The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 13


That part of a tree which has shadow for background, is all of one tone, and wherever the trees or branches are thickest they will be darkest, because there are no little intervals of air. But where the boughs lie against a background of other boughs, the brighter parts are seen lightest and the leaves lustrous from the sunlight falling on them.


In the composition of leafy trees be careful not to repeat too often the same colour of one tree against the same colour of another [behind it]; but vary it with a lighter, or a darker, or a stronger green.

On the treatment of light for landscapes (458-464).


The landscape has a finer azure [tone] when, in fine weather the sun is at noon than at any other time of the day, because the air is purified of moisture; and looking at it under that aspect you will see the trees of a beautiful green at the outside and the shadows dark towards the middle; and in the remoter distance the atmosphere which comes between you and them looks more beautiful when there is something dark beyond. And still the azure is most beautiful. The objects seen from the side on which the sun shines will not show you their shadows. But, if you are lower than the sun, you can see what is not seen by the sun and that will be all in shade. The leaves of the trees, which come between you and the sun are of two principal colours which are a splendid lustre of green, and the reflection of the atmosphere which lights up the objects which cannot be seen by the sun, and the shaded portions which only face the earth, and the darkest which are surrounded by something that is not dark. The trees in the landscape which are between you and the sun are far more beautiful than those you see when you are between the sun and them; and this is so because those which face the sun show their leaves as transparent towards the ends of their branches, and those that are not transparent--that is at the ends--reflect the light; and the shadows are dark because they are not concealed by any thing.

The trees, when you place yourself between them and the sun, will only display to you their light and natural colour, which, in itself, is not very strong, and besides this some reflected lights which, being against a background which does not differ very much from themselves in tone, are not conspicuous; and if you are lower down than they are situated, they may also show those portions on which the light of the sun does not fall and these will be dark.

In the Wind.

But, if you are on the side whence the wind blows, you will see the trees look very much lighter than on the other sides, and this happens because the wind turns up the under side of the leaves, which, in all trees, is much whiter than the upper sides; and, more especially, will they be very light indeed if the wind blows from the quarter where the sun is, and if you have your back turned to it.

[Footnote: At S, in the original is the word Sole (sun) and at N parte di nuvolo (the side of the clouds).]


When the sun is covered by clouds, objects are less conspicuous, because there is little difference between the light and shade of the trees and of the buildings being illuminated by the brightness of the atmosphere which surrounds the objects in such a way that the shadows are few, and these few fade away so that their outline is lost in haze.



The best method of practice in representing country scenes, or I should say landscapes with their trees, is to choose them so that the sun is covered with clouds so that the landscape receives an universal light and not the direct light of the sun, which makes the shadows sharp and too strongly different from the lights.



In landscapes which represent [a scene in] winter. The mountains should not be shown blue, as we see in the mountains in the summer. And this is proved [Footnote 5. 6.: Per la 4a di questo. It is impossible to ascertain what this quotation refers to. Questo certainly does not mean the MS. in hand, nor any other now known to us. The same remark applies to the phrase in line 15: per la 2a di questo.] in the 4th of this which says: Among mountains seen from a great distance those will look of the bluest colour which are in themselves the darkest; hence, when the trees are stripped of their leaves, they will show a bluer tinge which will be in itself darker; therefore, when the trees have lost their leaves they will look of a gray colour, while, with their leaves, they are green, and in proportion as the green is darker than the grey hue the green will be of a bluer tinge than the gray. Also by the 2nd of this: The shadows of trees covered with leaves are darker than the shadows of those trees which have lost their leaves in proportion as the trees covered with leaves are denser than those without leaves--and thus my meaning is proved.

The definition of the blue colour of the atmosphere explains why the landscape is bluer in the summer than in the winter.



If the slope of a hill comes between the eye and the horizon, sloping towards the eye, while the eye is opposite the middle of the height of this slope, then that hill will increase in darkness throughout its length. This is proved by the 7th of this which says that a tree looks darkest when it is seen from below; the proposition is verified, since this hill will, on its upper half show all its trees as much from the side which is lighted by the light of the sky, as from that which is in shade from the darkness of the earth; whence it must result that these trees are of a medium darkness. And from this [middle] spot towards the base of the hill, these trees will be lighter by degrees by the converse of the 7th and by the said 7th: For trees so placed, the nearer they are to the summit of the hill the darker they necessarily become. But this darkness is not in proportion to the distance, by the 8th of this which says: That object shows darkest which is [seen] in the clearest atmosphere; and by the 10th: That shows darkest which stands out against a lighter background.

