The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci


The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 14

And when you have thus schooled your hand and your judgment by such diligence, you will acquire rapidity before you are aware.

The artist's private life and choice of company (493-494).

493.

OF THE LIFE OF THE PAINTER IN THE COUNTRY.

A painter needs such mathematics as belong to painting. And the absence of all companions who are alienated from his studies; his brain must be easily impressed by the variety of objects, which successively come before him, and also free from other cares [Footnote 6: Leonardo here seems to be speaking of his own method of work as displayed in his MSS. and this passage explains, at least in part, the peculiarities in their arrangement.]. And if, when considering and defining one subject, a second subject intervenes--as happens when an object occupies the mind, then he must decide which of these cases is the more difficult to work out, and follow that up until it becomes quite clear, and then work out the explanation of the other [Footnote 11: Leonardo here seems to be speaking of his own method of work as displayed in his MSS. and this passage explains, at least in part, the peculiarities in their arrangement.]. And above all he must keep his mind as clear as the surface of a mirror, which assumes colours as various as those of the different objects. And his companions should be like him as to their studies, and if such cannot be found he should keep his speculations to himself alone, so that at last he will find no more useful company [than his own].

[Footnote: In the title line Leonardo had originally written del pictore filosofo (the philosophical painter), but he himself struck outfilosofo. Compare in No. 363 pictora notomista (anatomical painter). The original text is partly reproduced on Pl. CI.]

494.

OF THE LIFE OF THE PAINTER IN HIS STUDIO.

To the end that well-being of the body may not injure that of the mind, the painter or draughtsman must remain solitary, and particularly when intent on those studies and reflections which will constantly rise up before his eye, giving materials to be well stored in the memory. While you are alone you are entirely your own [master] and if you have one companion you are but half your own, and the less so in proportion to the indiscretion of his behaviour. And if you have many companions you will fall deeper into the same trouble. If you should say: "I will go my own way and withdraw apart, the better to study the forms of natural objects", I tell you, you will not be able to help often listening to their chatter. And so, since one cannot serve two masters, you will badly fill the part of a companion, and carry out your studies of art even worse. And if you say: "I will withdraw so far that their words cannot reach me and they cannot disturb me", I can tell you that you will be thought mad. But, you see, you will at any rate be alone. And if you must have companions ship find it in your studio. This may assist you to have the advantages which arise from various speculations. All other company may be highly mischievous.

The distribution of time for studying (495-497).

495.

OF WHETHER IT IS BETTER TO DRAW WITH COMPANIONS OR NOT.

I say and insist that drawing in company is much better than alone, for many reasons. The first is that you would be ashamed to be seen behindhand among the students, and such shame will lead you to careful study. Secondly, a wholesome emulation will stimulate you to be among those who are more praised than yourself, and this praise of others will spur you on. Another is that you can learn from the drawings of others who do better than yourself; and if you are better than they, you can profit by your contempt for their defects, while the praise of others will incite you to farther merits.

[Footnote: The contradiction by this passage of the foregoing chapter is only apparent. It is quite clear, from the nature of the reasoning which is here used to prove that it is more improving to work with others than to work alone, that the studies of pupils only are under consideration here.]

496.

OF STUDYING, IN THE DARK, WHEN YOU WAKE, OR IN BED BEFORE YOU GO TO SLEEP.

I myself have proved it to be of no small use, when in bed in the dark, to recall in fancy the external details of forms previously studied, or other noteworthy things conceived by subtle speculation; and this is certainly an admirable exercise, and useful for impressing things on the memory.

497.

OF THE TIME FOR STUDYING SELECTION OF SUBJECTS.

Winter evenings ought to be employed by young students in looking over the things prepared during the summer; that is, all the drawings from the nude done in the summer should be brought together and a choice made of the best [studies of] limbs and bodies among them, to apply in practice and commit to memory.

OF POSITIONS.

After this in the following summer you should select some one who is well grown and who has not been brought up in doublets, and so may not be of stiff carriage, and make him go through a number of agile and graceful actions; and if his muscles do not show plainly within the outlines of his limbs that does not matter at all. It is enough that you can see good attitudes and you can correct [the drawing of] the limbs by those you studied in the winter.

