of this passage; the writing of the cipher 19 on the same page is in Leonardo's hand; the cipher 21 is certainly not.]


Botany for Painters and Elements of Landscape Painting.

The chapters composing this portion of the work consist of observations on Form, Light and Shade in Plants, and particularly in Trees summed up in certain general rules by which the author intends to guide the artist in the pictorial representation of landscape.

With these the first principles of a Theory of Landscape painting are laid down--a theory as profoundly thought out in its main lines as it is lucidly worked out in its details. In reading these chapters the conviction is irresistible that such a Botany for painters is or ought to be of similar importance in the practice of painting as the principles of the Proportions and Movements of the human figure i. e. Anatomy for painters.

There can be no doubt that Leonardo, in laying down these rules, did not intend to write on Botany in the proper scientific sense--his own researches on that subject have no place here; it need only be observed that they are easily distinguished by their character and contents from those which are here collected and arranged under the title 'Botany for painters'. In some cases where this division might appear doubtful,--as for instance in No. 402--the Painter is directly addressed and enjoined to take the rule to heart as of special importance in his art.

The original materials are principally derived from MS. G, in which we often find this subject treated on several pages in succession without any of that intermixture of other matters, which is so frequent in Leonardo's writings. This MS., too, is one of the latest; when it was written, the great painter was already more than sixty years of age, so we can scarcely doubt that he regarded all he wrote as his final views on the subject. And the same remark applies to the chapters from MSS. E and M which were also written between 1513--15.

For the sake of clearness, however, it has been desirable to sacrifice--with few exceptions--the original order of the passages as written, though it was with much reluctance and only after long hesitation that I resigned myself to this necessity. Nor do I mean to impugn the logical connection of the author's ideas in his MS.; but it will be easily understood that the sequence of disconnected notes, as they occurred to Leonardo and were written down from time to time, might be hardly satisfactory as a systematic arrangement of his principles. The reader will find in the Appendix an exact account of the order of the chapters in the original MS. and from the data there given can restore them at will. As the materials are here arranged, the structure of the tree as regards the growth of the branches comes first (394-411) and then the insertion of the leaves on the stems (412-419). Then follow the laws of Light and Shade as applied, first, to the leaves (420-434), and, secondly, to the whole tree and to groups of trees (435-457). After the remarks on the Light and Shade in landscapes generally (458-464), we find special observations on that of views of towns and buildings (465-469). To the theory of Landscape Painting belong also the passages on the effect of Wind on Trees (470-473) and on the Light and Shade of Clouds (474-477), since we find in these certain comparisons with the effect of Light and Shade on Trees (e. g.: in No. 476, 4. 5; and No. 477, 9. 12). The chapters given in the Appendix Nos. 478 and 481 have hardly any connection with the subjects previously treated.

Classification of trees.



Small, lofty, straggling, thick, that is as to foliage, dark, light, russet, branched at the top; some directed towards the eye, some downwards; with white stems; this transparent in the air, that not; some standing close together, some scattered.

The relative thickness of the branches to the trunk (393--396).


All the branches of a tree at every stage of its height when put together are equal in thickness to the trunk [below them].

All the branches of a water [course] at every stage of its course, if they are of equal rapidity, are equal to the body of the main stream.


Every year when the boughs of a plant [or tree] have made an end of maturing their growth, they will have made, when put together, a thickness equal to that of the main stem; and at every stage of its ramification you will find the thickness of the said main stem; as: i k, g h, e f, c d, a b, will always be equal to each other; unless the tree is pollard--if so the rule does not hold good.

All the branches have a direction which tends to the centre of the tree m.

[Footnote: The two sketches of leafless trees one above another on the left hand side of Pl. XXVII, No. 1, belong to this passage.]


If the plant n grows to the thickness shown at m, its branches will correspond [in thickness] to the junction a b in consequence of the growth inside as well as outside.

The branches of trees or plants have a twist wherever a minor branch is given off; and this giving off the branch forms a fork; this said fork occurs between two angles of which the largest will be that which is on the side of the larger branch, and in proportion, unless accident has spoilt it.

[Footnote: The sketches illustrating this are on the right hand side of PI. XXVII, No. I, and the text is also given there in facsimile.]


There is no boss on branches which has not been produced by some branch which has failed.

The lower shoots on the branches of trees grow more than the upper ones and this occurs only because the sap that nourishes them, being heavy, tends downwards more than upwards; and again, because those [branches] which grow downwards turn away from the shade which exists towards the centre of the plant. The older the branches are, the greater is the difference between their upper and their lower shoots and in those dating from the same year or epoch.

[Footnote: The sketch accompanying this in the MS. is so effaced that an exact reproduction was impossible.]



The scars on trees grow to a greater thickness than is required by the sap of the limb which nourishes them.


The plant which gives out the smallest ramifications will preserve the straightest line in the course of its growth.

[Footnote: This passage is illustrated by two partly effaced sketches. One of these closely resembles the lower one given under No. 408, the other also represents short closely set boughs on an upright trunk.]