[Footnote: The quotation in this passage again cannot be verified.]



The colours of the shadows in mountains at a great distance take a most lovely blue, much purer than their illuminated portions. And from this it follows that when the rock of a mountain is reddish the illuminated portions are violet (?) and the more they are lighted the more they display their proper colour.


A place is most luminous when it is most remote from mountains.

On the treatment of light for views of towns (465-469).



When the sun is in the East and the eye is above the centre of a town, the eye will see the Southern part of the town with its roofs half in shade and half in light, and the same towards the North; the Eastern side will be all in shadow and the Western will be all in light.


Of the houses of a town, in which the divisions between the houses may be distinguished by the light which fall on the mist at the bottom. If the eye is above the houses the light seen in the space that is between one house and the next sinks by degrees into thicker mist; and yet, being less transparent, it appears whiter; and if the houses are some higher than the others, since the true [colour] is always more discernible through the thinner atmosphere, the houses will look darker in proportion as they are higher up. Let n o p q represent the various density of the atmosphere thick with moisture, a being the eye, the house b c will look lightest at the bottom, because it is in a thicker atmosphere; the lines c d f will appear equally light, for although f is more distant than c, it is raised into a thinner atmosphere, if the houses b e are of the same height, because they cross a brightness which is varied by mist, but this is only because the line of the eye which starts from above ends by piercing a lower and denser atmosphere at d than at b. Thus the line a f is lower at f than at c; and the house f will be seen darker at e from the line e k as far as m, than the tops of the houses standing in front of it.



Of buildings seen at a great distance in the evening or the morning, as in mist or dense atmosphere, only those portions are seen in brightness which are lighted up by the sun which is near the horizon; and those portions which are not lighted up by the sun remain almost of the same colour and medium tone as the mist.


Of objects standing in a mist or other dense atmosphere, whether from vapour or smoke or distance, those will be most visible which are the highest. And among objects of equal height that will be the darkest [strongest] which has for background the deepest mist. Thus the eye h looking at a b c, towers of equal height, one with another, sees c the top of the first tower at r, at two degrees of depth in the mist; and sees the height of the middle tower b through one single degree of mist. Therefore the top of the tower c appears stronger than the top of the tower b, &c.



Smoke is seen better and more distinctly on the Eastern side than on the Western when the sun is in the East; and this arises from two causes; the first is that the sun, with its rays, shines through the particles of the smoke and lights them up and makes them visible. The second is that the roofs of the houses seen in the East at this time are in shadow, because their obliquity does not allow of their being illuminated by the sun. And the same thing occurs with dust; and both one and the other look the lighter in proportion as they are denser, and they are densest towards the middle.



If the sun is in the East the smoke of cities will not be visible in the West, because on that side it is not seen penetrated by the solar rays, nor on a dark background; since the roofs of the houses turn the same side to the eye as they turn towards the sun, and on this light background the smoke is not very visible.

But dust, under the same aspect, will look darker than smoke being of denser material than smoke which is moist.

The effect of wind on trees (470-473).



In representing wind, besides the bending of the boughs and the reversing of their leaves towards the quarter whence the wind comes, you should also represent them amid clouds of fine dust mingled with the troubled air.


Describe landscapes with the wind, and the water, and the setting and rising of the sun.


All the leaves which hung towards the earth by the bending of the shoots with their branches, are turned up side down by the gusts of wind, and here their perspective is reversed; for, if the tree is between you and the quarter of the wind, the leaves which are towards you remain in their natural aspect, while those on the opposite side which ought to have their points in a contrary direction have, by being turned over, their points turned towards you.


Trees struck by the force of the wind bend to the side towards which the wind is blowing; and the wind being past they bend in the contrary direction, that is in reverse motion.


That portion of a tree which is farthest from the force which strikes it is the most injured by the blow because it bears most strain; thus nature has foreseen this case by thickening them in that part where they can be most hurt; and most in such trees as grow to great heights, as pines and the like. [Footnote: Compare the sketch drawn with a pen and washed with Indian ink on Pl. XL, No. 1. In the Vatican copy we find, under a section entitled 'del fumo', the following remark: Era sotto di questo capitulo un rompimento di montagna, per dentro delle quali roture scherzaua fiame di fuoco, disegnate di penna et ombrate d'acquarella, da uedere cosa mirabile et uiua (Ed. MANZI, p. 235. Ed. LUDWIG, Vol. I, 460). This appears to refer to the left hand portion of the drawing here given from the Windsor collection, and from this it must be inferred, that the leaf as it now exists in the library of the Queen of England, was already separated from the original MS. at the time when the Vatican copy was made.]