[Footnote: An injunction to study in the evening occurs also in No. 524.]

On the productive power of minor artists (498-501).

498.

He is a poor disciple who does not excel his master.

499.

Nor is the painter praiseworthy who does but one thing well, as the nude figure, heads, draperies, animals, landscapes or other such details, irrespective of other work; for there can be no mind so inept, that after devoting itself to one single thing and doing it constantly, it should fail to do it well.

[Footnote: In MANZI'S edition (p. 502) the painter G. G. Bossi indignantly remarks on this passage. "Parla il Vince in questo luogo come se tutti gli artisti avessero quella sublimita d'ingegno capace di abbracciare tutte le cose, di cui era egli dotato" And he then mentions the case of CLAUDE LORRAIN. But he overlooks the fact that in Leonardo's time landscape painting made no pretensions to independence but was reckoned among the details (particulari, lines 3, 4).]

500.

THAT A PAINTER IS NOT ADMIRABLE UNLESS HE IS UNIVERSAL.

Some may distinctly assert that those persons are under a delusion who call that painter a good master who can do nothing well but a head or a figure. Certainly this is no great achievement; after studying one single thing for a life-time who would not have attained some perfection in it? But, since we know that painting embraces and includes in itself every object produced by nature or resulting from the fortuitous actions of men, in short, all that the eye can see, he seems to me but a poor master who can only do a figure well. For do you not perceive how many and various actions are performed by men only; how many different animals there are, as well as trees, plants, flowers, with many mountainous regions and plains, springs and rivers, cities with public and private buildings, machines, too, fit for the purposes of men, divers costumes, decorations and arts? And all these things ought to be regarded as of equal importance and value, by the man who can be termed a good painter.

501.

OF THE MISERABLE PRETENCES MADE BY THOSE WHO FALSELY AND UNWORTHILY ACQUIRE THE NAME OF PAINTERS.

Now there is a certain race of painters who, having studied but little, must need take as their standard of beauty mere gold and azure, and these, with supreme conceit, declare that they will not give good work for miserable payment, and that they could do as well as any other if they were well paid. But, ye foolish folks! cannot such artists keep some good work, and then say: this is a costly work and this more moderate and this is average work and show that they can work at all prices?

A caution against one-sided study.

502.

HOW, IN IMPORTANT WORKS, A MAN SHOULD NOT TRUST ENTIRELY TO HIS MEMORY WITHOUT CONDESCENDING TO DRAW FROM NATURE.

Any master who should venture to boast that he could remember all the forms and effects of nature would certainly appear to me to be graced with extreme ignorance, inasmuch as these effects are infinite and our memory is not extensive enough to retain them. Hence, O! painter, beware lest the lust of gain should supplant in you the dignity of art; for the acquisition of glory is a much greater thing than the glory of riches. Hence, for these and other reasons which might be given, first strive in drawing to represent your intention to the eye by expressive forms, and the idea originally formed in your imagination; then go on taking out or putting in, until you have satisfied yourself. Then have living men, draped or nude, as you may have purposed in your work, and take care that in dimensions and size, as determined by perspective, nothing is left in the work which is not in harmony with reason and the effects in nature. And this will be the way to win honour in your art.

How to acquire universality (503-506).

503.

OF VARIETY IN THE FIGURES.

The painter should aim at universality, because there is a great want of self-respect in doing one thing well and another badly, as many do who study only the [rules of] measure and proportion in the nude figure and do not seek after variety; for a man may be well proportioned, or he may be fat and short, or tall and thin, or medium. And a painter who takes no account of these varieties always makes his figures on one pattern so that they might all be taken for brothers; and this is a defect that demands stern reprehension.

504.

HOW SOMETHING MAY BE LEARNT EVERYWHERE.

Nature has beneficently provided that throughout the world you may find something to imitate.

505.

OF THE MEANS OF ACQUIRING UNIVERSALITY.

It is an easy matter to men to acquire universality, for all terrestrial animals resemble each other as to their limbs, that is in their muscles, sinews and bones; and they do not vary excepting in length or in thickness, as will be shown under Anatomy. But then there are aquatic animals which are of great variety; I will not try to convince the painter that there is any rule for them for they are of infinite variety, and so is the insect tribe.