The beginning of the ramification [the shoot] always has the central line [axis] of its thickness directed to the central line [axis] of the plant itself.


In starting from the main stem the branches always form a base with a prominence as is shown at a b c d.



When the branches which grow the second year above the branch of the preceding year, are not of equal thickness above the antecedent branches, but are on one side, then the vigour of the lower branch is diverted to nourish the one above it, although it may be somewhat on one side.

But if the ramifications are equal in their growth, the veins of the main stem will be straight [parallel] and equidistant at every degree of the height of the plant.

Wherefore, O Painter! you, who do not know these laws! in order to escape the blame of those who understand them, it will be well that you should represent every thing from nature, and not despise such study as those do who work [only] for money.

The direction of growth (403-407).



The plants which spread very much have the angles of the spaces which divide their branches more obtuse in proportion as their point of origin is lower down; that is nearer to the thickest and oldest portion of the tree. Therefore in the youngest portions of the tree the angles of ramification are more acute. [Footnote: Compare the sketches on the lower portion of Pl. XXVII, No. 2.]


The tips of the boughs of plants [and trees], unless they are borne down by the weight of their fruits, turn towards the sky as much as possible.

The upper side of their leaves is turned towards the sky that it may receive the nourishment of the dew which falls at night.

The sun gives spirit and life to plants and the earth nourishes them with moisture. [9] With regard to this I made the experiment of leaving only one small root on a gourd and this I kept nourished with water, and the gourd brought to perfection all the fruits it could produce, which were about 60 gourds of the long kind, andi set my mind diligently [to consider] this vitality and perceived that the dews of night were what supplied it abundantly with moisture through the insertion of its large leaves and gave nourishment to the plant and its offspring--or the seeds which its offspring had to produce--[21].

The rule of the leaves produced on the last shoot of the year will be that they will grow in a contrary direction on the twin branches; that is, that the insertion of the leaves turns round each branch in such a way, as that the sixth leaf above is produced over the sixth leaf below, and the way they turn is that if one turns towards its companion to the right, the other turns to the left, the leaf serving as the nourishing breast for the shoot or fruit which grows the following year.

[Footnote: A French translation of lines 9-12 was given by M. RAVAISSON in the Gazette des Beaux Arts, Oct. 1877; his paper also contains some valuable information as to botanical science in the ancient classical writers and at the time of the Renaissance.]


The lowest branches of those trees which have large leaves and heavy fruits, such as nut-trees, fig-trees and the like, always droop towards the ground.

The branches always originate above [in the axis of] the leaves.


The upper shoots of the lateral branches of plants lie closer to the parent branch than the lower ones.


The lowest branches, after they have formed the angle of their separation from the parent stem, always bend downwards so as not to crowd against the other branches which follow them on the same stem and to be better able to take the air which nourishes them. As is shown by the angle b a c; the branch a c after it has made the corner of the angle a c bends downwards to c d and the lesser shoot c dries up, being too thin.

The main branch always goes below, as is shown by the branch f n m, which does not go to f n o.

The forms of trees (408--411).


The elm always gives a greater length to the last branches of the year's growth than to the lower ones; and Nature does this because the highest branches are those which have to add to the size of the tree; and those at the bottom must get dry because they grow in the shade and their growth would be an impediment to the entrance of the solar rays and the air among the main branches of the tree.

The main branches of the lower part bend down more than those above, so as to be more oblique than those upper ones, and also because they are larger and older.


In general almost all the upright portions of trees curve somewhat turning the convexity towards the South; and their branches are longer and thicker and more abundant towards the South than towards the North. And this occurs because the sun draws the sap towards that surface of the tree which is nearest to it.

And this may be observed if the sun is not screened off by other plants.


The cherry-tree is of the character of the fir tree as regards its ramification placed in stages round its main stem; and its branches spring, 4 or five or 6 [together] opposite each other; and the tips of the topmost shoots form a pyramid from the middle upwards; and the walnut and oak form a hemisphere from the middle upwards.


The bough of the walnut which is only hit and beaten when it has brought to perfection...

[Footnote: The end of the text and the sketch in red chalk belonging to it, are entirely effaced.]

The insertion of the leaves (412--419).



Such as the growth of the ramification of plants is on their principal branches, so is that of the leaves on the shoots of the same plant. These leaves have [Footnote 6: Quattro modi (four modes). Only three are described in the text, the fourth is only suggested by a sketch.

This passage occurs in MANZI'S edition of the Trattato, p. 399, but without the sketches and the text is mutilated in an important part. The whole passage has been commented on, from MANZI'S version, in Part I of the Nuovo Giornale Botanico Italiano, by Prof. G. UZIELLI (Florence 1869, Vol. I). He remarks as to the 'four modes': "Leonardo, come si vede nelle linie sententi da solo tre esempli. Questa ed altre inessattezze fanno desiderare, sia esaminato di nuovo il manoscritto Vaticano". This has since been done by D. KNAPP of Tubingen, and his accurate copy has been published by H. LUDWIG, the painter.

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 12

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Index

Leonardo da Vinci

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Italian Books
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book