Light and shade on clouds (474-477).


Describe how the clouds are formed and how they dissolve, and what cause raises vapour.


The shadows in clouds are lighter in proportion as they are nearer to the horizon.

[Footnote: The drawing belonging to this was in black chalk and is totally effaced.]


When clouds come between the sun and the eye all the upper edges of their round forms are light, and towards the middle they are dark, and this happens because towards the top these edges have the sun above them while you are below them; and the same thing happens with the position of the branches of trees; and again the clouds, like the trees, being somewhat transparent, are lighted up in part, and at the edges they show thinner.

But, when the eye is between the cloud and the sun, the cloud has the contrary effect to the former, for the edges of its mass are dark and it is light towards the middle; and this happens because you see the same side as faces the sun, and because the edges have some transparency and reveal to the eye that portion which is hidden beyond them, and which, as it does not catch the sunlight like that portion turned towards it, is necessarily somewhat darker. Again, it may be that you see the details of these rounded masses from the lower side, while the sun shines on the upper side and as they are not so situated as to reflect the light of the sun, as in the first instance they remain dark.

The black clouds which are often seen higher up than those which are illuminated by the sun are shaded by other clouds, lying between them and the sun.

Again, the rounded forms of the clouds that face the sun, show their edges dark because they lie against the light background; and to see that this is true, you may look at the top of any cloud that is wholly light because it lies against the blue of the atmosphere, which is darker than the cloud.

[Footnote: A drawing in red chalk from the Windsor collection (see Pl. XXIX), representing a landscape with storm-clouds, may serve to illustrate this section as well as the following one.]



The clouds do not show their rounded forms excepting on the sides which face the sun; on the others the roundness is imperceptible because they are in the shade. [Footnote: The text of this chapter is given in facsimile on Pls. XXXVI and XXXVII. The two halves of the leaf form but one in the original. On the margin close to lines 4 and 5 is the note: rossore d'aria inverso l'orizonte--(of the redness of the atmosphere near the horizon). The sketches on the lower portion of the page will be spoken of in No. 668.]

If the sun is in the East and the clouds in the West, the eye placed between the sun and the clouds sees the edges of the rounded forms composing these clouds as dark, and the portions which are surrounded by this dark [edge] are light. And this occurs because the edges of the rounded forms of these clouds are turned towards the upper or lateral sky, which is reflected in them.

Both the cloud and the tree display no roundness at all on their shaded side.

On images reflected in water.


Painters often deceive themselves, by representing water in which they make the water reflect the objects seen by the man. But the water reflects the object from one side and the man sees it from the other; and it often happens that the painter sees an object from below, and thus one and the same object is seen from hind part before and upside down, because the water shows the image of the object in one way, and the eye sees it in another.

Of rainbows and rain (479. 480).


The colours in the middle of the rainbow mingle together.

The bow in itself is not in the rain nor in the eye that sees it; though it is generated by the rain, the sun, and the eye. The rainbow is always seen by the eye that is between the rain and the body of the sun; hence if the sun is in the East and the rain is in the West it will appear on the rain in the West.


When the air is condensed into rain it would produce a vacuum if the rest of the air did not prevent this by filling its place, as it does with a violent rush; and this is the wind which rises in the summer time, accompanied by heavy rain.

Of flower seeds.


All the flowers which turn towards the sun perfect their seeds; but not the others; that is to say those which get only the reflection of the sun.


The Practice of Painting.

It is hardly necessary to offer any excuses for the division carried out in the arrangement of the text into practical suggestions and theoretical enquiries. It was evidently intended by Leonardo himself as we conclude from incidental remarks in the MSS. (for instance No 110). The fact that this arrangement was never carried out either in the old MS. copies or in any edition since, is easily accounted for by the general disorder which results from the provisional distribution of the various chapters in the old copies. We have every reason to believe that the earliest copyists, in distributing the materials collected by them, did not in the least consider the order in which the original MS.lay before them.

It is evident that almost all the chapters which refer to the calling and life of the painter--and which are here brought together in the first section (Nos. 482-508)--may be referred to two distinct periods in Leonardo's life; most of them can be dated as belonging to the year 1492 or to 1515. At about this later time Leonardo may have formed the project of completing his Libro della Pittura, after an interval of some years, as it would seem, during which his interest in the subject had fallen somewhat into the background.

