Science as Art, Art as Science <

The painter who depicts something only through practice and judgment of the eye without reason is like a mirror that imitates all things

placed in front of it without recognizing them
Leonardo da Vinci
Codex Atlanticus, fol. 207r. Translation: Elizabeth Hughes




The many and varied technical tasks Leonardo had to master in the service of the Sforzas were closely linked to scientific problems and challenges. But also the practice of the visual arts, especially painting, increasingly required theoretical knowledge and diverse expertise, particularly in the cultivated context of the court. This ranged from questions of optics and mathematical perspective construction to mechanical problems and medical knowledge. Leonardo now tried to learn systematically from the existing fundamental works by ancient authors related to all these disciplines, as well as from medieval sources and a growing number of more recent treatises. He expanded his library with specialist scientific literature and made concentrated and ambitious efforts to learn Latin and deepen his mathematical knowledge. This eventually enabled him to formulate new scientific insights of his own. He had now become an “author” of scientific works in his own right. Other artist-engineers, from Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) and Piero della Francesca (ca. 1420–1492) to Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), also sought to place painting, which at the time was still considered a purely practical craft, on a scientific footing. Leonardo went one step further and elevated painting itself to a science.


Leonardo's Berlin Library: Section 8 <

Archimedes, Johannes Campanus, and Severinus Boethius.


Edited by Luca Gaurico. Venice: Giovanni Battista Sessa, 1503




The anthology edited by the humanist Luca Gaurico (1475–1558) on the problem of the quadrature of the circle marked the first-ever printing of works by Archimedes (ca. 287–212 BCE): De quadratura parabolae (The quadrature of parabolas) and De mensura circuli (The measurement of circles). One of Leonardo’s book lists (4 ) records a “Quadrature of the Circle” that can be identified as the edition by Gaurico. Leonardo studied Archimedes intensively during the years around 1504. Pomponio Gaurico, Luca’s brother, mentioned in his text De sculptura that Leonardo was famed for being as great a genius as Archimedes. The title page shows Archimedes as a giant in the middle of the Earth with his head towering above in the sublunar sphere of the element of fire.



    Bambach, Carmen C. 2019a. Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered. Vol. 1: The Making of an Artist 1452–1500. 4 vols. New Haven / London: Yale University Press, 19.


    Idem. 2019b. Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered. Vol. 3: The Late Years 1506–1519. 4 vols. New Haven / London: Yale University Press, 114–115, 303–304, 343.


    Idem. 2019c. Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered. Vol. 4: Scholarly Apparatus to Volumes One, Two, and Three. 4 vols. New Haven / London: Yale University Press, 19 f.