506.

PAINTING.

The mind of the painter must resemble a mirror, which always takes the colour of the object it reflects and is completely occupied by the images of as many objects as are in front of it. Therefore you must know, Oh Painter! that you cannot be a good one if you are not the universal master of representing by your art every kind of form produced by nature. And this you will not know how to do if you do not see them, and retain them in your mind. Hence as you go through the fields, turn your attention to various objects, and, in turn look now at this thing and now at that, collecting a store of divers facts selected and chosen from those of less value. But do not do like some painters who, when they are wearied with exercising their fancy dismiss their work from their thoughts and take exercise in walking for relaxation, but still keep fatigue in their mind which, though they see various objects [around them], does not apprehend them; but, even when they meet friends or relations and are saluted by them, although they see and hear them, take no more cognisance of them than if they had met so much empty air.

Useful games and exercises (507. 508).

507.

OF GAMES TO BE PLAYED BY THOSE WHO DRAW.

When, Oh draughtsmen, you desire to find relaxation in games you should always practise such things as may be of use in your profession, by giving your eye good practice in judging accurately of the breadth and length of objects. Thus, to accustom your mind to such things, let one of you draw a straight line at random on a wall, and each of you, taking a blade of grass or of straw in his hand, try to cut it to the length that the line drawn appears to him to be, standing at a distance of 10 braccia; then each one may go up to the line to measure the length he has judged it to be. And he who has come nearest with his measure to the length of the pattern is the best man, and the winner, and shall receive the prize you have settled beforehand. Again you should take forshortened measures: that is take a spear, or any other cane or reed, and fix on a point at a certain distance; and let each one estimate how many times he judges that its length will go into that distance. Again, who will draw best a line one braccio long, which shall be tested by a thread. And such games give occasion to good practice for the eye, which is of the first importance in painting.

508.

A WAY OF DEVELOPING AND AROUSING THE MIND TO VARIOUS INVENTIONS.

I cannot forbear to mention among these precepts a new device for study which, although it may seem but trivial and almost ludicrous, is nevertheless extremely useful in arousing the mind to various inventions. And this is, when you look at a wall spotted with stains, or with a mixture of stones, if you have to devise some scene, you may discover a resemblance to various landscapes, beautified with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys and hills in varied arrangement; or again you may see battles and figures in action; or strange faces and costumes, and an endless variety of objects, which you could reduce to complete and well drawn forms. And these appear on such walls confusedly, like the sound of bells in whose jangle you may find any name or word you choose to imagine.

II.

THE ARTIST'S STUDIO.--INSTRUMENTS AND HELPS FOR THE APPLICATION OF PERSPECTIVE.--ON JUDGING OF A PICTURE.

On the size of the studio.

509.

Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind, large ones weaken it.

On the construction of windows (510-512).

510.

The larger the wall the less the light will be.

511.

The different kinds of light afforded in cellars by various forms of windows. The least useful and the coldest is the window at a. The most useful, the lightest and warmest and most open to the sky is the window at b. The window at c is of medium utility.

[Footnote: From a reference to the notes on the right light for painting it becomes evident that the observations made on cellar-windows have a direct bearing on the construction of the studio-window. In the diagram b as well as in that under No. 510 the window-opening is reduced to a minimum, but only, it would seem, in order to emphasize the advantage of walls constructed on the plan there shown.]

512.

OF THE PAINTER'S WINDOW AND ITS ADVANTAGE.

The painter who works from nature should have a window, which he can raise and lower. The reason is that sometimes you will want to finish a thing you are drawing, close to the light.

Let a b c d be the chest on which the work may be raised or lowered, so that the work moves up and down and not the painter. And every evening you can let down the work and shut it up above so that in the evening it may be in the fashion of a chest which, when shut up, may serve the purpose of a bench.

[Footnote: See Pl. XXXI, No. 2. In this plate the lines have unfortunately lost their sharpness, for the accidental loss of the negative has necessitated a reproduction from a positive. But having formerly published this sketch by another process, in VON LUTZOW'S Zeitschrift fur bildende Kunst (Vol. XVII, pg. 13) I have reproduced it here in the text. The sharpness of the outline in the original sketch is here preserved but it gives it from the reversed side.]