In the second section, which treats first of the artist's studio, the construction of a suitable window forms the object of careful investigations; the special importance attached to this by Leonardo is sufficiently obvious. His theory of the incidence of light which was fully discussed in a former part of this work, was to him by no means of mere abstract value, but, being deduced, as he says, from experience (or experiment) was required to prove its utility in practice. Connected with this we find suggestions for the choice of a light with practical hints as to sketching a picture and some other precepts of a practical character which must come under consideration in the course of completing the painting. In all this I have followed the same principle of arrangement in the text as was carried out in the Theory of Painting, thus the suggestions for the Perspective of a picture, (Nos. 536-569), are followed by the theory of light and shade for the practical method of optics (Nos. 548--566) and this by the practical precepts or the treatment of aerial perspective (567--570).

In the passage on Portrait and Figure Painting the principles of painting as applied to a bust and head are separated and placed first, since the advice to figure painters must have some connection with the principles of the treatment of composition by which they are followed.

But this arrangement of the text made it seem advisable not to pick out the practical precepts as to the representation of trees and landscape from the close connection in which they were originally placed--unlike the rest of the practical precepts--with the theory of this branch of the subject. They must therefore be sought under the section entitled Botany for Painters.

As a supplement to the Libro di Pittura I have here added those texts which treat of the Painter's materials,--as chalk, drawing paper, colours and their preparation, of the management of oils and varnishes; in the appendix are some notes on chemical substances. Possibly some of these, if not all, may have stood in connection with the preparation of colours. It is in the very nature of things that Leonardo's incidental indications as to colours and the like should be now-a-days extremely obscure and could only be explained by professional experts--by them even in but few instances. It might therefore have seemed advisable to reproduce exactly the original text without offering any translation. The rendering here given is merely an attempt to suggest what Leonardo's meaning may have been.

LOMAZZO tells us in his Trattato dell'arte della Pittura, Scultura ed Architettura (Milano 1584, libro II, Cap. XIV): "Va discorrendo ed argomentando Leonardo Vinci in un suo libro letto da me (?) questi anni passati, ch'egli scrisse di mano stanca ai prieghi di LUDOVICO SFORZA duca di Milano, in determinazione di questa questione, se e piu nobile la pittura o la scultura; dicendo che quanto piu un'arte porta seco fatica di corpo, e sudore, tanto piu e vile, e men pregiata". But the existence of any book specially written for Lodovico il Moro on the superiority of Painting over sculpture is perhaps mythical. The various passages in praise of Painting as compared not merely with Sculpture but with Poetry, are scattered among MSS. of very different dates.

Besides, the way, in which the subject is discussed appears not to support the supposition, that these texts were prepared at a special request of the Duke.



How to ascertain the dispositions for an artistic career.



Many are they who have a taste and love for drawing, but no talent; and this will be discernible in boys who are not diligent and never finish their drawings with shading.

The course of instruction for an artist (483-485).


The youth should first learn perspective, then the proportions of objects. Then he may copy from some good master, to accustom himself to fine forms. Then from nature, to confirm by practice the rules he has learnt. Then see for a time the works of various masters. Then get the habit of putting his art into practice and work.

[Footnote: The Vatican copy and numerous abridgements all place this chapter at the beginning of the Trattato, and in consequence DUFRESNE and all subsequent editors have done the same. In the Vatican copy however all the general considerations on the relation of painting to the other arts are placed first, as introductory.]



First draw from drawings by good masters done from works of art and from nature, and not from memory; then from plastic work, with the guidance of the drawing done from it; and then from good natural models and this you must put into practice.



The artist ought first to exercise his hand by copying drawings from the hand of a good master. And having acquired that practice, under the criticism of his master, he should next practise drawing objects in relief of a good style, following the rules which will presently be given.

The study of the antique (486. 487).



Which is best, to draw from nature or from the antique? and which is more difficult to do outlines or light and shade?


It is better to imitate [copy] the antique than modern work.

