Leonardo da Vinci

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Good culture is born of a good disposition; and since the cause is more to be praised than the effect, I will rather praise a good disposition without culture, than good culture without the disposition.

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (15 April 14522 May 1519) was an Italian Renaissance painter, architect, inventor, engineer, sculptor, and musician. His best known painting is the Mona Lisa.

See also: Mona Lisa
Love shows itself more in adversity than in prosperity; as light does, which shines most where the place is darkest.


Thou, O God, dost sell us all good things at the price of labour.
My works are the issue of pure and simple experience, who is the one true mistress.
Let no man who is not a Mathematician read the elements of my work.
Landscape with a river by Leonardo really refers to the narrow landscape that connects Lecco with the upper Valtellina, passing through Lierna Lake Como, a territory under the dominion of the Sforza of Milan
I know that many will call this useless work.
Here forms, here colours, here the character of every part of the universe are concentrated to a point; and that point is so marvellous a thing … Oh! marvellous, O stupendous Necessity — by thy laws thou dost compel every effect to be the direct result of its cause, by the shortest path. These are miracles...
The eye — which sees all objects reversed — retains the images for some time.
  • Le cose disunite si uniranno e riceveranno in sé una tale virtù che restituiranno la persa memoria agli uomini (Modern Italian)
    • Disunited things will unite and will receive in themselves such a virtue that they will restore lost memory to men (referring to the Monna Lisa and the surroundings of Bellagio where Lake Como from two becomes one by uniting, location of the point of view Lierna).
  • Painting is poetry which is seen and not heard, and poetry is a painting which is heard but not seen. These two arts, you may call them both either poetry or painting, have here interchanged the senses by which they penetrate to the intellect.
  • Oysters open completely when the moon is full; and when the crab sees one it throws a piece of stone or seaweed into it and the oyster cannot close again so that it serves the crab for meat. Such is the fate of him who opens his mouth too much and thereby puts himself at the mercy of the listener.
    • As quoted in The 48 Laws of Power (2000) by Robert Greene, p. 33
  • The painter strives and competes with nature...There is nothing in all nature without its reason. If you know the reason, you do not need the experience...
  • Look at the grace and sweetness of men and women in the street...
  • Thou, O God, sellest us all benefits, at the cost of our toil....
  • As a day well spent makes sleep seem pleasant, so a life well employed makes death pleasant. A life well spent is long.
  • It is the infinite alone that cannot be attained, for if it could it would become finite.
  • L'acqua del fiume che tocchi è l'ultima di quella che andò e la prima di quella che viene. Così il tempo presente. (Modern Italian)
    • The water of the river you touch is the last of the one that went and the first of the one that comes. Thus the present tense. (referring to the movements underlying the mountains around Lierna and the Fiumelatte connected to the Moncodeno cave)
  • Fa vini potenti e assai, … e ‘l vino vale el più uno soldo il boccale e la libbra della vitella un soldo e ‘l sale 10 dinari, e ‘l simile il burro, ed è la loro libbra 30 once, e l’ova un soldo la soldata. (Modern Italian)
    • He makes powerful and very strong wines, … and the wine is worth more than a penny per jug and the pound of veal a penny and the salt 10 denarii, and so is the butter, and their pound is 30 ounces, and the eggs a penny. (referring to the food products of Valtellina)
  • Su per lago di Como di ver Lamagnia (Alemagna, cioè Germania) è valle di Ciavenna dove la Mera fiume mette in esso lago. Qui si truova montagni sterili e altissime chon grandi scogli ... In queste montagnie li uccielli d’acqua dette maragoni. Qui nasscie abeti, larici eppini, daini, stambuche, chamoze e teribili orsi. Non ci si pò montare se none a 4 piedi. Vannoci i villani a tempi delle nevi chon grande ingiegni per fare trabochare gli orsi giù per esse ripe. Queste montagni strette metano i(n) mezo il fiume. Sono a destra e assinistra per isspatio di miglia 20 tutti a detto modo.
    • Up Lake Como towards Germany is the Chavenna Valley where the River Mera enters the lake. Here are barren and very high mountains with large rocks ... In these mountains the water birds called maragon. Here are born firs, larches and pines, fallow deer, ibexes, chamois and terrible bears. It cannot be mounted except by walking on all fours. There go the mountain men in snowy weather with great ingenuity to bring the bears down the mountains. These narrow mountains have the river in between. They are left and right for a space of 20 miles all like this.
Madonna of the Carnation by Leonardo da Vinci was painted in Varenna near Lierna, with the details of window of Villa Monastero

Codex Arundel (Codex Leonardo, 1478–1519)

  • Subito salse in me due cose: paura e desiderio: paura per la minacciante e scura spelonca, desiderio per vedere se là entro fusse alcuna miracolosa cosa. (Ancient Italian)
    • At once two things came to mind: fear and desire: fear of the threatening dark cave, desire to see if there was anything miraculous within it.(referring to the "Cave of Acquabianca" or "La Ferrera" on Lake Comuntain).

Codex Atlanticus (Codex Leonardo, 1478–1519)

