The World, Great and Small <

The ancients called man a world in miniature, and that is well-said, because indeed man is made of earth, water, air, and fire, and thus his body is like the Earth. Just as man has bones as a support and framework for his flesh,

so the world has stone to support the Earth …
Leonardo da Vinci
Paris MS A, fol. 55v. Translation: Amanda DeMarco




Visual arts, science, and technology were closely intertwined in 15th-century Italy. At the same time, the individual disciplines were part of the evolution of a more comprehensive worldview and the intensive exploration of the relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm.
The worldview at large continued to rely on the geocentric tradition handed down from antiquity, with the Earth as the center of the universe surrounded by different hierarchically arranged spheres, from the sphere of water to the sphere of the fixed stars. The steady growth of knowledge, due not least to the geographical insights gained by voyages of discovery, increasingly called this view into question. In addition, intensified studies of nature in general and of the human body in particular, expanded knowledge of the world on the small scale.
It was hoped that this would lead not only to advances in science, medicine, and artistic representation, but also to a deeper understanding of the fundamental principles of life. The quest for such knowledge of nature was a central motif in Leonardo da Vinci’s creative work. The rapid development of printing continually increased the knowledge sources available to the artist-scientist, facilitating his search for an integrative worldview. At the same time, he was able to help shape this worldview through his own contributions: on a small scale through his analytical studies of the human body, and on a large scale through maps and depictions of astronomical phenomena.


Near and Distant Views <

Leonardo da Vinci.

Sun and moon

ca. 1506–1508

Some Codices are provided by the Bibliotheca Leordina. They can be embedded as external content from Leonardo digitale/eLeo. For data protection and privacy see here. Embed the content?

The Codex Leicester is one of Leonardo’s most original research achievements. Besides systematic studies on the topic of water, it contains his extensive reflections on cosmology. The sheet here is devoted to the appearance of the sun (upper diagram) and moon (bottom diagram) and how they are seen from the Earth as viewed from different locations. In another note, Leonardo reminded himself to determine both the distance between the sun and the Earth and to discover the size of the latter. The diagram on the left illustrates his refutation of an imaginary adversary who advocated the thesis that the moon had a metallically reflecting surface and not, as Leonardo liked to think, a fluid one.



    Bambach, Carmen C. 2019. Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered. Vol. 2: The Maturing of a Genius 1485–1506. 4 vols. New Haven / London: Yale University Press, 268–269, (264278).


    Laurenza, Domenico. 2018. “Codex Leicester. A Description of the Sheets.” In Water as Microscope of Nature. Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester. Exhibition catalogue Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 30.10.2018–20.1.2019, edited by Paolo Galluzzi. Florence: Giunti, 302–304.