The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 42

One may infer from the concluding sentence (No. 1346, l. 33. 34 and No. 1347), that Leonardo, who no doubt compiled this letter, did not forward it to Piacenza himself, but gave it to some influential patron, under whose name and signature a copy of it was sent to the Commission.]


Magnificent Commissioners of Buildings I, understanding that your Magnificencies have made up your minds to make certain great works in bronze, will remind you of certain things: first that you should not be so hasty or so quick to give the commission, lest by this haste it should become impossible to select a good model and a good master; and some man of small merit may be chosen, who by his insufficiency may cause you to be abused by your descendants, judging that this age was but ill supplied with men of good counsel and with good masters; seeing that other cities, and chiefly the city of the Florentines, has been as it were in these very days, endowed with beautiful and grand works in bronze; among which are the doors of their Baptistery. And this town of Florence, like Piacenza, is a place of intercourse, through which many foreigners pass; who, seeing that the works are fine and of good quality, carry away a good impression, and will say that that city is well filled with worthy inhabitants, seeing the works which bear witness to their opinion; and on the other hand, I say seeing so much metal expended and so badly wrought, it were less shame to the city if the doors had been of plain wood; because, the material, costing so little, would not seem to merit any great outlay of skill...

Now the principal parts which are sought for in cities are their cathedrals, and of these the first things which strike the eye are the doors, by which one passes into these churches.

Beware, gentlemen of the Commission, lest too great speed in your determination, and so much haste to expedite the entrusting of so great a work as that which I hear you have ordered, be the cause that that which was intended for the honour of God and of men should be turned to great dishonour of your judgments, and of your city, which, being a place of mark, is the resort and gathering-place of innumerable foreigners. And this dishonour would result if by your lack of diligence you were to put your trust in some vaunter, who by his tricks or by favour shown to him here should obtain such work from you, by which lasting and very great shame would result to him and to you. Thus I cannot help being angry when I consider what men those are who have conferred with you as wishing to undertake this great work without thinking of their sufficiency for it, not to say more. This one is a potter, that one a maker of cuirasses, this one is a bell-founder, another a bell ringer, and one is even a bombardier; and among them one in his Lordship's service, who boasted that he was the gossip of Messer Ambrosio Ferrere [Footnote 26: Messer Ambrogio Ferrere was Farmer of the Customs under the Duke. Piacenza at that time belonged to Milan.], who has some power and who has made him some promises; and if this were not enough he would mount on horseback, and go to his Lord and obtain such letters that you could never refuse [to give] him the work. But consider where masters of real talent and fit for such work are brought when they have to compete with such men as these. Open your eyes and look carefully lest your money should be spent in buying your own disgrace. I can declare to you that from that place you will procure none but average works of inferior and coarse masters. There is no capable man,--[33] and you may believe me,--except Leonardo the Florentine, who is making the equestrian statue in bronze of the Duke Francesco and who has no need to bring himself into notice, because he has work for all his life time; and I doubt, whether being so great a work, he will ever finish it [34].

The miserable painstakers ... with what hope may they expect a reward of their merit?


There is one whom his Lordship invited from Florence to do this work and who is a worthy master, but with so very much business he will never finish it; and you may imagine that a difference there is to be seen between a beautiful object and an ugly one. Quote Pliny.

Letter to the Cardinal Ippolito d' Este.