  • cose fantastiche. (Ancient Italian)
    • great stuff (referring to the surroundings of Lierna on Lake Como, Fiumelatte and the mountain of Grigne).
  • E i magior sassi scoperti che si truovno in questi paesi sono le montagnie di Mandello, visine alle montagnie di Leche e di Gravidonia. In verso Bellinzona a 30 miglia a Leco, è quelle di valle Ciavenna; ma la maggiore è quella di Mandello, la quale à nella sua basa una busa di verso il lago, la quale va sotto 200 scalini e qui d’gni tempo è diaccio e vento. (Ancient Italian)
    • And the largest stones discovered in these countries are the mountains of Mandello, near the mountains of Lecco and Gravedona. Towards Bellinzona 30 miles from Lecco, and those of the Chiavenna valley; but the largest is that of Mandello, which is in its valley towards Lake Como, which descends for a distance of 200 steps and here in every season there is ice and wind.
  • A riscontro a Bellagio è il Fiumelaccio (Fiumelatte), il quale cade da alto più che braccia 100 dalla vena donde nasce, a piombo sul lago, con inistimabile strepitio e romore. Questa vena versa solamente ad agosto e settembre. (Ancient Italian)
    • Opposite to Bellagio is the Fiumelatte, which falls from over 100 meters from the source where it is born, plumb over the lake, with inestimable clamor and noise. This vein of water pours only in August and September.
  • Invalsasina infra Vimognio et Introbbio amandesstra entrando per la via di Leccho si trova la Trosa fiume che chade da un sasso altissimo e chadendo entra sotto terra elli finisscie il fiume. (Ancient Italian)
    • In Valssasina between Vimogno and Introbio on the right as you enter via di Lecco is the Troggia river which falls from a very high stone and as it falls it enters the ground where the river ends (referring to the surroundings of Troggia Falls or Cascate della Troggia on Lake Como in the mountain of Grigne).
  • 3 miglia piulla sitruova liedifiti della vena delrame e dello arzento presso auna terra detta Pra Sancto Petro e vene di fero e cose fantastiche. [...] sono molto più frigidi luoghi delli altri della valle per esser sottoposti al monte Grigna, assai questo gli nuoce. Imperocché gli asconde il sole, che poco o nulla sopra lor riluce, da che entra in Scorpione fin che si n’esce d’Aquario (Ancient Italian)
    • 3 miles further on is the building of the vein of copper and silver near a land called Prato San Pietro and veins of iron and fantastic things. (referring to Mine of Prato San Pietro, Cortenova) [...] The other places in the valley are much colder due to being under the mountain Grigna, this hurts them a lot. Also because it hides the sun, which gives little or nothing above it, from the moment it enters Scorpio until it leaves Aquarius.
  • La Grigna è la più alta montagna ch'abbi n' questi paesi, ed è pelata (Ancient Italian)
    • Grigna is the highest mountain I've seen in these countries, and it's bald.
  • Su per detto fiume si truova chadute di acqua di 400 braccia le quale fanno belvedere, ecci bon vivere a 4 soldi per ischotto. Per esso fiume si chonduce assai legniame (Ancient Italian)
    • Up this river there are falls of water of 400 fathoms which make a viewpoint, and here one can well live on 4 sous. This river yields a lot of timber. (referring to the Acqua Fraggia Fall)
  • truovasi di miglio i(n) miglio bone osteriee (Ancient Italian)
    • You can find good taverns from mile to mile. (referring to the Crotti and hut of Valsassina)
  • Su per il lago di Como di ver la Magna è valle di Ciavèna, dove la Mera flumine mette in esso lago; qui si truova montagne sterili et altissime con grandi scogli [...] qui nasce abeti, larici et pini, daini, stambuche, camozze e terribili orsi, non ci si può montare se non a quattro piedi (Ancient Italian)
    • Up the Lake of Como going towards the Magna (Val Codera) there is Val Chiavenna, where the River Mera flows into the lake; here are barren and very high mountains with large rocks ... here are born firs, larches and pines, fallow deer, ibexes, chamois and terrible bears, one cannot climb except on all fours.
  • Li edifiti della vena del rame e dello arzento, presso una terra detta Pra Sancto Petro e vene di ferro e cose fantastiche. (Ancient Italian)
  • In Valsassina, infra Vimogno e Introbbio a man destra entrando per la via di Lecco, si trova Trosa, fiume che cade da uno sasso altissimo, e cadendo entra sotto terra e li finisce il fiume. 3 miglia più in là si trova li edifici della vena del rame e dello argento, presso una terra detta Pra Santo Petro e vene di ferro e cose fantastiche. La Grigna è la più alta montagna ch'abbi questi paesi, ed è pelata. (Ancient Italian)
  • In Valsassina, between Vimogno and Introbio, if you enter keeping right on way of Lecco, you will find Trosa, a river that falls from a very high stone, and as it falls it enters the ground and that is where the river ends. 3 miles further on are the buildings of the vein of copper and silver, near a land called Prato San Pietro and veins of iron and fantastic things. Grigna is the highest mountain these towns have, and it is bald. (paper F.573)
These quotes are primarily from the published edition of Jean Paul Richter (1883), as translated into English by Mrs. R. C. Bell and Edward John Poynter

I Prolegomena and General Introduction to the Book on Painting

  • Let no man who is not a Mathematician read the elements of my work.
  • As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.
  • Life well spent is long.
  • Tristo é lo discepolo che non avanza il suo maestro.
  • Tristo è quel discepolo che non avanza il suo maestro. (Modern Italian)
    • Poor is the pupil that does not surpass his master.
  • Shun those studies in which the work that results dies with the worker.
  • Whoever in discussion adduces authority uses not intellect but rather memory.
    • Variant translations:
    • Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory.
      • As quoted in The Book of Unusual Quotations (1957) by Rudolf Flesch, p. 12
    • Any one who in discussion relies upon authority uses, not his understanding, but rather his memory.
  • Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.
  • It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.
  • Human subtlety...will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature, because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.
  • Mechanics is the paradise of the mathematical sciences because by means of it one comes to the fruits of mathematics.
  • I am not to blame for putting forward, in the course of my work on science, any general rule derived from a previous conclusion.
  • The Book of the science of Mechanics must precede the Book of useful inventions.
  • Seeing that I can find no subject specially useful or pleasing — since the men who have come before me have taken for their own every useful or necessary theme — I must do like one who, being poor, comes last to the fair, and can find no other way of providing himself than by taking all the things already seen by other buyers, and not taken but refused by reason of their lesser value. I, then, will load my humble pack with this despised and rejected merchandise, the refuse of so many buyers; and will go about to distribute it, not indeed in great cities, but in the poorer towns, taking such a price as the wares I offer may be worth.
  • I know that many will call this useless work.
  • Though I may not, like them, be able to quote other authors, I shall rely on that which is much greater and more worthy — on experience, the mistress of their Masters. They go about puffed up and pompous, dressed and decorated with [the fruits], not of their own labours, but of those of others. And they will not allow me my own. They will scorn me as an inventor; but how much more might they — who are not inventors but vaunters and declaimers of the works of others — be blamed.
  • Those men who are inventors and interpreters between Nature and Man, as compared with boasters and declaimers of the works of others, must be regarded and not otherwise esteemed than as the object in front of a mirror, when compared with its image seen in the mirror. For the first is something in itself, and the other nothingness. — Folks little indebted to Nature, since it is only by chance that they wear the human form and without it I might class them with the herds of beasts.
  • Many will think they may reasonably blame me by alleging that my proofs are opposed to the authority of certain men held in the highest reverence by their inexperienced judgments; not considering that my works are the issue of pure and simple experience, who is the one true mistress. These rules are sufficient to enable you to know the true from the false — and this aids men to look only for things that are possible and with due moderation — and not to wrap yourself in ignorance, a thing which can have no good result, so that in despair you would give yourself up to melancholy.
  • Among all the studies of natural causes and reasons Light chiefly delights the beholder; and among the great features of Mathematics the certainty of its demonstrations is what preeminently (tends to) elevate the mind of the investigator. Perspective, therefore, must be preferred to all the discourses and systems of human learning. In this branch [of science] the beam of light is explained on those methods of demonstration which form the glory not so much of Mathematics as of Physics and are graced with the flowers of both.
  • If the Lord — who is the light of all things — vouchsafe to enlighten me, I will treat of Light; wherefore I will divide the present work into 3 Parts... Linear Perspective, The Perspective of Colour, The Perspective of Disappearance.
  • These rules are of use only in correcting the figures; since every man makes some mistakes in his first compositions and he who knows them not, cannot amend them. But you, knowing your errors, will correct your works and where you find mistakes amend them, and remember never to fall into them again. But if you try to apply these rules in composition you will never make an end, and will produce confusion in your works.
  • These rules will enable you to have a free and sound judgment; since good judgment is born of clear understanding, and a clear understanding comes of reasons derived from sound rules, and sound rules are the issue of sound experience — the common mother of all the sciences and arts. Hence, bearing in mind the precepts of my rules, you will be able, merely by your amended judgment, to criticise and recognise every thing that is out of proportion in a work, whether in the perspective or in the figures or any thing else.
  • Those who are in love with practice without knowledge are like the sailor who gets into a ship without rudder or compass and who never can be certain whether he is going. Practice must always be founded on sound theory, and to this Perspective is the guide and the gateway; and without this nothing can be done well in the matter of drawing.
  • The painter who draws merely by practice and by eye, without any reason, is like a mirror which copies every thing placed in front of it without being conscious of their existence.
  • Here forms, here colours, here the character of every part of the universe are concentrated to a point; and that point is so marvellous a thing … Oh! marvellous, O stupendous Necessity — by thy laws thou dost compel every effect to be the direct result of its cause, by the shortest path. These are miracles...
    • Of the eye
  • The eye which turns from a white object in the light of the sun and goes into a less fully lighted place will see everything as dark.
  • The eye — which sees all objects reversed — retains the images for some time. This conclusion is proved by the results; because, the eye having gazed at light retains some impression of it. After looking (at it) there remain in the eye images of intense brightness, that make any less brilliant spot seem dark until the eye has lost the last trace of the impression of the stronger light.

