The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 24


Here we may also mention the singular building in the allegorical composition represented on Pl. LVIII in Vol. I. In front of it appears the head of a sphinx or of a dragon which seems to be carrying the palace away.

The following texts refer to the construction of palaces and other buildings destined for private use:


In the courtyard the walls must be half the height of its width, that is if the court be 40 braccia, the house must be 20 high as regards the walls of the said courtyard; and this courtyard must be half as wide as the whole front.

[Footnote: See Pl. CI, no. 1, and compare the dimensions here given, with No. 748 lines 26-29; and the drawing belonging to it Pl. LXXXI, no. 2.]

On the dispositions of a stable.



The manner in which one must arrange a stable. You must first divide its width in 3 parts, its depth matters not; and let these 3 divisions be equal and 6 braccia broad for each part and 10 high, and the middle part shall be for the use of the stablemasters; the 2 side ones for the horses, each of which must be 6 braccia in width and 6 in length, and be half a braccio higher at the head than behind. Let the manger be at 2 braccia from the ground, to the bottom of the rack, 3 braccia, and the top of it 4 braccia. Now, in order to attain to what I promise, that is to make this place, contrary to the general custom, clean and neat: as to the upper part of the stable, i. e. where the hay is, that part must have at its outer end a window 6 braccia high and 6 broad, through which by simple means the hay is brought up to the loft, as is shown by the machine E; and let this be erected in a place 6 braccia wide, and as long as the stable, as seen at k p. The other two parts, which are on either side of this, are again divided; those nearest to the hay-loft are 4 braccia, p s, and only for the use and circulation of the servants belonging to the stable; the other two which reach to the outer walls are 2 braccia, as seen at s k, and these are made for the purpose of giving hay to the mangers, by means of funnels, narrow at the top and wide over the manger, in order that the hay should not choke them. They must be well plastered and clean and are represented at 4 f s. As to the giving the horses water, the troughs must be of stone and above them [cisterns of] water. The mangers may be opened as boxes are uncovered by raising the lids. [Footnote: See Pl. LXXVIII, No.1.]

Decorations for feasts.



The way in which the poles ought to be placed for tying bunches of juniper on to them. These poles must lie close to the framework of the vaulting and tie the bunches on with osier withes, so as to clip them even afterwards with shears.

Let the distance from one circle to another be half a braccia; and the juniper [sprigs] must lie top downwards, beginning from below.

Round this column tie four poles to which willows about as thick as a finger must be nailed and then begin from the bottom and work upwards with bunches of juniper sprigs, the tops downwards, that is upside down. [Footnote: See Pl. CII, No. 3. The words here given as the title line, lines 1--4, are the last in the original MS.--Lines 5--16 are written under fig. 4.]


The water should be allowed to fall from the whole circle a b. [Footnote: Other drawings of fountains are given on Pl. CI (W. XX); the original is a pen and ink drawing on blue paper; on Pl. CIII (MS. B.) and Pl. LXXXII.]

VI. Studies of architectural details.

Several of Leonardo's drawings of architectural details prove that, like other great masters of that period, he had devoted his attention to the study of the proportion of such details. As every organic being in nature has its law of construction and growth, these masters endeavoured, each in his way, to discover and prove a law of proportion in architecture. The following notes in Leonardo's manuscripts refer to this subject.

MS. S. K. M. Ill, 47b (see Fig. 1). A diagram, indicating the rules as given by Vitruvius and by Leon Battista Alberti for the proportions of the Attic base of a column.

MS. S. K. M. Ill 55a (see Fig. 2). Diagram showing the same rules.


