Francesco Melzi, ed., ‘Libro di Pittura di Messer Lionardo da Vinci’, folio 130v (c. 1523-70)

Presented by Matthew Landrus

Discussed: Francesco Melzi’s transcription of Leonardo da Vinci’s comment on the practice of drawing limbs, particularly with regard to the impossibility of the memory to preserve all views and transformations of the limbs of “any existing animal” and the means by which one can “illustrate this case by analysing a hand”. Leonardo’s comment was written in 1508-10, as an addition to his 1493 book on painting, which Melzi transcribed and diagrammed during 1530-60 for a Libro di Pittura, an edited manuscript of Leonardo’s written work on painting. Fpr the first printed editions in 1651, in Italian and French, Raphaël Trichet du Fresne and Roland Fréart Sieur de Chambray reduced and edited a copy of Melzi’s Libro di Pittura and included copperplate engravings of drawings by Nicolas Poussin, which replaced Melzi’s plan and profile diagrams with naturalistic profile diagrams. Chapter 271 of this 1651 Traitté de la Pienture de Leonard de Vinci starts a new subsection on practical skills required by painters in order to make good judgements about the positioning and lighting of figures at the start of the composition process, and the importance of leaving these early adjustments unfinished until a later stage in the painting process. Focusing on Leonardo’s practical instructions for the painter, the 1651 editio pinceps reduces his and Melzi’s earlier approaches to fit in a publication on the practice of painting. An essential series of arguments for this edition starts with chapter 271, with a note about the infinite positions of the limbs, using the hand as the best example, along with a note about the continuous quantity the infinite line, which is governed by geometry. Though part of a practical manual in 1651, Leonardo’s original link between practical instruction and the mathematics of nature is apparent in his associations of the infinite movements of the hand with the continuous quantity of infinite line, and thus geometry and the laws of nature. Chapter 271:

“Since every continuous quantity is infinitely divisible, the movement of the eye that observes the hand as it moves from A to B passes through the space AB, which is also a continuous quantity and consequently infinitely divisible. Every part of the movement changes the view and shape of the hand to sight, and this continues as it moves through an entire circle. The same thing happens to the motion of a hand when it is raised; that is, it will pass through space, which is a [continuous] quantity.”