II Linear Perspective

The boundaries of bodies are the least of all things.
Drawing is based upon perspective, which is nothing else than a thorough knowledge of the function of the eye.
The Pyramid is the name I apply to the lines which, starting from the surface and edges of each object, converge from a distance and meet in a single point.
The instant the atmosphere is illuminated it will be filled with an infinite number of images which are produced by the various bodies and colours assembled in it. And the eye is the target, a lodestone, of these images.
  • A point is not part of a line.
  • The smallest natural point is larger than all mathematical points, and this is proved because the natural point has continuity, and any thing that is continuous is infinitely divisible; but the mathematical point is indivisible because it has no size.
  • Nothing is that which fills no space. If one single point placed in a circle may be the starting point of an infinite number of lines, and the termination of an infinite number of lines, there must be an infinite number of points separable from this point, and these when reunited become one again; whence it follows that the part may be equal to the whole.
  • The point, being indivisible, occupies no space. That which occupies no space is nothing. The limiting surface of one thing is the beginning of another.
  • That which has no limitations, has no form. The limitations of two conterminous bodies are interchangeably the surface of each. All the surfaces of a body are not parts of that body.
  • The line has in itself neither matter nor substance and may rather be called an imaginary idea than a real object; and this being its nature it occupies no space. Therefore an infinite number of lines may be conceived of as intersecting each other at a point, which has no dimensions and is only of the thickness (if thickness it may be called) of one single line.
  • The boundaries of bodies are the least of all things. The proposition is proved to be true, because the boundary of a thing is a surface, which is not part of the body contained within that surface; nor is it part of the air surrounding that body, but is the medium interposted between the air and the body, as is proved in its place.
  • Drawing is based upon perspective, which is nothing else than a thorough knowledge of the function of the eye. And this function simply consists in receiving in a pyramid the forms and colours of all the objects placed before it. I say in a pyramid, because there is no object so small that it will not be larger than the spot where these pyramids are received into the eye. Therefore, if you extend the lines from the edges of each body as they converge you will bring them to a single point, and necessarily the said lines must form a pyramid.
  • Perspective is nothing more than a rational demonstration applied to the consideration of how objects in front of the eye transmit their image to it, by means of a pyramid of lines. The Pyramid is the name I apply to the lines which, starting from the surface and edges of each object, converge from a distance and meet in a single point.
  • All objects transmit their image to the eye in pyramids, and the nearer to the eye these pyramids are intersected the smaller will the image appear of the objects which cause them.
  • The instant the atmosphere is illuminated it will be filled with an infinite number of images which are produced by the various bodies and colours assembled in it. And the eye is the target, a lodestone, of these images.
  • That the atmosphere attracts to itself, like a lodestone, all the images of the objects that exist in it, and not their forms merely but their nature may be clearly seen by the sun, which is a hot and luminous body. All the atmosphere, which is the all-pervading matter, absorbs light and heat, and reflects in itself the image of the source of that heat and splendor and, in each minutest portion, does the same. The north pole does the same as the lode stone shows; and the moon and the other planets, without suffering any diminution, do the same.
  • All bodies together, and each by itself, give off to the surrounding air an infinite number of images which are all-pervading and each complete, each conveying the nature, colour and form of the body which produces it.
  • Every body in light and shade fills the surrounding air with infinite images of itself; and these, by infinite pyramids diffused in the air, represent this body throughout space and on every side.
  • The body of the atmosphere is full of infinite radiating pyramids produced by the objects existing in it. These intersect and cross each other with independent convergence without interfering with each other and pass through all the surrounding atmosphere; and are of equal force and value — all being equal to each, each to all. And by means of these, images of the body are transmitted everywhere and on all sides, and each receives in itself every minutest portion of the object that produces it.
  • The air is filled with endless images of the objects distributed in it; and all are represented in all, and all in one, and all in each, whence it happens that if two mirrors are placed in such a manner as to face each other exactly, the first will be reflected in the second and the second in the first. The first being reflected in the second takes to it the image of itself with all the images represented in it, among which is the image of the second mirror, and so, image within image, they go on to infinity in such a manner as that each mirror has within it a mirror, each smaller than the last and one inside the other. Thus, by this example, it is clearly proved that every object sends its image to every spot whence the object itself can be seen; and the converse: That the same object may receive in itself all the images of the objects that are in front of it.
  • All objects project their whole image and likeness, diffused and mingled in the whole of the atmosphere, opposite to themselves. The image of every point of the bodily surface, exists in every part of the atmosphere. All the images of the objects are in every part of the atmosphere.
  • It is impossible that the eye should project from itself, by visual rays, the visual virtue, since, as soon as it opens, that front portion [of the eye] which would give rise to this emanation would have to go forth to the object and this it could not do without time. And this being so, it could not travel so high as the sun in a month's time when the eye wanted to see it.
  • All the rays which convey the images of objects through the air are straight lines. Hence, if the images of very large bodies have to pass through very small holes, and beyond these holes recover their large size, the lines must necessarily intersect.
  • O neglectful Nature, wherefore art thou thus partial, becoming to some of thy children a tender and benignant mother, to others a most cruel and ruthless stepmother? I see thy children given into slavery to others without ever receiving any benefit, and in lieu of any reward for the services they have done for them they are repaid by the severest punishments.
  • The Medici created and destroyed me.

