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 <

Ketham, Johannes de.

Fasciculus medicinae. Similitudo complexionum & elementorum

Venice: Johannes and Gregorius de Gregoriis, 1500

First published in Latin in 1491, the Fasciculo de medicina was translated into Italian by Sebastiano Manilio and reprinted in 1494 in an expanded edition with an Italian version of Mondino’s Anatomy and numerous large-format illustrations. These pictures related first to the practical work of the physician and surgeon (teaching, anatomical dissection, patient visits), and second to representations of the inner organs of the human body. Leonardo probably used both the Latin and the Italian edition. He used the woodcut illustrations as a starting point but immediately surpassed them with his own incomparably more precise anatomical drawings, setting new standards in the analytical depiction of physiological connections (87 ; 69 ). Leonardo’s goal was to produce his own anatomical treatise.



    Bambach, Carmen C. 2019a. Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered. Vol. 2: The Maturing of a Genius 1485–1506. 4 vols. New Haven / London: Yale University Press, 12–16, 55–56, 185–212.


    Idem. 2019b. Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered. Vol. 3: The Late Years 1506–1519. 4 vols. New Haven / London: Yale University Press, 185–196.


    Christiansen, Cathy. 2019. In Leonardo’s Library. The World of a Renaissance Reader, edited by Paula Findlen. Stanford, CA: Stanford Libraries, 160, no. 24.


    Vecce, Carlo, ed. 2019. Leonardo and His Books. The Library of the Universal Genius. Exhibition catalogue Museo Galileo, Florence, 6.6.–22.9.2019. Florence: Giunti, 106, no. 8.3, 8.4.