The Nots of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci
Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci,

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Title: The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, Complete

Author: Leonardo Da Vinci
Release Date: Jan, 2004 [EBook #5000] [Yes, we are more than one
year ahead of schedule] [Most recently updated June 26, 2002]
Edition: 10
Language: English
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The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci
Volume 1
Translated by Jean Paul Richter


A singular fatality has ruled the destiny of nearly all the most famous
of Leonardo da Vinci's works. Two of the three most important were
never completed, obstacles having arisen during his life-time, which
obliged him to leave them unfinished; namely the Sforza Monument
and the Wall-painting of the Battle of Anghiari, while the third--the
picture of the Last Supper at Milan--has suffered irremediable injury

from decay and the repeated restorations to which it was recklessly
subjected during the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries. Nevertheless, no
other picture of the Renaissance has become so wellknown and popular
through copies of every description.
Vasari says, and rightly, in his Life of Leonardo, "that he laboured
much more by his word than in fact or by deed", and the biographer
evidently had in his mind the numerous works in Manuscript which
have been preserved to this day. To us, now, it seems almost
inexplicable that these valuable and interesting original texts should
have remained so long unpublished, and indeed forgotten. It is certain
that during the XVIth and XVIIth centuries their exceptional value was
highly appreciated. This is proved not merely by the prices which they
commanded, but also by the exceptional interest which has been
attached to the change of ownership of merely a few pages of
That, notwithstanding this eagerness to possess the Manuscripts, their
contents remained a mystery, can only be accounted for by the many
and great difficulties attending the task of deciphering them. The
handwriting is so peculiar that it requires considerable practice to read
even a few detached phrases, much more to solve with any certainty the
numerous difficulties of alternative readings, and to master the sense as
a connected whole. Vasari observes with reference to Leonardos
writing: "he wrote backwards, in rude characters, and with the left hand,
so that any one who is not practised in reading them, cannot understand
them". The aid of a mirror in reading reversed handwriting appears to
me available only for a first experimental reading. Speaking from my
own experience, the persistent use of it is too fatiguing and
inconvenient to be practically advisable, considering the enormous
mass of Manuscripts to be deciphered. And as, after all, Leonardo's
handwriting runs backwards just as all Oriental character runs
backwards--that is to say from right to left--the difficulty of reading
direct from the writing is not insuperable. This obvious peculiarity in
the writing is not, however, by any means the only obstacle in the way
of mastering the text. Leonardo made use of an orthography peculiar to
himself; he had a fashion of amalgamating several short words into one

long one, or, again, he would quite arbitrarily divide a long word into
two separate halves; added to this there is no punctuation whatever to
regulate the division and construction of the sentences, nor are there
any accents--and the reader may imagine that such difficulties were
almost sufficient to make the task seem a desperate one to a beginner. It
is therefore not surprising that the good intentions of some of Leonardo
s most reverent admirers should have failed.
Leonardos literary labours in various departments both of Art and of
Science were those essentially of an enquirer, hence the analytical
method is that
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