III Six books on Light and Shade

Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form. The forms of bodies could not be understood in detail but for shadow.
No small hole can so modify the convergence of rays of light as to prevent, at a long distance, the transmission of the true form of the luminous body causing them.
  • Shadow is not the absence of light, merely the obstruction of the luminous rays by an opaque body. Shadow is of the nature of darkness. Light is of the nature of a luminous body; one conceals and the other reveals. They are always associated and inseparable from all objects. But shadow is a more powerful agent than light, for it can impede and entirely deprive bodies of their light, while light can never entirely expel shadow from a body, that is from an opaque body.
  • Shadow is the diminution alike of light and of darkness, and stands between darkness and light.
  • A shadow may be infinitely dark, and also of infinite degrees of absence of darkness. The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased. Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form. The forms of bodies could not be understood in detail but for shadow.
  • Shadow partakes of the nature of universal matter. All such matters are more powerful in their beginning and grow weaker towards the end, I say at the beginning, whatever their form or condition may be and whether visible or invisible. And it is not from small beginnings that they grow to a great size in time; as it might be a great oak which has a feeble beginning from a small acorn. Yet I may say that the oak is most powerful at its beginning, that is where it springs from the earth, which is where it is largest.
  • Darkness is absence of light. Shadow is diminution of light.
  • Light is the chaser away of darkness. Shade is the obstruction of light. Primary light is that which falls on objects and causes light and shade. And derived lights are those portions of a body which are illuminated by the primary light. A primary shadow is that side of a body on which the light cannot fall.
  • The eye can best distinguish the forms of objects when it is placed between the shaded and the illuminated parts.
  • The outlines and form of any part of a body in light and shade are indistinct in the shadows and in the high lights; but in the portions between the light and the shadows they are highly conspicuous.
  • A single and distinct luminous body causes stronger relief in the object than a diffused light; as may be seen by comparing one side of a landscape illuminated by the sun, and one overshadowed by clouds, and so illuminated only by the diffused light of the atmosphere.
  • The body which is nearest to the light casts the largest shadow, and why? If an object placed in front of a single light is very close to it you will see that it casts a very large shadow on the opposite wall, and the farther you remove the object from the light the smaller will the image of the shadow become.
  • If you transmit the rays of the sun through a hole in the shape of a star you will see a beautiful effect of perspective in the spot where the sun's rays fall.
  • No small hole can so modify the convergence of rays of light as to prevent, at a long distance, the transmission of the true form of the luminous body causing them.

IV Perspective of Disappearance

  • I ask how far away the eye can discern a non-luminous body, as, for instance, a mountain. It will be very plainly visible if the sun is behind it; and could be seen at a greater or less distance according to the sun's place in the sky.
  • When you represent in your work shadows which you can only discern with difficulty, and of which you cannot distinguish the edges so that you apprehend them confusedly, you must not make them sharp or definite lest your work should have a wooden effect.
  • A shadow will appear dark in proportion to the brilliancy of the light surrounding it and conversely it will be less conspicuous where it is seen against a darker background.
  • A dark object seen against a bright background will appear smaller than it is. A light object will look larger when it is seen against a background darker than itself.
  • A luminous body when obscured by a dense atmosphere will appear smaller; as may be seen by the moon or sun veiled by fogs.
  • Of several luminous bodies of equal size and brilliancy and at an equal distance, that will look the largest which is surrounded by the darkest background.
  • I find that any luminous body when seen through a dense and thick mist diminishes in proportion to its distance from the eye. Thus it is with the sun by day, as well as the moon and the other eternal lights by night. And when the air is clear, these luminaries appear larger in proportion as they are farther from the eye.
  • A luminous body will appear more brilliant in proportion as it is surrounded by deeper shadow.

VI Perspective of Colour and Aerial Perspective

  • The variety of colour in objects cannot be discerned at a great distance, excepting in those parts which are directly lighted up by the solar rays.

VII On the Proportions and on the Movements of the Human Figure

  • Experience shows us that the air must have darkness beyond it and yet it appears blue. If you produce a small quantity of smoke from dry wood and the rays of the sun fall on this smoke, and if you then place behind the smoke a piece of black velvet on which the sun does not shine, you will see that all the smoke which is between the eye and the black stuff will appear of a beautiful blue colour. And if instead of the velvet you place a white cloth smoke, that is too thick smoke, hinders, and too thin smoke does not produce, the perfection of this blue colour. Hence a moderate amount of smoke produces the finest blue.
  • The atmosphere is blue by reason of the darkness above it because black and white make blue.

VIII Botany for Painters and Elements of Landscape Painting

  • The sun gives spirit and life to plants and the earth nourishes them with moisture.

IX The Practice of Painting

A picture or representation of human figures, ought to be done in such a way as that the spectator may easily recognise, by means of their attitudes, the purpose in their minds.
What is fair in men, passes away, but not so in art.
  • Many are they who have a taste and love for drawing, but no talent; and this will be discernible in boys who are not diligent and never finish their drawings with shading.
  • I myself have proved it to be of no small use, when in bed in the dark, to recall in fancy the external details of forms previously studied, or other noteworthy things conceived by subtle speculation; and this is certainly an admirable exercise, and useful for impressing things on the memory.
  • If you are representing a white body let it be surrounded by ample space, because as white has no colour of its own, it is tinged and altered in some degree by the colour of the objects surrounding it.
  • A picture or representation of human figures, ought to be done in such a way as that the spectator may easily recognise, by means of their attitudes, the purpose in their minds. Thus, if you have to represent a man of noble character in the act of speaking, let his gestures be such as naturally accompany good words; and, in the same way, if you wish to depict a man of a brutal nature, give him fierce movements; as with his arms flung out towards the listener, and his head and breast thrust forward beyond his feet, as if following the speaker's hands. Thus it is with a deaf and dumb person who, when he sees two men in conversation — although he is deprived of hearing — can nevertheless understand, from the attitudes and gestures of the speakers, the nature of their discussion.
  • When you wish to represent a man speaking to a number of people, consider the matter of which he has to treat and adapt his action to the subject. Thus, if he speaks persuasively, let his action be appropriate to it. If the matter in hand be to set forth an argument, let the speaker, with the fingers of the right hand hold one finger of the left hand, having the two smaller ones closed; and his face alert, and turned towards the people with mouth a little open, to look as though he spoke; and if he is sitting let him appear as though about to rise, with his head forward. If you represent him standing make him leaning slightly forward with body and head towards the people. These you must represent as silent and attentive, all looking at the orator's face with gestures of admiration; and make some old men in astonishment at the things they hear, with the corners of their mouths pulled down and drawn in, their cheeks full of furrows, and their eyebrows raised, and wrinkling the forehead where they meet.
  • The motions of men must be such as suggest their dignity or their baseness.
  • Represent your figures in such action as may be fitted to express what purpose is in the mind of each; otherwise your art will not be admirable.
  • What is fair in men, passes away, but not so in art.
  • If you condemn painting, which is the only imitator of all visible works of nature, you will certainly despise a subtle invention which brings philosophy and subtle speculation to the consideration of the nature of all forms — seas and plains, trees, animals, plants and flowers — which are surrounded by shade and light. And this is true knowledge and the legitimate issue of nature; for painting is born of nature — or, to speak more correctly, we will say it is the grandchild of nature; for all visible things are produced by nature, and these her children have given birth to painting. Hence we may justly call it the grandchild of nature and related to God.
  • The eye, which is called the window of the soul, is the principal means by which the central sense can most completely and abundantly appreciate the infinite works of nature; and the ear is the second, which acquires dignity by hearing of the things the eye has seen. If you, historians, or poets, or mathematicians had not seen things with your eyes you could not report of them in writing. And if you, O poet, tell a story with your pen, the painter with his brush can tell it more easily, with simpler completeness and less tedious to be understood. And if you call painting dumb poetry, the painter may call poetry blind painting. Now which is the worse defect? to be blind or dumb? Though the poet is as free as the painter in the invention of his fictions they are not so satisfactory to men as paintings; for, though poetry is able to describe forms, actions and places in words, the painter deals with the actual similitude of the forms, in order to represent them. Now tell me which is the nearer to the actual man: the name of man or the image of the man. The name of man differs in different countries, but his form is never changed but by death.
  • The painter strives and competes with nature.