B toro superiore . . . . . toro superiore 2B nestroli . . . . . . astragali quadre 3B orbiculo . . . . . . . . troclea 4B nestroli . . . . . . astragali quadre 5B toro iferiore . . . . . . toro iferiore 6B latastro . . . . . . . . plintho

[Footnote: No explanation can be offered of the meaning of the letter B, which precedes each name. It may be meant for basa (base). Perhaps it refers to some author on architecture or an architect (Bramante?) who employed the designations, thus marked for the mouldings. 3. troclea. Philander: Trochlea sive trochalia aut rechanum. 6. Laterculus or latastrum is the Latin name for Plinthus (pi lambda Xiv) but Vitruvius adopted this Greek name and "latastro" seems to have been little in use. It is to be found besides the text given above, as far as I am aware, only two drawings of the Uffizi Collection, where in one instance, it indicates the abacus of a Doric capital.]



The plinth must be as broad as the thickness of the wall against which the plinth is built. [Footnote: See Pl. CX No. 3. The hasty sketch on the right hand side illustrates the unsatisfactory effect produced when the plinth is narrower than the wall.]


The ancient architects ...... beginning with the Egyptians (?) who, as Diodorus Siculus writes, were the first to build and construct large cities and castles, public and private buildings of fine form, large and well proportioned .....

The column, which has its thickness at the third part .... The one which would be thinnest in the middle, would break ...; the one which is of equal thickness and of equal strength, is better for the edifice. The second best as to the usefulness will be the one whose greatest thickness is where it joins with the base.

[Footnote: See Pl. CIII, No. 3, where the sketches belonging to lines 10--16 are reproduced, but reversed. The sketch of columns, here reproduced by a wood cut, stands in the original close to lines 5--8.]

The capital must be formed in this way. Divide its thickness at the top into 8; at the foot make it 5/7, and let it be 5/7 high and you will have a square; afterwards divide the height into 8 parts as you did for the column, and then take 1/8 for the echinus and another eighth for the thickness of the abacus on the top of the capital. The horns of the abacus of the capital have to project beyond the greatest width of the bell 2/7, i. e. sevenths of the top of the bell, so 1/7 falls to the projection of each horn. The truncated part of the horns must be as broad as it is high. I leave the rest, that is the ornaments, to the taste of the sculptors. But to return to the columns and in order to prove the reason of their strength or weakness according to their shape, I say that when the lines starting from the summit of the column and ending at its base and their direction and length ..., their distance apart or width may be equal; I say that this column ...


The cylinder of a body columnar in shape and its two opposite ends are two circles enclosed between parallel lines, and through the centre of the cylinder is a straight line, ending at the centre of these circles, and called by the ancients the axis.

[Footnote: Leonardo wrote these lines on the margin of a page of the Trattato di Francesco di Giorgio, where there are several drawings of columns, as well as a head drawn in profile inside an outline sketch of a capital.]


a b is 1/3 of n m; m o is 1/6 of r o. The ovolo projects 1/6 of r o; s 7 1/5 of r o, a b is divided into 9 1/2; the abacus is 3/9 the ovolo 4/9, the bead-moulding and the fillet 2/9 and 1/2.

[Footnote: See Pl. LXXXV, No. 16. In the original the drawing and writing are both in red chalk.]

Pl. LXXXV No. 6 (MS. Ash. II 6b) contains a small sketch of a capital with the following note, written in three lines: I chorni del capitelo deono essere la quarta parte d'uno quadro (The horns of a capital must measure the fourth part of a square).

MS. S. K. M. III 72b contains two sketches of ornamentations of windows.

In MS. C. A. 308a; 938a (see Pl. LXXXII No. 1) there are several sketches of columns. One of the two columns on the right is similar to those employed by Bramante at the Canonica di S. Ambrogio. The same columns appear in the sketch underneath the plan of a castle. There they appear coupled, and in two stories one above the other. The archivolls which seem to spring out of the columns, are shaped like twisted cords, meant perhaps to be twisted branches. The walls between the columns seem to be formed out of blocks of wood, the pedestals are ornamented with a reticulated pattern. From all this we may suppose that Leonardo here had in mind either some festive decoration, or perhaps a pavilion for some hunting place or park. The sketch of columns marked "35" gives an example of columns shaped like candelabra, a form often employed at that time, particularly in Milan, and the surrounding districts for instance in the Cortile di Casa Castiglione now Silvestre, in the cathedral of Como, at Porta della Rana &c.



