Notebooks by Leonardo da Vinci, Richter, Irma A., Kemp, Martin

By Leonardo da Vinci, Richter, Irma A., Kemp, Martin

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Other artists, especially Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio, had considered the study of anatomy important in accurately painting the human form. But this interest was essentially superficial. Leonardo’s initial investigations, probably begun as early as his time in Florence (visible in the emphatic muscles in his painting of St Jerome (Vatican, Vatican Museum), would come to reach a profound level as we shall see later. In Milan he realized he wanted to know what made the human body work, how it was designed, and why it was designed in that way.

The technical aspects of the project would have been complex and were recalled by Leonardo in a note he wrote some forty years later. As an apprentice, Leonardo would have been given a foundation in the skills of an artist. He would have been taught how to mix pigments and practise drawing from models, as well as taking part in the preparation of bronze sculpture and machinery for theatrical sets. He was also exposed to the practical and engineering aspects of completing larger projects. By the time Leonardo was nearly 30, in 1481, the city of Florence and Verrocchio’s studio had given him a foundation based on practical design, and the creation of art as a rational activity.

As with his other notes for treatises, the Leicester Codex was written for Leonardo’s own reference. It is more detailed than a notebook of free notations, but less complete than a publishable volume. It provides us with a good example of Leonardo’s writing style. Sometimes it is fragmented, sometimes fluent, and at other times rapid or abrupt. Abbreviations are common, as are spelling errors. Leonardo realizes that further work is needed on some areas and so he writes notes to himself on where to expand: ‘Here I shall continue and discuss a little the location of waters, although it seems somewhat out of order, and then put them in order in their places when drawing up the work’ (Leic.

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