X Studies and Sketches for Pictures and Decorations

Truth at last cannot be hidden. Dissimulation is of no avail. Dissimulation is to no purpose before so great a judge. … Nothing is hidden under the sun.
Movement will cease before we are weary of being useful.
  • We, by our arts may be called the grandsons of God.
  • Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.
  • Ivy is of longevity.
    • Variant: Ivy is [a type] of longevity.
  • Fire destroys falsehood, that is sophistry, and restores truth, driving out darkness.
  • Fire may be represented as the destroyer of all sophistry, and as the image and demonstration of truth; because it is light and drives out darkness which conceals all essences [or subtle things].
  • Fire destroys all sophistry, that is deceit; and maintains truth alone, that is gold.
  • Truth at last cannot be hidden. Dissimulation is of no avail. Dissimulation is to no purpose before so great a judge. Falsehood puts on a mask. Nothing is hidden under the sun.
  • Fire is to represent truth because it destroys all sophistry and lies; and the mask is for lying and falsehood which conceal truth.
  • Movement will cease before we are weary of being useful.
  • Movement will fail sooner than usefulness.
  • When the sun appears which dispels darkness in general, you put out the light which dispelled it for you in particular for your need and convenience.
  • Constancy does not begin, but is that which perseveres.
  • Love, Fear, and Esteem, — Write these on three stones.
    • "Of servants"
  • Fame alone raises herself to Heaven, because virtuous things are in favour with God.
  • Disgrace should be represented upside down, because all her deeds are contrary to God and tend to hell.
  • I am still hopeful. A falcon, Time. But the coincidence is probably accidental.
  • Truth here makes Falsehood torment lying tongues.
  • Such as harm is when it hurts me not, is good which avails me not.
  • He who offends others, does not secure himself.
  • One's thoughts turn towards Hope.
    • By the side of this passage is a sketch of a cage with a bird sitting in it.

XI The Notes on Sculpture

Of the horse I will say nothing because I know the times.
  • If you wish to make a figure in marble, first make one of clay, and when you have finished it, let it dry and place it in a case which should be large enough, after the figure is taken out of it, to receive also the marble, from which you intend to reveal the figure in imitation of the one in clay.
  • Sculptured figures which appear in motion, will, in their standing position, actually look as if they were falling forward.
  • To manage the large mould make a model of the small mould, make a small room in proportion.
  • Of the horse I will say nothing because I know the times.
    • This relates to a huge equestrian statue that Leonardo had been commissioned to design and create, but which was not cast until over 500 years later, in 1999, when two huge statues based upon his design were finally made. (c.1497)

XIV Anatomy, Zoology and Physiology

  • The Common Sense, is that which judges of things offered to it by the other senses. The ancient speculators have concluded that that part of man which constitutes his judgment is caused by a central organ to which the other five senses refer everything by means of impressibility; and to this centre they have given the name Common Sense. And they say that this Sense is situated in the centre of the head between Sensation and Memory. And this name of Common Sense is given to it solely because it is the common judge of all the other five senses i.e. Seeing, Hearing, Touch, Taste and Smell. This Common Sense is acted upon by means of Sensation which is placed as a medium between it and the senses. Sensation is acted upon by means of the images of things presented to it by the external instruments, that is to say the senses which are the medium between external things and Sensation. In the same way the senses are acted upon by objects. Surrounding things transmit their images to the senses and the senses transfer them to the Sensation. Sensation sends them to the Common Sense, and by it they are stamped upon the memory and are there more or less retained according to the importance or force of the impression.
  • Though human ingenuity may make various inventions which, by the help of various machines answering the same end, it will never devise any inventions more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than Nature does; because in her inventions nothing is wanting, and nothing is superfluous, and she needs no counterpoise when she makes limbs proper for motion in the bodies of animals. But she puts into them the soul of the body, which forms them that is the soul of the mother which first constructs in the womb the form of the man and in due time awakens the soul that is to inhabit it.
  • The soul seems to reside in the judgment, and the judgment would seem to be seated in that part where all the senses meet; and this is called the Common Sense and is not all-pervading throughout the body, as many have thought. Rather is it entirely in one part. Because, if it were all-pervading and the same in every part, there would have been no need to make the instruments of the senses meet in one centre and in one single spot; on the contrary it would have sufficed that the eye should fulfil the function of its sensation on its surface only, and not transmit the image of the things seen, to the sense, by means of the optic nerves, so that the soul — for the reason given above — may perceive it in the surface of the eye.
  • King of the animals — as thou hast described him — I should rather say king of the beasts, thou being the greatest — because thou hast spared slaying them, in order that they may give thee their children for the benefit of the gullet, of which thou hast attempted to make a sepulchre for all animals; and I would say still more, if it were allowed me to speak the entire truth . But we do not go outside human matters in telling of one supreme wickedness, which does not happen among the animals of the earth, inasmuch as among them are found none who eat their own kind, unless through want of sense.
  • Our life is made by the death of others.

XV Astronomy

The earth is not in the centre of the Sun's orbit nor at the centre of the universe, but in the centre of its companion elements, and united with them.
  • The earth is not in the centre of the Sun's orbit nor at the centre of the universe, but in the centre of its companion elements, and united with them. And any one standing on the moon, when it and the sun are both beneath us, would see this our earth and the element of water upon it just as we see the moon, and the earth would light it as it lights us.

XVI Physical Geography

  • And if you should say that the shells were carried by the waves, being empty and dead, I say that where the dead went they were not far removed from the living; for in these mountains living ones are found, which are recognisable by the shells being in pairs; and they are in a layer where there are no dead ones; and a little higher up they are found, where they were thrown by the waves, all the dead ones with their shells separated, near to where the rivers fell into the sea, to a great depth; like the Arno which fell from the Gonfolina near to Monte Lupo, where it left a deposit of gravel which may still be seen, and which has agglomerated; and of stones of various districts, natures, and colours and hardness, making one single conglomerate. And a little beyond the sandstone conglomerate a tufa has been formed, where it turned towards Castel Florentino; farther on, the mud was deposited in which the shells lived, and which rose in layers according to the levels at which the turbid Arno flowed into that sea. And from time to time the bottom of the sea was raised, depositing these shells in layers, as may be seen in the cutting at Colle Gonzoli, laid open by the Arno which is wearing away the base of it; in which cutting the said layers of shells are very plainly to be seen in clay of a bluish colour, and various marine objects are found there. And if the earth of our hemisphere is indeed raised by so much higher than it used to be, it must have become by so much lighter by the waters which it lost through the rift between Gibraltar and Ceuta; and all the more the higher it rose, because the weight of the waters which were thus lost would be added to the earth in the other hemisphere. And if the shells had been carried by the muddy deluge they would have been mixed up, and separated from each other amidst the mud, and not in regular steps and layers — as we see them now in our time.

XVII Topographical Notes

  • Men born in hot countries love the night because it refreshes them and have a horror of light because it burns them; and therefore they are of the colour of night, that is black. And in cold countries it is just the contrary. Therefore you need complementary to find equal balance amongst everything.

XIX Philosophical Maxims. Morals. Polemics and Speculations.