[Footnote: This letter addressed to the Cardinal Ippolito d'Este is here given from Marchese G. CAMPORI'S publication: Nuovi documenti per la Vita di Leonardo da Vinci. Atti e Memorie delle R. R. Deputazioni di Storia patria per la provincie modenesi e parmenesi, Vol. III. It is the only text throughout this work which I have not myself examined and copied from the original. The learned discoverer of this letter--the only letter from Leonardo hitherto known as having been sent--adds these interesting remarks: Codesto Cardinale nato ad Ercole I. nel 1470, arcivescovo di Strigonia a sette anni, poi d'Agra, aveva conseguito nel 1497 la pingue ed ambita cattedra di Milano, la dove avra conosciuto il Vinci, sebbene il poco amore ch'ei professava alle arti lasci credere che le proteste di servitu di Leonardo piu che a gratitudine per favori ricevuti e per opere a lui allogate, accennino a speranza per un favore che si aspetta. Notabile e ancora in questo prezioso documento la ripetuta signatura del grande artista 'che si scrive Vincio e Vincius, non da Vinci come si tiene comunemente, sebbene l'una e l'altra possano valere a significare cosi il casato come il paese; restando a sapere se il nome del paese di Vinci fosse assunto a cognome della famiglia di Leonardo nel qual supposto piu propriamento avrebbe a chiamarsi Leonardo Vinci, o Vincio (latinamente Vincius) com'egli stesso amo segnarsi in questa lettera, e come scrissero parecchi contenporanei di lui, il Casio, il Cesariano, Geoffrey Tory, il Gaurico, il Bandello, Raffaelle Maffei, il Paciolo. Per ultimo non lascero d'avvertire come la lettera del Vinci e assai ben conservata, di nitida e larga scrittura in forma pienemente corrispondente a quella dei suoi manoscritti, vergata all'uso comune da sinistra a destra, anziche contrariamente come fu suo costume; ma indubbiamente autentica e fornita della menzione e del suggello che fresca ancora conserva l'impronta di una testa di profilo da un picciolo antico cammeo. (Compare No. 1368, note.)]

Most Illustrious and most Reverend Lord. The Lord Ippolito, Cardinal of Este at Ferrare.

Most Illustrious and most Reverend Lord.

I arrived from Milan but a few days since and finding that my elder brother refuses to

carry into effect a will, made three years ago when my father died--as also, and no less, because I would not fail in a matter I esteem most important--I cannot forbear to crave of your most Reverend Highness a letter of recommendation and favour to Ser Raphaello Hieronymo, at present one of the illustrious members of the Signoria before whom my cause is being argued; and more particularly it has been laid by his Excellency the Gonfaloniere into the hands of the said Ser Raphaello, that his Worship may have to decide and end it before the festival of All Saints. And therefore, my Lord, I entreat you, as urgently as I know how and am able, that your Highness will write a letter to the said Ser Raphaello in that admirable and pressing manner which your Highness can use, recommending to him Leonardo Vincio, your most humble servant as I am, and shall always be; requesting him and pressing him not only to do me justice but to do so with despatch; and I have not the least doubt, from many things that I hear, that Ser Raphaello, being most affectionately devoted to your Highness, the matter will issue ad votum. And this I shall attribute to your most Reverend Highness' letter, to whom I once more humbly commend myself. Et bene valeat.

Florence XVIIIa 7bris 1507. E. V. R. D.

your humble servant Leonardus Vincius, pictor.

Draft of Letter to the Governor of Milan.


I am afraid lest the small return I have made for the great benefits, I have received from your Excellency, have not made you somewhat angry with me, and that this is why to so many letters which I have written to your Lordship I have never had an answer. I now send Salai to explain to your Lordship that I am almost at an end of the litigation I had with my brother; that I hope to find myself with you this Easter, and to carry with me two pictures of two Madonnas of different sizes. These were done for our most Christian King, or for whomsoever your Lordship may please. I should be very glad to know on my return thence where I may have to reside, for I would not give any more trouble to your Lordship. Also, as I have worked for the most Christian King, whether my salary is to continue or not. I wrote to the President as to that water which the king granted me, and which I was not put in possession of because at that time there was a dearth in the canal by reason of the great droughts and because [Footnote:Compare Nos. 1009 and 1010. Leonardo has noted the payment of the pension from the king in 1505.] its outlets were not regulated; but he certainly promised me that when this was done I should be put in possession. Thus I pray your Lordship that you will take so much trouble, now that these outlets are regulated, as to remind the President of my matter; that is, to give me possession of this water, because on my return I hope to make there instruments and other things which will greatly please our most Christian King. Nothing else occurs to me. I am always yours to command. [Footnote:1349. Charles d'Amboise, Marechal de Chaumont, was Governor of Milan under Louis XII. Leonardo was in personal communication with him so early as in 1503. He was absent from Milan in the autumn of 1506 and from October l5l0--when he besieged Pope Julius II. in Bologna--till his death, which took place at Correggio, February 11, 1511. Francesco Vinci, Leonardo's uncle, died--as Amoretti tells us--in the winter of l5l0-11 (or according to Uzielli in 1506?), and Leonardo remained in Florence for business connected with his estate. The letter written with reference to this affair, No. 1348, is undoubtedly earlier than the letters Nos. 1349 and 1350. Amoretti tells us, Memorie Storiche, ch. II, that the following note existed on the same leaf in MS. C. A. I have not however succeeded in finding it. The passage runs thus: Jo sono quasi al fine del mio letizio che io o con mie fratetgli ... Ancora ricordo a V. Excia la facenda che o cum Ser Juliana mio Fratello capo delli altri fratelli ricordandoli come se offerse di conciar le cose nostre fra noi fratelli del comune della eredita de mio Zio, e quelli costringa alla expeditione, quale conteneva la lettera che lui me mando.]