An architrave of several pieces is stronger than that of one single piece, if those pieces are placed with their length in the direction of the centre of the world. This is proved because stones have their grain or fibre generated in the contrary direction i. e. in the direction of the opposite horizons of the hemisphere, and this is contrary to fibres of the plants which have ...

[Footnote: The text is incomplete in the original.]

The Proportions of the stories of a building are indicated by a sketch in MS. S. K. M. II2 11b (see Pl. LXXXV No. 15). The measures are written on the left side, as follows: br 1 1/2--6 3/4--br 1/12--2 br--9 e 1/2--1 1/2--br 5--o 9--o 3 [br=braccia; o=oncie].

Pl. LXXXV No. 13 (MS. B. 62a) and Pl. XCIII No. 1. (MS. B. 15a) give a few examples of arches supported on piers.


Theoretical writings on Architecture.

Leonardo's original writings on the theory of Architecture have come down to us only in a fragmentary state; still, there seems to be no doubt that he himself did not complete them. It would seem that Leonardo entertained the idea of writing a large and connected book on Architecture; and it is quite evident that the materials we possess, which can be proved to have been written at different periods, were noted down with a more or less definite aim and purpose. They might all be collected under the one title: "Studies on the Strength of Materials". Among them the investigations on the subject of fissures in walls are particularly thorough, and very fully reported; these passages are also especially interesting, because Leonardo was certainly the first writer on architecture who ever treated the subject at all. Here, as in all other cases Leonardo carefully avoids all abstract argument. His data are not derived from the principles of algebra, but from the laws of mechanics, and his method throughout is strictly experimental.

Though the conclusions drawn from his investigations may not have that precision which we are accustomed to find in Leonardo's scientific labours, their interest is not lessened. They prove at any rate his deep sagacity and wonderfully clear mind. No one perhaps, who has studied these questions since Leonardo, has combined with a scientific mind anything like the artistic delicacy of perception which gives interest and lucidity to his observations.

I do not assert that the arrangement here adopted for the passages in question is that originally intended by Leonardo; but their distribution into five groups was suggested by the titles, or headings, which Leonardo himself prefixed to most of these notes. Some of the longer sections perhaps should not, to be in strict agreement with this division, have been reproduced in their entirety in the place where they occur. But the comparatively small amount of the materials we possess will render them, even so, sufficiently intelligible to the reader; it did not therefore seem necessary or desirable to subdivide the passages merely for the sake of strict classification.

The small number of chapters given under the fifth class, treating on the centre of gravity in roof-beams, bears no proportion to the number of drawings and studies which refer to the same subject. Only a small selection of these are reproduced in this work since the majority have no explanatory text.




First write the treatise on the causes of the giving way of walls and then, separately, treat of the remedies.

Parallel fissures constantly occur in buildings which are erected on a hill side, when the hill is composed of stratified rocks with an oblique stratification, because water and other moisture often penetrates these oblique seams carrying in greasy and slippery soil; and as the strata are not continuous down to the bottom of the valley, the rocks slide in the direction of the slope, and the motion does not cease till they have reached the bottom of the valley, carrying with them, as though in a boat, that portion of the building which is separated by them from the rest. The remedy for this is always to build thick piers under the wall which is slipping, with arches from one to another, and with a good scarp and let the piers have a firm foundation in the strata so that they may not break away from them.

In order to find the solid part of these strata, it is necessary to make a shaft at the foot of the wall of great depth through the strata; and in this shaft, on the side from which the hill slopes, smooth and flatten a space one palm wide from the top to the bottom; and after some time this smooth portion made on the side of the shaft, will show plainly which part of the hill is moving.