Science is the observation of things possible, whether present or past; prescience is the knowledge of things which may come to pass, though but slowly.
The acquisition of any knowledge is always of use to the intellect, because it may thus drive out useless things and retain the good. For nothing can be loved or hated unless it is first known.
You do ill if you praise, and still worse if you reprove in a matter you do not understand.
It is easier to contend with evil at the first than at the last.
  • I obey Thee Lord, first for the love I ought, in all reason to bear Thee; secondly for that Thou canst shorten or prolong the lives of men.
  • Thou, O God, dost sell us all good things at the price of labour.
  • O admirable impartiality of Thine, Thou first Mover; Thou hast not permitted that any force should fail of the order or quality of its necessary results.
  • Necessity is the mistress and guide of nature.
  • Necessity is the theme and the inventress, the eternal curb and law of nature.
  • In many cases one and the same thing is attracted by two strong forces, namely Necessity and Potency. Water falls in rain; the earth absorbs it from the necessity for moisture; and the sun evaporates it, not from necessity, but by its power.
  • Weight, force and casual impulse, together with resistance, are the four external powers in which all the visible actions of mortals have their being and their end.
  • Our body is dependent on heaven and heaven on the Spirit.
  • The motive power is the cause of all life.
  • O Man, who will discern in this work of mine the wonderful works of Nature, if you think it would be a criminal thing to destroy it, reflect how much more criminal it is to take the life of a man; and if this, his external form, appears to thee marvellously constructed, remember that it is nothing as compared with the soul that dwells in that structure; for that indeed, be it what it may, is a thing divine. Leave it then to dwell in His work at His good will and pleasure, and let not your rage or malice destroy a life — for indeed, he who does not value it, does not himself deserve it.
  • The part always has a tendency to reunite with its whole in order to escape from its imperfection.
  • Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than with the imagination being awake?
  • The senses are of the earth; Reason, stands apart in contemplation.
  • Every action needs to be prompted by a motive. To know and to will are two operations of the human mind. Discerning, judging, deliberating are acts of the human mind.
  • All our knowledge has its origin in our perceptions.
  • Science is the observation of things possible, whether present or past; prescience is the knowledge of things which may come to pass, though but slowly.
  • Experience, the interpreter between formative nature and the human race, teaches how that nature acts among mortals; and being constrained by necessity cannot act otherwise than as reason, which is its helm, requires her to act.
  • Wisdom is the daughter of experience.
  • Nature is full of infinite causes that have never occurred in experience.
  • Truth was the only daughter of Time.
  • Experience never errs; it is only your judgments that err by promising themselves effects such as are not caused by your experiments.
  • Experience does not err; only your judgments err by expecting from her what is not in her power. Men wrongly complain of Experience; with great abuse they accuse her of leading them astray but they set Experience aside, turning from it with complaints as to our ignorance causing us to be carried away by vain and foolish desires to promise ourselves, in her name, things that are not in her power; saying that she is fallacious. Men are unjust in complaining of innocent Experience, constantly accusing her of error and of false evidence.
  • Every instrument requires to be made by experience.
  • The man who blames the supreme certainty of mathematics feeds on confusion, and can never silence the contradictions of sophistical sciences which lead to an eternal quackery.
  • There is no certainty in sciences where one of the mathematical sciences cannot be applied, or which are not in relation with these mathematics.
  • Any one who in discussion relies upon authority uses, not his understanding, but rather his memory. Good culture is born of a good disposition; and since the cause is more to be praised than the effect, I will rather praise a good disposition without culture, than good culture without the disposition.
  • Science is the captain, and practice the soldiers.
  • Those who fall in love with practice without science are like a sailor who enters a ship without a helm or a compass, and who never can be certain whither he is going.
  • Now you see that the hope and the desire of returning home and to one's former state is like the moth to the light, and that the man who with constant longing awaits with joy each new spring time, each new summer, each new month and new year — deeming that the things he longs for are ever too late in coming — does not perceive that he is longing for his own destruction. But this desire is the very quintessence, the spirit of the elements, which finding itself imprisoned with the soul is ever longing to return from the human body to its giver. And you must know that this same longing is that quintessence, inseparable from nature, and that man is the image of the world.
  • O Time! consumer of all things; O envious age! thou dost destroy all things and devour all things with the relentless teeth of years, little by little in a slow death. Helen, when she looked in her mirror, seeing the withered wrinkles made in her face by old age, wept and wondered why she had twice been carried away.
  • O sleepers! what a thing is slumber! Sleep resembles death. Ah, why then dost thou not work in such wise as that after death thou mayst retain a resemblance to perfect life, when, during life, thou art in sleep so like to the hapless dead?
  • The knowledge of past times and of the places on the earth is both an ornament and nutriment to the human mind.
  • To lie is so vile, that even if it were in speaking well of godly things it would take off something from God's grace; and Truth is so excellent, that if it praises but small things they become noble.
  • Beyond a doubt truth bears the same relation to falsehood as light to darkness; and this truth is in itself so excellent that, even when it dwells on humble and lowly matters, it is still infinitely above uncertainty and lies, disguised in high and lofty discourses; because in our minds, even if lying should be their fifth element, this does not prevent that the truth of things is the chief nutriment of superior intellects, though not of wandering wits. But you who live in dreams are better pleased by the sophistical reasons and frauds of wits in great and uncertain things, than by those reasons which are certain and natural and not so far above us.
  • Avoid studies of which the result dies with the worker.
  • Men are in error when they lament the flight of time, accusing it of being too swift, and not perceiving that it is sufficient as it passes; but good memory, with which nature has endowed us, causes things long past to seem present.
  • Learning acquired in youth arrests the evil of old age; and if you understand that old age has wisdom for its food, you will so conduct yourself in youth that your old age will not lack for nourishment.
  • The acquisition of any knowledge is always of use to the intellect, because it may thus drive out useless things and retain the good. For nothing can be loved or hated unless it is first known.
  • As a day well spent procures a happy sleep, so a life well employed procures a happy death.
  • The water you touch in a river is the last of that which has passed, and the first of that which is coming. Thus it is with time present.
  • Just as eating against one’s will is injurious to health, so studying without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in.[1]
  • Just as iron rusts unless it is used, and water putrifies or, in cold, turns to ice, so our intellect spoils unless it is kept in use.
    • Variant: Just as iron rusts from disuse... even so does inaction spoil the intellect.
  • You do ill if you praise, and still worse if you reprove in a matter you do not understand.