Drafts of Letters to the Superintendent of Canals and to Fr. Melzi.


Magnificent President, I am sending thither Salai, my pupil, who is the bearer of this, and from him you will hear by word of mouth the cause of my...

Magnificent President, I...

Magnificent President:--Having ofttimes remembered the proposals made many times to me by your Excellency, I take the liberty of writing to remind your Lordship of the promise made to me at my last departure, that is the possession of the twelve inches of water granted to me by the most Christian King. Your Lordship knows that I did not enter into possession, because at that time when it was given to me there was a dearth of water in the canal, as well by reason of the great drought as also because the outlets were not regulated; but your Excellency promised me that as soon as this was done, I should have my rights. Afterwards hearing that the canal was complete I wrote several times to your Lordship and to Messer Girolamo da Cusano,who has in his keeping the deed of this gift; and so also I wrote to Corigero and never had a reply. I now send thither Salai, my pupil, the bearer of this, to whom your Lordship may tell by word of mouth all that happened in the matter about which I petition your Excellency. I expect to go thither this Easter since I am nearly at the end of my lawsuit, and I will take with me two pictures of our Lady which I have begun, and at the present time have brought them on to a very good end; nothing else occurs to me.

My Lord the love which your Excellency has always shown me and the benefits that I have constantly received from you I have hitherto...

I am fearful lest the small return I have made for the great benefits I have received from your Excellency may not have made you somewhat annoyed with me. And this is why, to many letters which I have written to your Excellency I have never had an answer. I now send to you Salai to explain to your Excellency that I am almost at the end of my litigation with my brothers, and that I hope to be with you this Easter and carry with me two pictures on which are two Madonnas of different sizes which I began for the most Christian King, or for whomsoever you please. I should be very glad to know where, on my return from this place, I shall have to reside, because I do not wish to give more trouble to your Lordship; and then, having worked for the most Christian King, whether my salary is to be continued or not. I write to the President as to the water that the king granted me of which I had not been put in possession by reason of the dearth in the canal, caused by the great drought and because its outlets were not regulated; but he promised me certainly that as soon as the regulation was made, I should be put in possession of it; I therefore pray you that, if you should meet the said President, you would be good enough, now that the outlets are regulated, to remind the said President to cause me to be put in possession of that water, since I understand it is in great measure in his power. Nothing else occurs to me; always yours to command.

Good day to you Messer Francesco. Why, in God's name, of all the letters I have written to you, have you never answered one. Now wait till I come, by God, and I shall make you write so much that perhaps you will become sick of it.

Dear Messer Francesco. I am sending thither Salai to learn from His Magnificence the President to what end the regulation of the water has come since, at my departure this regulation of the outlets of the canal had been ordered, because His Magnificence the President promised me that as soon as this was done I should be satisfied. It is now some time since I heard that the canal was in order, as also its outlets, and I immediately wrote to the President and to you, and then I repeated it, and never had an answer. So you will have the goodness to answer me as to that which happened, and as I am not to hurry the matter, would you take the trouble, for the love of me, to urge the President a little, and also Messer Girolamo Cusano, to whom you will commend me and offer my duty to his Magnificence.

[Footnote: 1350. 28-36. Draft of a letter to Francesco Melzi, born l493--a youth therefore of about 17 in 1510. Leonardo addresses his young friend as "Messer", as being the son of a noble house. Melzi practised art under Leonardo as a dilettante and not as a pupil, like Cesare da Sesto and others (See LERMOLIEFF, Die Galerien &c., p. 476).]

Drafts of a letter to Giuliano de' Medici (1351-1352).