On the best light for painting (513-520).

513.

Which light is best for drawing from nature; whether high or low, or large or small, or strong and broad, or strong and small, or broad and weak or small and weak?

[Footnote: The question here put is unanswered in the original MS.]

514.

OF THE QUALITY OF THE LIGHT.

A broad light high up and not too strong will render the details of objects very agreeable.

515.

THAT THE LIGHT FOR DRAWING FROM NATURE SHOULD BE HIGH UP.

The light for drawing from nature should come from the North in order that it may not vary. And if you have it from the South, keep the window screened with cloth, so that with the sun shining the whole day the light may not vary. The height of the light should be so arranged as that every object shall cast a shadow on the ground of the same length as itself.

516.

THE KIND OF LIGHT REQUISITE FOR PAINTING LIGHT AND SHADE.

An object will display the greatest difference of light and shade when it is seen in the strongest light, as by sunlight, or, at night, by the light of a fire. But this should not be much used in painting because the works remain crude and ungraceful.

An object seen in a moderate light displays little difference in the light and shade; and this is the case towards evening or when the day is cloudy, and works then painted are tender and every kind of face becomes graceful. Thus, in every thing extremes are to be avoided: Too much light gives crudeness; too little prevents our seeing. The medium is best.

OF SMALL LIGHTS.

Again, lights cast from a small window give strong differences of light and shade, all the more if the room lighted by it be large, and this is not good for painting.

517.

PAINTING.

The luminous air which enters by passing through orifices in walls into dark rooms will render the place less dark in proportion as the opening cuts into the walls which surround and cover in the pavement.

518.

OF THE QUALITY OF LIGHT.

In proportion to the number of times that a b goes into c d will it be more luminous than c d. And similarly, in proportion as the point e goes into c d will it be more luminous than c d; and this light is useful for carvers of delicate work. [Footnote 5: For the same reason a window thus constructed would be convenient for an illuminator or a miniature painter.]

[Footnote: M. RAVAISSON in his edition of the Paris MS. A remarks on this passage: "La figure porte les lettres f et g, auxquelles rien ne renvoie dans l'explication; par consequent, cette explication est incomplete. La figure semblerait, d'ailleurs, se rapporter a l'effet de la reflexion par un miroir concave." So far as I can see the text is not imperfect, nor is the sense obscure. It is hardly necessary to observe that c d here indicate the wall of the room opposite to the window e and the semicircle described by f g stands for the arch of the sky; this occurs in various diagrams, for example under 511. A similar semicircle, Pl III, No. 2 (and compare No. 149) is expressly called 'orizonte' in writing.]

519.

That the light should fall upon a picture from one window only. This may be seen in the case of objects in this form. If you want to represent a round ball at a certain height you must make it oval in this shape, and stand so far off as that by foreshortening it appears round.

520.

OF SELECTING THE LIGHT WHICH GIVES MOST GRACE TO FACES.

If you should have a court yard that you can at pleasure cover with a linen awning that light will be good. Or when you want to take a portrait do it in dull weather, or as evening falls, making the sitter stand with his back to one of the walls of the court yard. Note in the streets, as evening falls, the faces of the men and women, and when the weather is dull, what softness and delicacy you may perceive in them. Hence, Oh Painter! have a court arranged with the walls tinted black and a narrow roof projecting within the walls. It should be 10 braccia wide and 20 braccia long and 10 braccia high and covered with a linen awning; or else paint a work towards evening or when it is cloudy or misty, and this is a perfect light.

On various helps in preparing a picture (521-530).

521.

To draw a nude figure from nature, or any thing else, hold in your hand a plumb-line to enable you to judge of the relative position of objects.

522.

OF DRAWING AN OBJECT.

When you draw take care to set up a principal line which you must observe all throughout the object you are drawing; every thing should bear relation to the direction of this principal line.

523.

OF A MODE OF DRAWING A PLACE ACCURATELY.