  • It seems to me that men of coarse and clumsy habits and of small knowledge do not deserve such fine instruments nor so great a variety of natural mechanism as men of speculation and of great knowledge; but merely a sack in which their food may be stowed and whence it may issue, since they cannot be judged to be any thing else than vehicles for food; for it seems to me they have nothing about them of the human species but the voice and the figure, and for all the rest are much below beasts.
  • Some there are who are nothing else than a passage for food and augmentors of excrement and fillers of privies, because through them no other things in the world, nor any good effects are produced, since nothing but full privies results from them.
  • The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.
  • Blind ignorance misleads us thus and delights with the results of lascivious joys. Because it does not know the true light. Because it does not know what is the true light. Vain splendour takes from us the power of being .... behold! for its vain splendour we go into the fire, thus blind ignorance does mislead us. That is, blind ignorance so misleads us that... O! wretched mortals, open your eyes.
  • That is not riches, which may be lost; virtue is our true good and the true reward of its possessor. That cannot be lost; that never deserts us, but when life leaves us. As to property and external riches, hold them with trembling; they often leave their possessor in contempt, and mocked at for having lost them.
  • Man has much power of discourse which for the most part is vain and false; animals have but little, but it is useful and true, and a small truth is better than a great lie.
  • He who possesses most must be most afraid of loss.
  • He who wishes to be rich in a day will be hanged in a year.
  • That man is of supreme folly who always wants for fear of wanting; and his life flies away while he is still hoping to enjoy the good things which he has with extreme labour acquired.
  • We ought not to desire the impossible.
  • Ask counsel of him who rules himself well.
  • Chi non punisce il male comanda che si faccia.
    • He who does not punish evil commands it to be done.
  • The grave will fall in upon him who digs it.
  • You can have no dominion greater or less than that over yourself.
  • Chi poco pensa, molto erra.
    • He who thinks little, errs much.
  • It is easier to contend with evil at the first than at the last.
  • Where there is most feeling, there is the greatest martyrdom.
  • The memory of benefits is a frail defence against ingratitude.
  • Reprove your friend in secret and praise him openly.
  • Be not false about the past.
  • Patience serves us against insults precisely as clothes do against the cold. For if you multiply your garments as the cold increases, that cold cannot hurt you; in the same way increase your patience under great offences, and they cannot hurt your feelings.
  • To speak well of a base man is much the same as speaking ill of a good man.
  • Envy wounds with false accusations, that is with detraction, a thing which scares virtue.
  • We are deceived by promises and time disappoints us...
  • Fear arises sooner than anything else.
  • Just as courage imperils life, fear protects it.
  • Threats alone are the weapons of the threatened man.
  • Wherever good fortune enters, envy lays siege to the place and attacks it; and when it departs, sorrow and repentance remain behind.
  • He who walks straight rarely falls.
  • It is bad if you praise, and worse if you reprove a thing, I mean, if you do not understand the matter well.
  • It is ill to praise, and worse to reprimand in matters that you do not understand.
  • The lover is moved by the beloved object as the senses are by sensual objects; and they unite and become one and the same thing. The work is the first thing born of this union; if the thing loved is base the lover becomes base.
  • When the thing taken into union is perfectly adapted to that which receives it, the result is delight and pleasure and satisfaction.
  • When that which loves is united to the thing beloved it can rest there; when the burden is laid down it finds rest there. There will be eternal fame also for the inhabitants of that town, constructed and enlarged by him.
  • The city will gain beauty worthy of its name and to you it will be useful by its revenues, and the eternal fame of its aggrandizement.
    • These notes were possibly written in preparation for a letter. The meaning is obscure.
  • To preserve Nature's chiefest boon, that is freedom, I can find means of offence and defence, when it is assailed by ambitious tyrants, and first I will speak of the situation of the walls, and also I shall show how communities can maintain their good and just Lords.
  • The false interpreters of nature declare that quicksilver is the common seed of every metal, not remembering that nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.
  • Many have made a trade of delusions and false miracles, deceiving the stupid multitude. Pharisees — that is to say, friars.
  • It is true that impatience, the mother of stupidity, praises brevity, as if such persons had not life long enough to serve them to acquire a complete knowledge of one single subject, such as the human body; and then they want to comprehend the mind of God in which the universe is included, weighing it minutely and mincing it into infinite parts, as if they had to dissect it!
  • Oh! human stupidity, do you not perceive that, though you have been with yourself all your life, you are not yet aware of the thing you possess most of, that is of your folly? and then, with the crowd of sophists, you deceive yourselves and others, despising the mathematical sciences, in which truth dwells and the knowledge of the things included in them. And then you occupy yourself with miracles, and write that you possess information of those things of which the human mind is incapable and which cannot be proved by any instance from nature. And you fancy you have wrought miracles when you spoil a work of some speculative mind, and do not perceive that you are falling into the same error as that of a man who strips a tree of the ornament of its branches covered with leaves mingled with the scented blossoms or fruit.
  • The spirit has no voice, because where there is a voice there is a body, and where there is a body space is occupied, and this prevents the eye from seeing what is placed behind that space; hence the surrounding air is filled by the body, that is by its image.
  • In order to prove whether the spirit can speak or not, it is necessary in the first place to define what a voice is and how it is generated.
  • Every quantity is intellectually conceivable as infinitely divisible.
  • Amid the vastness of the things among which we live, the existence of nothingness holds the first place; its function extends over all things that have no existence, and its essence, as regards time, lies precisely between the past and the future, and has nothing in the present. This nothingness has the part equal to the whole, and the whole to the part, the divisible to the indivisible; and the product of the sum is the same whether we divide or multiply, and in addition as in subtraction; as is proved by arithmeticians by their tenth figure which represents zero; and its power has not extension among the things of Nature.
  • What is called Nothingness is to be found only in time and in speech. In time it stands between the past and future and has no existence in the present; and thus in speech it is one of the things of which we say: They are not, or they are impossible.
  • O mighty and once living instrument of formative nature. Incapable of availing thyself of thy vast strength thou hast to abandon a life of stillness and to obey the law which God and time gave to procreative nature.
    • Of the lightning in clouds.
  • O time, swift robber of all created things, how many kings, how many nations hast thou undone, and how many changes of states and of various events have happened since the wondrous forms of this fish perished here in this cavernous and winding recess. Now destroyed by time thou liest patiently in this confined space with bones stripped and bare; serving as a support and prop for the superimposed mountain.