[Most illustrious Lord. I greatly rejoice most Illustrious Lord at your...]

I was so greatly rejoiced, most illustrious Lord, by the desired restoration of your health, that it almost had the effect that [my own health recovered]--[I have got through my illness]--my own illness left me-- --of your Excellency's almost restored health. But I am extremely vexed that I have not been able completely to satisfy the wishes of your Excellency, by reason of the wickedness of that deceiver, for whom I left nothing undone which could be done for him by me and by which I might be of use to him; and in the first place his allowances were paid to him before the time, which I believe he would willingly deny, if I had not the writing signed by myself and the interpreter. And I, seeing that he did not work for me unless he had no work to do for others, which he was very careful in solliciting, invited him to dine with me, and to work afterwards near me, because, besides the saving of expense, he

[Footnote 1351. 1353: It is clear from the contents of this notes that they refer to Leonardo's residence in Rome in 1513-1515. Nor can there be any doubt that they were addressed to Leonardo's patron at the time: Giuliano de' Medici, third son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and brother of Pope Leo X (born 1478). In 1512 he became the head of the Florentine Republic. The Pope invited him to Rome, where he settled; in 1513 he was named patrician with much splendid ceremonial. The medal struck in honour of the event bears the words MAG. IVLIAN. MEDICES. Leonardo too uses the style "Magnifico", in his letter. Compare also No. 1377.

GlNO CAPPONI (Storia della Repubblica di Firenze, Vol. III, p. 139) thus describes the character of Giuliano de' Medici, who died in 1516: Era il migliore della famiglia, di vita placida, grande spenditore, tenendo intorno a se uomini ingegnosi, ed ogni nuova cosa voleva provare.

See too GREGOROVIUS, Geschichte der Stadi Rom, VIII (book XIV. III, 2): Die Luftschlosser furstlicher Grosse, wozu ihn der Papst hatte erheben wollen zerfielen. Julian war der edelste aller damaligen Medici, ein Mensch von innerlicher Richtung, unbefriedigt durch das Leben, mitten im Sonnenglanz der Herrlichkeit Leo's X. eine dunkle Gestalt die wie ein Schatten voruberzog. Giuliano lived in the Vatican, and it may be safely inferred from No. 1352 l. 2, and No. 1353 l. 4, that Leonardo did the same.

From the following unpublished notice in the Vatican archives, which M. Eug. Muntz, librarian of the Ecole des Beaux arts, Paris, has done me the favour to communicate to me, we get a more accurate view of Leonardo's relation to the often named GIORGIO TEDESCO:

Nota delle provisione (sic) a da pagare per me in nome del nostro ill. S. Bernardo Bini e chompa di Roma, e prima della illma sua chonsorte ogni mese d. 800.

A Ldo da Vinci per sua provisione d. XXXIII, e piu d. VII al detto per la provisione di Giorgio tedescho, che sono in tutto d. 40.

From this we learn, that seven ducats formed the German's monthly wages, but according to No. 1353 l. 7 he pretended that eight ducats had been agreed upon.]

would acquire the Italian language. He always promised, but would never do so. And this I did also, because that Giovanni, the German who makes the mirrors, was there always in the workshop, and wanted to see and to know all that was being done there and made it known outside ... strongly criticising it; and because he dined with those of the Pope's guard, and then they went out with guns killing birds among the ruins; and this went on from after dinner till the evening; and when I sent Lorenzo to urge him to work he said that he would not have so many masters over him, and that his work was for your Excellency's Wardrobe; and thus two months passed and so it went on; and one day finding Gian Niccolo of the Wardrobe and asking whether the German had finished the work for your Magnificence, he told me this was not true, but only that he had given him two guns to clean. Afterwards, when I had urged him farther, be left the workshop and began to work in his room, and lost much time in making another pair of pincers and files and other tools with screws; and there he worked at mills for twisting silk which he hid when any one of my people went in, and with a thousand oaths and mutterings, so that none of them would go there any more.

