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 <

Pacioli, Luca.

Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita

Venice: Paganinus de Paganinis, 1494




The Summa by the Franciscan Luca Pacioli (ca. 1445–1517) belongs to the tradition of the abacus treatises. It consists of two parts covering arithmetic, algebra, bookkeeping, and geometry. Leonardo bought the book in 1495 for 119 soldi (Codex Atlanticus, fol. 288r) to improve his skills in mathematics and geometry. He transferred numerous excerpts from it into his codices (for example, the memory diagram for the tree of proportions and of proportionality). Shortly afterwards he met Pacioli in person and worked closely with him. Thanks to this meeting Leonardo was able to expand his mathematical knowledge considerably, while Pacioli benefited, among other things, from his friend’s analytical drawing skills (86 ).



    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, 39–44.


    Ciocci, Argante. 2003. Luca Pacioli e la matematizzazione del sapere nel Rinascimento. Bari: Cacucci.


    Giusti, Enrico, and Carlo Maccagni, eds. 1994. Luca Pacioli e la matematica del Rinascimento. Exhibition catalogue Fondazione Piero della Francesca, San Sepolcro, 13.4.–27.6.1994. Florence: Giunti.


    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, 124, no. 12.3.