Have a piece of glass as large as a half sheet of royal folio paper and set thus firmly in front of your eyes that is, between your eye and the thing you want to draw; then place yourself at a distance of 2/3 of a braccia from the glass fixing your head with a machine in such a way that you cannot move it at all. Then shut or entirely cover one eye and with a brush or red chalk draw upon the glass that which you see beyond it; then trace it on paper from the glass, afterwards transfer it onto good paper, and paint it if you like, carefully attending to the arial perspective.

HOW TO LEARN TO PLACE YOUR FIGURES CORRECTLY.

If you want to acquire a practice of good and correct attitudes for your figures, make a square frame or net, and square it out with thread; place this between your eye and the nude model you are drawing, and draw these same squares on the paper on which you mean to draw the figure, but very delicately. Then place a pellet of wax on a spot of the net which will serve as a fixed point, which, whenever you look at your model, must cover the pit of the throat; or, if his back is turned, it may cover one of the vertebrae of the neck. Thus these threads will guide you as to each part of the body which, in any given attitude will be found below the pit of the throat, or the angles of the shoulders, or the nipples, or hips and other parts of the body; and the transverse lines of the net will show you how much the figure is higher over the leg on which it is posed than over the other, and the same with the hips, and the knees and the feet. But always fix the net perpendicularly so that all the divisions that you see the model divided into by the net work correspond with your drawing of the model on the net work you have sketched. The squares you draw may be as much smaller than those of the net as you wish that your figure should be smaller than nature. Afterwards remember when drawing figures, to use the rule of the corresponding proportions of the limbs as you have learnt it from the frame and net. This should be 3 braccia and a half high and 3 braccia wide; 7 braccia distant from you and 1 braccio from the model.

[Footnote: Leonardo is commonly credited with the invention of the arrangement of a plate of glass commonly known as the "vertical plane." Professor E. VON BRUCKE in his "Bruchstucke aus der Theorie der bildenden Kunste," Leipzig 1877, pg. 3, writes on this contrivance. "Unsere Glastafel ist die sogenannte Glastafel des Leonardo da Vinci, die in Gestalt einer Glastafel vorgestellte Bildflache."]

524.

A METHOD OF DRAWING AN OBJECT IN RELIEF AT NIGHT.

Place a sheet of not too transparent paper between the relievo and the light and you can draw thus very well.

[Footnote: Bodies thus illuminated will show on the surface of the paper how the copyist has to distribute light and shade.]

525.

If you want to represent a figure on a wall, the wall being foreshortened, while the figure is to appear in its proper form, and as standing free from the wall, you must proceed thus: have a thin plate of iron and make a small hole in the centre; this hole must be round. Set a light close to it in such a position as that it shines through the central hole, then place any object or figure you please so close to the wall that it touches it and draw the outline of the shadow on the wall; then fill in the shade and add the lights; place the person who is to see it so that he looks through that same hole where at first the light was; and you will never be able to persuade yourself that the image is not detached from the wall.

[Footnote: uno piccolo spiracelo nel mezzo. M. RAVAISSON, in his edition of MS. A (Paris), p. 52, reads nel muro--evidently a mistake for nel mezzo which is quite plainly written; and he translates it "fait lui une petite ouverture dans le mur," adding in a note: "les mots 'dans le mur' paraissent etre de trop. Leonardo a du les ecrire par distraction" But 'nel mezzo' is clearly legible even on the photograph facsimile given by Ravaisson himself, and the objection he raises disappears at once. It is not always wise or safe to try to prove our author's absence of mind or inadvertence by apparent difficulties in the sense or connection of the text.]

526.

TO DRAW A FIGURE ON A WALL 12 BRACCIA HIGH WHICH SHALL LOOK 24 BRACCIA HIGH.