[Footnote 486, 487: These are the only two passages in which Leonardo alludes to the importance of antique art in the training of an artist. The question asked in No. 486 remains unanswered by him and it seems to me very doubtful whether the opinion stated in No. 487 is to be regarded as a reply to it. This opinion stands in the MS. in a connection--as will be explained later on--which seems to require us to limit its application to a single special case. At any rate we may suspect that when Leonardo put the question, he felt some hesitation as to the answer. Among his very numerous drawings I have not been able to find a single study from the antique, though a drawing in black chalk, at Windsor, of a man on horseback (PI. LXXIII) may perhaps be a reminiscence of the statue of Marcus Aurelius at Rome. It seems to me that the drapery in a pen and ink drawing of a bust, also at Windsor, has been borrowed from an antique model (Pl. XXX). G. G. Rossi has, I believe, correctly interpreted Leonardo's feeling towards the antique in the following note on this passage in manzi's edition, p. 501: "Sappiamo dalla storia, che i valorosi artisti Toscani dell'etÓ dell'oro dell'arte studiarono sugli antichi marmi raccolti dal Magnifico LORENZO DE' MEDICI. Pare che il Vinci a tali monumenti non si accostasse. Quest' uomo sempre riconosce per maestra la natura, e questo principio lo stringeva alla sola imitazione dý essa"--Compare No. 10, 26--28 footnote.]

The necessity of anatomical knowledge (488. 489).



It is indispensable to a Painter who would be thoroughly familiar with the limbs in all the positions and actions of which they are capable, in the nude, to know the anatomy of the sinews, bones, muscles and tendons so that, in their various movements and exertions, he may know which nerve or muscle is the cause of each movement and show those only as prominent and thickened, and not the others all over [the limb], as many do who, to seem great draughtsmen, draw their nude figures looking like wood, devoid of grace; so that you would think you were looking at a sack of walnuts rather than the human form, or a bundle of radishes rather than the muscles of figures.



The painter who is familiar with the nature of the sinews, muscles, and tendons, will know very well, in giving movement to a limb, how many and which sinews cause it; and which muscle, by swelling, causes the contraction of that sinew; and which sinews, expanded into the thinnest cartilage, surround and support the said muscle. Thus he will variously and constantly demonstrate the different muscles by means of the various attitudes of his figures, and will not do, as many who, in a variety of movements, still display the very same things [modelling] in the arms, back, breast and legs. And these things are not to be regarded as minor faults.

How to acquire practice.



I say that first you ought to learn the limbs and their mechanism, and having this knowledge, their actions should come next, according to the circumstances in which they occur in man. And thirdly to compose subjects, the studies for which should be taken from natural actions and made from time to time, as circumstances allow; and pay attention to them in the streets and piazze and fields, and note them down with a brief indication of the forms; [Footnote 5: Lines 5-7 explained by the lower portion of the sketch No. 1 on Pl. XXXI.] thus for a head make an o, and for an arm a straight or a bent line, and the same for the legs and the body, [Footnote 7: Lines 5-7 explained by the lower portion of the sketch No. 1 on Pl. XXXI.] and when you return home work out these notes in a complete form. The Adversary says that to acquire practice and do a great deal of work it is better that the first period of study should be employed in drawing various compositions done on paper or on walls by divers masters, and that in this way practice is rapidly gained, and good methods; to which I reply that the method will be good, if it is based on works of good composition and by skilled masters. But since such masters are so rare that there are but few of them to be found, it is a surer way to go to natural objects, than to those which are imitated from nature with great deterioration, and so form bad methods; for he who can go to the fountain does not go to the water-jar.

[Footnote: This passage has been published by Dr. M. JORDAN, Das Malerbuck des L. da Vinci, p. 89; his reading however varies slightly from mine.]

Industry and thoroughness the first conditions (491-493.)



We know for certain that sight is one of the most rapid actions we can perform. In an instant we see an infinite number of forms, still we only take in thoroughly one object at a time. Supposing that you, Reader, were to glance rapidly at the whole of this written page, you would instantly perceive that it was covered with various letters; but you could not, in the time, recognise what the letters were, nor what they were meant to tell. Hence you would need to see them word by word, line by line to be able to understand the letters. Again, if you wish to go to the top of a building you must go up step by step; otherwise it will be impossible that you should reach the top. Thus I say to you, whom nature prompts to pursue this art, if you wish to have a sound knowledge of the forms of objects begin with the details of them, and do not go on to the second [step] till you have the first well fixed in memory and in practice. And if you do otherwise you will throw away your time, or certainly greatly prolong your studies. And remember to acquire diligence rather than rapidity.



If you, who draw, desire to study well and to good purpose, always go slowly to work in your drawing; and discriminate in. the lights, which have the highest degree of brightness, and to what extent and likewise in the shadows, which are those that are darker than the others and in what way they intermingle; then their masses and the relative proportions of one to the other. And note in their outlines, which way they tend; and which part of the lines is curved to one side or the other, and where they are more or less conspicuous and consequently broad or fine; and finally, that your light and shade blend without strokes and borders [but] looking like smoke.

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