I was so greatly rejoiced, most Illustrious Lord, by the desired restoration of your health, that my own illness almost left me. But I am greatly vexed at not having been able to completely satisfy your Excellency's wishes by reason of the wickedness of that German deceiver, for whom I left nothing undone by which I could have hope to please him; and secondly I invited him to lodge and board with me, by which means I should constantly see the work he was doing and with greater ease correct his errors while, besides this, he would learn the Italian tongue, by means of which be could with more ease talk without an interpreter; his moneys were always given him in advance of the time when due. Afterwards he wanted to have the models finished in wood, just as they were to be in iron, and wished to carry them away to his own country. But this I refused him, telling him that I would give him, in drawing, the breadth, length, height and form of what he had to do; and so we remained in ill-will.

The next thing was that he made himself another workshop and pincers and tools in his room where he slept, and there he worked for others; afterwards he went to dine with the Swiss of the guard, where there are idle fellows, in which he beat them all; and most times they went two or three together with guns, to shoot birds among the ruins, and this went on till evening.

At last I found how this master Giovanni the mirror-maker was he who had done it all, for two reasons; the first because he had said that my coming here had deprived him of the countenance and favour of your Lordship which always... The other is that he said that his iron-workers' rooms suited him for working at his mirrors, and of this he gave proof; for besides making him my enemy, he made him sell all he had and leave his workshop to him, where he works with a number of workmen making numerous mirrors to send to the fairs.


I was so greatly rejoiced, most Illustrious Lord, by the wished for recovery of your health, that my own ills have almost left me; and I say God be praised for it. But it vexes me greatly that I have not been able completely to satisfy your Excellency's wishes by reason of the wickedness of that German deceiver, for whom I left nothing undone by which I could hope to please him; and secondly I invited him to lodge and board with me, by which means I should see constantly the work he was doing, for which purpose I would have a table fixed at the foot of one of these windows, where he could work with the file and finish the things made below; and so I should constantly see the work he might do, and it could be corrected with greater ease.

Draft of letter written at Rome.


This other hindered me in anatomy, blaming it before the Pope; and likewise at the hospital; and he has filled [4] this whole Belvedere with workshops for mirrors; and he did the same thing in Maestro Giorgio's room. He said that he had been promised [7] eight ducats every month, beginning with the first day, when he set out, or at latest when he spoke with you; and that you agreed.

Seeing that he seldom stayed in the workshop, and that he ate a great deal, I sent him word that, if he liked I could deal with him separately for each thing that he might make, and would give him what we might agree to be a fair valuation. He took counsel with his neighbour and gave up his room, selling every thing, and went to find...

Miscellaneous Records (1354. 1355).


[Footnote: A puzzling passage, meant, as it would seem, for a jest. Compare the description of Giants in Dante, Inf. XXI and XXII. Perhaps Leonardo had the Giant Antaeus in his mind. Of him the myth relates that he was a son of Ge, that he fed on lions; that he hunted in Libya and killed the inhabitants. He enjoyed the peculiarity of renewing his strength whenever he fell and came in contact with his mother earth; but that Hercules lifted him up and so conquered and strangled him. Lucan gives a full account of the struggle. Pharsalia IV, 617. The reading of this passage, which is very indistinctly written, is in many places doubtful.]

Dear Benedetto de' Pertarti. When the proud giant fell because of the bloody and miry state of the ground it was as though a mountain had fallen so that the country shook as with an earthquake, and terror fell on Pluto in hell. From the violence of the shock he lay as stunned on the level ground. Suddenly the people, seeing him as one killed by a thunderbolt, turned back; like ants running wildly over the body of the fallen oak, so these rushing over his ample limbs.......... them with frequent wounds; by which, the giant being roused and feeling himself almost covered by the multitude, he suddenly perceives the smarting of the stabs, and sent forth a roar which sounded like a terrific clap of thunder; and placing his hands on the ground he raised his terrible face: and having lifted one hand to his head he found it full of men and rabble sticking to it like the minute creatures which not unfrequently are found there; wherefore with a shake of his head he sends the men flying through the air just as hail does when driven by the fury of the winds. Many of these men were found to be dead; stamping with his feet.

And clinging to his hair, and striving to hide in it, they behaved like sailors in a storm, who run up the ropes to lessen the force of the wind [by taking in sail].

News of things from the East.

Be it known to you that in the month of June there appeared a Giant, who came from the Lybian desert... mad with rage like ants.... struck down by the rude.