[Footnote: See Pl. CIV.]


The cracks in walls will never be parallel unless the part of the wall that separates from the remainder does not slip down.


The stability of buildings is the result of the contrary law to the two former cases. That is to say that the walls must be all built up equally, and by degrees, to equal heights all round the building, and the whole thickness at once, whatever kind of walls they may be. And although a thin wall dries more quickly than a thick one it will not necessarily give way under the added weight day by day and thus, [16] although a thin wall dries more quickly than a thick one, it will not give way under the weight which the latter may acquire from day to day. Because if double the amount of it dries in one day, one of double the thickness will dry in two days or thereabouts; thus the small addition of weight will be balanced by the smaller difference of time [18].

The adversary says that a which projects, slips down.

And here the adversary says that r slips and not c.


The part of the wall which does not slip is that in which the obliquity projects and overhangs the portion which has parted from it and slipped down.


When the crevice in the wall is wider at the top than at the bottom, it is a manifest sign, that the cause of the fissure in the wall is remote from the perpendicular line through the crevice.

[Footnote: Lines 1-5 refer to Pl. CV, No. 2. Line 9 alle due anteciedete, see on the same page.

Lines 16-18. The translation of this is doubtful, and the meaning in any case very obscure.

Lines 19-23 are on the right hand margin close to the two sketches on Pl. CII, No. 3.]



That wall which does not dry uniformly in an equal time, always cracks.

A wall though of equal thickness will not dry with equal quickness if it is not everywhere in contact with the same medium. Thus, if one side of a wall were in contact with a damp slope and the other were in contact with the air, then this latter side would remain of the same size as before; that side which dries in the air will shrink or diminish and the side which is kept damp will not dry. And the dry portion will break away readily from the damp portion because the damp part not shrinking in the same proportion does not cohere and follow the movement of the part which dries continuously.


Arched cracks, wide at the top and narrow below are found in walled-up doors, which shrink more in their height than in their breadth, and in proportion as their height is greater than their width, and as the joints of the mortar are more numerous in the height than in the width.

The crack diminishes less in r o than in m n, in proportion as there is less material between r and o than between n and m.

Any crack made in a concave wall is wide below and narrow at the top; and this originates, as is here shown at b c d, in the side figure.

1. That which gets wet increases in proportion to the moisture it imbibes.

2. And a wet object shrinks, while drying, in proportion to the amount of moisture which evaporates from it.

[Footnote: The text of this passage is reproduced in facsimile on Pl. CVI to the left. L. 36-40 are written inside the sketch No. 2. L. 41-46 are partly written over the sketch No. 3 to which they refer.]



The walls give way in cracks, some of which are more or less vertical and others are oblique. The cracks which are in a vertical direction are caused by the joining of new walls, with old walls, whether straight or with indentations fitting on to those of the old wall; for, as these indentations cannot bear the too great weight of the wall added on to them, it is inevitable that they should break, and give way to the settling of the new wall, which will shrink one braccia in every ten, more or less, according to the greater or smaller quantity of mortar used between the stones of the masonry, and whether this mortar is more or less liquid. And observe, that the walls should always be built first and then faced with the stones intended to face them. For, if you do not proceed thus, since the wall settles more than the stone facing, the projections left on the sides of the wall must inevitably give way; because the stones used for facing the wall being larger than those over which they are laid, they will necessarily have less mortar laid between the joints, and consequently they settle less; and this cannot happen if the facing is added after the wall is dry.

a b the new wall, c the old wall, which has already settled; and the part a b settles afterwards, although a, being founded on c, the old wall, cannot possibly break, having a stable foundation on the old wall. But only the remainder b of the new wall will break away, because it is built from top to bottom of the building; and the remainder of the new wall will overhang the gap above the wall that has sunk.


A new tower founded partly on old masonry.