If you wish to draw a figure or any other object to look 24 braccia high you must do it in this way. First, on the surface m r draw half the man you wish to represent; then the other half; then put on the vault m n [the rest of] the figure spoken of above; first set out the vertical plane on the floor of a room of the same shape as the wall with the coved part on which you are to paint your figure. Then, behind it, draw a figure set out in profile of whatever size you please, and draw lines from it to the point f and, as these lines cut m n on the vertical plane, so will the figure come on the wall, of which the vertical plane gives a likeness, and you will have all the [relative] heights and prominences of the figure. And the breadth or thickness which are on the upright wall m n are to be drawn in their proper form, since, as the wall recedes the figure will be foreshortened by itself; but [that part of] the figure which goes into the cove you must foreshorten, as if it were standing upright; this diminution you must set out on a flat floor and there must stand the figure which is to be transferred from the vertical plane r n[Footnote 17: che leverai dalla pariete r n. The letters refer to the larger sketch, No. 3 on Pl. XXXI.] in its real size and reduce it once more on a vertical plane; and this will be a good method [Footnote 18: Leonardo here says nothing as to how the image foreshortened by perspective and thus produced on the vertical plane is to be transferred to the wall; but from what is said in Nos. 525 and 523 we may conclude that he was familiar with the process of casting the enlarged shadow of a squaring net on the surface of a wall to guide him in drawing the figure.

Pariete di rilieuo; "sur une parai en relief" (RAVAISSON). "Auf einer Schnittlinie zum Aufrichten" (LUDWIG). The explanation of this puzzling expression must be sought in No. 545, lines 15-17.].

[Footnote: See Pl. XXXI. 3. The second sketch, which in the plate is incomplete, is here reproduced and completed from the original to illustrate the text. In the original the larger diagram is placed between lines 5 and 6.

1. 2. C. A. 157a; 463a has the similar heading: 'del cressciere della figura', and the text begins: "Se voli fare 1a figura grande b c" but here it breaks off. The translation here given renders the meaning of the passage as I think it must be understood. The MS. is perfectly legible and the construction of the sentence is simple and clear; difficulties can only arise from the very fullness of the meaning, particularly towards the end of the passage.]

527.

If you would to draw a cube in an angle of a wall, first draw the object in its own proper shape and raise it onto a vertical plane until it resembles the angle in which the said object is to be represented.

528.

Why are paintings seen more correctly in a mirror than out of it?

529.

HOW THE MIRROR IS THE MASTER [AND GUIDE] OF PAINTERS.

When you want to see if your picture corresponds throughout with the objects you have drawn from nature, take a mirror and look in that at the reflection of the real things, and compare the reflected image with your picture, and consider whether the subject of the two images duly corresponds in both, particularly studying the mirror. You should take the mirror for your guide--that is to say a flat mirror--because on its surface the objects appear in many respects as in a painting. Thus you see, in a painting done on a flat surface, objects which appear in relief, and in the mirror--also a flat surface--they look the same. The picture has one plane surface and the same with the mirror. The picture is intangible, in so far as that which appears round and prominent cannot be grasped in the hands; and it is the same with the mirror. And since you can see that the mirror, by means of outlines, shadows and lights, makes objects appear in relief, you, who have in your colours far stronger lights and shades than those in the mirror, can certainly, if you compose your picture well, make that also look like a natural scene reflected in a large mirror.

[Footnote: I understand the concluding lines of this passage as follows: If you draw the upper half a figure on a large sheet of paper laid out on the floor of a room (sala be piana) to the same scale (con le sue vere grosseze) as the lower half, already drawn upon the wall (lines 10, 11)you must then reduce them on a 'pariete di rilievo,' a curved vertical plane which serves as a model to reproduce the form of the vault.]

530.

OF JUDGING YOUR OWN PICTURES.

We know very well that errors are better recognised in the works of others than in our own; and that often, while reproving little faults in others, you may ignore great ones in yourself. To avoid such ignorance, in the first place make yourself a master of perspective, then acquire perfect knowledge of the proportions of men and other animals, and also, study good architecture, that is so far as concerns the forms of buildings and other objects which are on the face of the earth; these forms are infinite, and the better you know them the more admirable will your work be. And in cases where you lack experience do not shrink from drawing them from nature. But, to carry out my promise above [in the title]--I say that when you paint you should have a flat mirror and often look at your work as reflected in it, when you will see it reversed, and it will appear to you like some other painter's work, so you will be better able to judge of its faults than in any other way. Again, it is well that you should often leave off work and take a little relaxation, because, when you come back to it you are a better judge; for sitting too close at work may greatly deceive you.

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