This great Giant was born in Mount Atlas and was a hero ... and had to fight against the Egyptians and Arabs, Medes and Persians. He lived in the sea on whales, grampuses and ships.

Mars fearing for his life took refuge under the... of Jove.

And at the great fall it seemed as though the whole province quaked.


This spirit returns to the brain whence it had departed, with a loud voice and with these words, it moved...

And if any man though he may have wisdom or goodness .........

[Footnote: This passage, very difficult to decipher, is on the reverse of a drawing at Windsor, Pl. CXXII, which possibly has some connection with it. The drawing is slightly reduced in this reproduction; the original being 25 cm. high by 19 cm. wide.]

O blessed and happy spirit whence comest thou? Well have I known this man, much against my will. This one is a receptacle of villainy; he is a perfect heap of the utmost ingratitude combined with every vice. But of what use is it to fatigue myself with vain words? Nothing is to be found in them but every form of sin ... And if there should be found among them any that possesses any good, they will not be treated differently to myself by other men; and in fine, I come to the conclusion that it is bad if they are hostile, and worse if they are friendly.

Miscellaneous drafts of letters and personal records (1356--1368).


All the ills that are or ever were, if they could be set to work by him, would not satisfy the desires of his iniquitous soul; and I could not in any length of time describe his nature to you, but I conclude...


I know one who, having promised me much, less than my due, being disappointed of his presumptuous desires, has tried to deprive me of all my friends; and as he has found them wise and not pliable to his will, he has menaced me that, having found means of denouncing me, he would deprive me of my benefactors. Hence I have informed your Lordship of this, to the end [that this man who wishes to sow the usual scandals, may find no soil fit for sowing the thoughts and deeds of his evil nature] so that he, trying to make your Lordship, the instrument of his iniquitous and maliceous nature may be disappointed of his desire.


[Footnote: Below this text we read gusstino--Giustino and in another passage on the same page Justin is quoted (No. 1210, 1. 48). The two have however no real connection.]

And in this case I know that I shall make few enemies seeing that no one will believe what I can say of him; for they are but few whom his vices have disgusted, and he only dislikes those men whose natures are contrary to those vices. And many hate their fathers, and break off friendship with those who reprove their vices; and he will not permit any examples against them, nor any advice.

If you meet with any one who is virtuous do not drive him from you; do him honour, so that he may not have to flee from you and be reduced to hiding in hermitages, or caves or other solitary places to escape from your treachery; if there is such an one among you do him honour, for these are our Saints upon earth; these are they who deserve statues from us, and images; but remember that their images are not to be eaten by you, as is still done in some parts of India [Footnote 15: In explanation of this passage I have received the following communication from Dr. G. W. LEITNER of Lahore: "So far as Indian customs are known to us, this practice spoken of by Leonardo as 'still existing in some parts of India' is perfectly unknown; and it is equally opposed to the spirit of Hinduism, Mohammedanism and Sikhism. In central Thibet the ashes of the dead, when burnt, are mixed with dough, and small figures--usually of Buddha--are stamped out of them and some are laid in the grave while others are distributed among the relations. The custom spoken of by Leonardo may have prevailed there but I never heard of it." Possibly Leonardo refers here to customs of nations of America.] where, when the images have according to them, performed some miracle, the priests cut them in pieces, being of wood, and give them to all the people of the country, not without payment; and each one grates his portion very fine, and puts it upon the first food he eats; and thus believes that by faith he has eaten his saint who then preserves him from all perils. What do you think here, Man, of your own species? Are you so wise as you believe yourselves to be? Are these things to be done by men?


As I told you in past days, you know that I am without any.... Francesco d'Antonio. Bernardo di Maestro Jacopo.


Tell me how the things happened.


j lorezo\\\ 2 inbiadali\\\ 3 inferri de\\\ 4in lorezo\\\ 5[inno abuil]\\ 6 in acocatu\\\ 7 per la sella\\\ 8colte di lor\\\ 9v cavallott\\\ I0el uiagg\\\ IIal\\\ I2a lurez\\\ 13in biada\\\ 14inferri\\\ 15abuss\\\ 16in viagg\\\ 17alorz\\\ [Footnote: This seems to be the beginning of a letter, but only the first words of the lines have been preserved, the leaf being torn down the middle. No translation is possible.]


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