Stones laid in regular courses from bottom to top and built up with an equal quantity of mortar settle equally throughout, when the moisture that made the mortar soft evaporates.

By what is said above it is proved that the small extent of the new wall between A and n will settle but little, in proportion to the extent of the same wall between c and d. The proportion will in fact be that of the thinness of the mortar in relation to the number of courses or to the quantity of mortar laid between the stones above the different levels of the old wall.

[Footnote: See Pl. CV, No. 1. The top of the tower is wanting in this reproduction, and with it the letter n which, in the original, stands above the letter A over the top of the tower, while c stands perpendicularly over d.]


This wall will break under the arch e f, because the seven whole square bricks are not sufficient to sustain the spring of the arch placed on them. And these seven bricks will give way in their middle exactly as appears in a b. The reason is, that the brick a has above it only the weight a k, whilst the last brick under the arch has above it the weight c d x a.

c d seems to press on the arch towards the abutment at the point p but the weight p o opposes resistence to it, whence the whole pressure is transmitted to the root of the arch. Therefore the foot of the arch acts like 7 6, which is more than double of x z.





An arch constructed on a semicircle and bearing weights on the two opposite thirds of its curve will give way at five points of the curve. To prove this let the weights be at n m which will break the arch a, b, f. I say that, by the foregoing, as the extremities c and a are equally pressed upon by the thrust n, it follows, by the 5th, that the arch will give way at the point which is furthest from the two forces acting on them and that is the middle e. The same is to be understood of the opposite curve, d g b; hence the weights n m must sink, but they cannot sink by the 7th, without coming closer together, and they cannot come together unless the extremities of the arch between them come closer, and if these draw together the crown of the arch must break; and thus the arch will give way in two places as was at first said &c.

I ask, given a weight at a what counteracts it in the direction n f and by what weight must the weight at f be counteracted.



The window a is the cause of the crack at b; and this crack is increased by the pressure of n and m which sink or penetrate into the soil in which foundations are built more than the lighter portion at b. Besides, the old foundation under b has already settled, and this the piers n and m have not yet done. Hence the part b does not settle down perpendicularly; on the contrary, it is thrown outwards obliquely, and it cannot on the contrary be thrown inwards, because a portion like this, separated from the main wall, is larger outside than inside and the main wall, where it is broken, is of the same shape and is also larger outside than inside; therefore, if this separate portion were to fall inwards the larger would have to pass through the smaller--which is impossible. Hence it is evident that the portion of the semicircular wall when disunited from the main wall will be thrust outwards, and not inwards as the adversary says.

When a dome or a half-dome is crushed from above by an excess of weight the vault will give way, forming a crack which diminishes towards the top and is wide below, narrow on the inner side and wide outside; as is the case with the outer husk of a pomegranate, divided into many parts lengthwise; for the more it is pressed in the direction of its length, that part of the joints will open most, which is most distant from the cause of the pressure; and for that reason the arches of the vaults of any apse should never be more loaded than the arches of the principal building. Because that which weighs most, presses most on the parts below, and they sink into the foundations; but this cannot happen to lighter structures like the said apses.

[Footnote: The figure on Pl. CV, No. 4 belongs to the first paragraph of this passage, lines 1-14; fig. 5 is sketched by the side of lines l5--and following. The sketch below of a pomegranate refers to line 22. The drawing fig. 6 is, in the original, over line 37 and fig. 7 over line 54.]

Which of these two cubes will shrink the more uniformly: the cube A resting on the pavement, or the cube b suspended in the air, when both cubes are equal in weight and bulk, and of clay mixed with equal quantities of water?

The cube placed on the pavement diminishes more in height than in breadth, which the cube above, hanging in the air, cannot do. Thus it is proved. The cube shown above is better shown here below.

The final result of the two cylinders of damp clay that is a and b will be the pyramidal figures below c and d. This is proved thus: The cylinder a resting on block of stone being made of clay mixed with a great deal of water will sink by its weight, which presses on its base, and in proportion as it settles and spreads all the parts will be somewhat nearer to the base because that is charged with the whole weight.





The arch is nothing else than a force originated by two weaknesses, for the arch in buildings is composed of two segments of a circle, each of which being very weak in itself tends to fall; but as each opposes this tendency in the other, the two weaknesses combine to form one strength.


As the arch is a composite force it remains in equilibrium because the thrust is equal from both sides; and if one of the segments weighs more than the other the stability is lost, because the greater pressure will outweigh the lesser.


Next to giving the segments of the circle equal weight it is necessary to load them equally, or you will fall into the same defect as before.


An arch breaks at the part which lies below half way from the centre.


If the excess of weight be placed in the middle of the arch at the point a, that weight tends to fall towards b, and the arch breaks at 2/3 of its height at c e; and g e is as many times stronger than e a, as m o goes into m n.


The arch will likewise give way under a transversal thrust, for when the charge is not thrown directly on the foot of the arch, the arch lasts but a short time.



The way to give stability to the arch is to fill the spandrils with good masonry up to the level of its summit.





An arch of small curve is safe in itself, but if it be heavily charged, it is necessary to strengthen the flanks well. An arch of a very large curve is weak in itself, and stronger if it be charged, and will do little harm to its abutments, and its places of giving way are o p.

[Footnote: Inside the large figure on the righi is the note: Da pesare la forza dell' archo.]



The arch which throws its pressure perpendicularly on the abutments will fulfil its function whatever be its direction, upside down, sideways or upright.

The arch will not break if the chord of the outer arch does not touch the inner arch. This is manifest by experience, because whenever the chord a o n of the outer arch n r a approaches the inner arch x b y the arch will be weak, and it will be weaker in proportion as the inner arch passes beyond that chord. When an arch is loaded only on one side the thrust will press on the top of the other side and be transmitted to the spring of the arch on that side; and it will break at a point half way between its two extremes, where it is farthest from the chord.


A continuous body which has been forcibly bent into an arch, thrusts in the direction of the straight line, which it tends to recover.


In an arch judiciously weighted the thrust is oblique, so that the triangle c n b has no weight upon it.


I here ask what weight will be needed to counterpoise and resist the tendency of each of these arches to give way?

[Footnote: The two lower sketches are taken from the MS. S. K. M. III, 10a; they have there no explanatory text.]



The stability of the arch built by an architect resides in the tie and in the flanks.


The position of the tie is of the same importance at the beginning of the arch and at the top of the perpendicular pier on which it rests. This is proved by the 2nd "of supports" which says: that part of a support has least resistance which is farthest from its solid attachment; hence, as the top of the pier is farthest from the middle of its true foundation and the same being the case at the opposite extremities of the arch which are the points farthest from the middle, which is really its [upper] attachment, we have concluded that the tie a b requires to be in such a position as that its opposite ends are between the four above-mentioned extremes.

The adversary says that this arch must be more than half a circle, and that then it will not need a tie, because then the ends will not thrust outwards but inwards, as is seen in the excess at a c, b d. To this it must be answered that this would be a very poor device, for three reasons. The first refers to the strength of the arch, since it is proved that the circular parallel being composed of two semicircles will only break where these semicircles cross each other, as is seen in the figure n m; besides this it follows that there is a wider space between the extremes of the semicircle than between the plane of the walls; the third reason is that the weight placed to counterbalance the strength of the arch diminishes in proportion as the piers of the arch are wider than the space between the piers. Fourthly in proportion as the parts at c a b d turn outwards, the piers are weaker to support the arch above them. The 5th is that all the material and weight of the arch which are in excess of the semicircle are useless and indeed mischievous; and here it is to be noted that the weight placed above the arch will be more likely to break the arch at a b, where the curve of the excess begins that is added to the semicircle, than if the pier were straight up to its junction with the semicircle [spring of the arch].

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 25

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