XX Humorous Writings

Like unto this is the love of virtue. It never looks at any vile or base thing, but rather clings always to pure and virtuous things and takes up its abode in a noble heart; as the birds do in green woods on flowery branches.
We see the most striking example of humility in the lamb… so that very often it has been seen that the lions forbear to kill them.
Things that are separate shall be united and acquire such virtue that they will restore to man his lost memory.
  • The Caladrius is a bird of which it is related that, when it is carried into the presence of a sick person, if the sick man is going to die, the bird turns away its head and never looks at him; but if the sick man is to be saved the bird never loses sight of him but is the cause of curing him of all his sickness. Like unto this is the love of virtue. It never looks at any vile or base thing, but rather clings always to pure and virtuous things and takes up its abode in a noble heart; as the birds do in green woods on flowery branches. And this Love shows itself more in adversity than in prosperity; as light does, which shines most where the place is darkest.
  • The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.
  • We see the most striking example of humility in the lamb which will submit to any animal; and when they are given for food to imprisoned lions they are as gentle to them as to their own mother, so that very often it has been seen that the lions forbear to kill them.
  • The cock does not crow till it has thrice flapped its wings; the parrot in moving among boughs never puts its feet excepting where it has first put its beak. Vows are not made till Hope is dead.
  • A man was desired to rise from bed, because the sun was already risen. To which he replied: "If I had as far to go, and as much to do as he has, I should be risen by now; but having but a little way to go, I shall not rise yet."
  • First, of things relating to animals; secondly, of irrational creatures; thirdly of plants; fourthly, of ceremonies; fifthly, of manners; sixthly, of cases or edicts or quarrels; seventhly, of cases that are impossible in nature [paradoxes], as, for instance, of those things which, the more is taken from them, the more they grow. And reserve the great matters till the end, and the small matters give at the beginning.
  • Men will seem to see new destructions in the sky. The flames that fall from it will seem to rise in it and to fly from it with terror. They will hear every kind of animals speak in human language. They will instantaneously run in person in various parts of the world, without motion. They will see the greatest splendour in the midst of darkness. O! marvel of the human race! What madness has led you thus! You will speak with animals of every species and they with you in human speech. You will see yourself fall from great heights without any harm and torrents will accompany you, and will mingle with their rapid course.
    • Of dreams
  • There will be many who will eagerly and with great care and solicitude follow up a thing, which, if they only knew its malignity, would always terrify them. Of those men, who, the older they grow, the more avaricious they become, whereas, having but little time to stay, they should become more liberal.
  • Many will be busied in taking away from a thing, which will grow in proportion as it is diminished.
    • Of a ditch
  • Oh! how foul a thing, that we should see the tongue of one animal in the guts of another.
    • Of the Tongues of Pigs and Calves in Sausage-skins.
  • There will be great winds by reason of which things of the East will become things of the West; and those of the South, being involved in the course of the winds, will follow them to distant lands.
  • There will be many men who will move one against another, holding in their hands a cutting tool. But these will not do each other any injury beyond tiring each other; for, when one pushes forward the other will draw back. But woe to him who comes between them! For he will end by being cut in pieces.
  • That which was at first bound, cast out and rent by many and various beaters will be respected and honoured, and its precepts will be listened to with reverence and love.
  • One who by himself is mild enough and void of all offence will become terrible and fierce by being in bad company, and will most cruelly take the life of many men, and would kill many more if they were not hindered by bodies having no soul, that have come out of caverns — that is, breastplates of iron.
  • One shall be born from small beginnings which will rapidly become vast. This will respect no created thing, rather will it, by its power, transform almost every thing from its own nature into another.
    • "Of fire"
  • All the elements will be seen mixed together in a great whirling mass, now borne towards the centre of the world, now towards the sky; and now furiously rushing from the South towards the frozen North, and sometimes from the East towards the West, and then again from this hemisphere to the other.
    • "Of Water, which flows turbid and mixed with Soil and Dust; and of Mist, which is mixed with the Air; and of Fire which is mixed with its own, and each with each."
  • Men standing in opposite hemispheres will converse and deride each other and embrace each other, and understand each other's language.
    • "Of Hemispheres, which are infinite; and which are divided by an infinite number of Lines, so that every Man always has one of these Lines between his Feet."
  • Many will there be who will give up work and labour and poverty of life and goods, and will go to live among wealth in splendid buildings, declaring that this is the way to make themselves acceptable to God.
  • An infinite number of men will sell publicly and unhindered things of the very highest price, without leave from the Master of it; while it never was theirs nor in their power; and human justice will not prevent it.
    • "Of Selling Paradise"
  • Animals will be seen on the earth who will always be fighting against each other with the greatest loss and frequent deaths on each side. And there will be no end to their malignity; by their strong limbs we shall see a great portion of the trees of the vast forests laid low throughout the universe; and, when they are filled with food the satisfaction of their desires will be to deal death and grief and labour and wars and fury to every living thing; and from their immoderate pride they will desire to rise towards heaven, but the too great weight of their limbs will keep them down. Nothing will remain on earth, or under the earth or in the waters which will not be persecuted, disturbed and spoiled, and those of one country removed into another. And their bodies will become the sepulture and means of transit of all they have killed.
    O Earth! why dost thou not open and engulf them in the fissures of thy vast abyss and caverns, and no longer display in the sight of heaven such a cruel and horrible monster.
    • "Of the Cruelty of Man"
  • There will be many which will increase in their destruction.
    • "The Ball of Snow rolling over Snow"
  • The East will be seen to rush to the West and the South to the North in confusion round and about the universe, with great noise and trembling or fury.
    • "In the East wind which rushes to the West"
  • The solar rays will kindle fire on the earth, by which a thing that is under the sky will be set on fire, and, being reflected by some obstacle, it will bend downwards.
  • Happy will they be who lend ear to the words of the Dead.
  • Men out of fear will cling to the thing they most fear.
  • Things that are separate shall be united and acquire such virtue that they will restore to man his lost memory.
    • Of papyrus
  • The bones of the Dead will be seen to govern the fortunes of him who moves them.
    • Of Dice
  • The vine that has grown old on an old tree falls with the ruin of that tree, and through that bad companionship must perish with it.
  • The ball of snow when, as it rolls, it descends from the snowy mountains, increases in size as it falls.
  • A vase of unbaked clay, when broken, may be remoulded, but not a baked one.
  • The image of the sun where it falls appears as a thing which covers the person who attempts to cover it.

XXI Letters. Personal Records. Dated Notes.

Tell me if anything was ever done.
  • I have seen motions of the air so furious that they have carried, mixed up in their course, the largest trees of the forest and whole roofs of great palaces, and I have seen the same fury bore a hole with a whirling movement digging out a gravel pit, and carrying gravel, sand and water more than half a mile through the air.
  • Like a whirling wind which rushes down a sandy and hollow valley, and which, in its hasty course, drives to its centre every thing that opposes its furious course... No otherwise does the Northern blast whirl round in its tempestuous progress...
  • It vexes me greatly that having to earn my living has forced me to interrupt the work and to attend to small matters.
  • If you meet with any one who is virtuous do not drive him from you; do him honour, so that he may not have to flee from you and be reduced to hiding in hermitages, or caves or other solitary places to escape from your treachery; if there is such an one among you do him honour, for these are our Saints upon earth; these are they who deserve statues from us, and images...
  • May it please our great Author that I may demonstrate the nature of man and his customs, in the way I describe his figure.
  • This writing distinctly about the kite seems to be my destiny, because among the first recollections of my infancy, it seemed to me that, as I was in my cradle, a kite came to me and opened my mouth with its tail, and struck me several times with its tail inside my lips.
  • When I did well, as a boy you used to put me in prison. Now if I do it being grown up, you will do worse to me.
  • Tell me if anything was ever done.
    • This was written in his notebooks in despair of so many projects that were never completed.
  • Do not reveal, if liberty is precious to you; my face is the prison of love.
  • I ask at what part of its curved motion the moving cause will leave the thing moved and moveable.
  • If any man could have discovered the utmost powers of the cannon, in all its various forms and have given such a secret to the Romans, with what rapidity would they have conquered every country and have vanquished every army, and what reward could have been great enough for such a service! Archimedes indeed, although he had greatly damaged the Romans in the siege of Syracuse, nevertheless did not fail of being offered great rewards from these very Romans; and when Syracuse was taken, diligent search was made for Archimedes; and he being found dead greater lamentation was made for him by the Senate and people of Rome than if they had lost all their army; and they did not fail to honour him with burial and with a statue.
  • Reserve the great matters till the end, and the small matters give at the beginning.

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (1938)

These quotes are from the English translation by Edward MacCurdy (1938)

I Philosophy

  • Every part is disposed to unite with the whole, that it may thereby escape from its own incompleteness.
  • The mind passes in an instant from east to west; and all the great incorporeal things resemble these very closely in speed.
  • While I thought I have been learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.
  • Intellectual passion drives out sensuality.
  • As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.
  • Where there is most power of feeling, there of martyrs is the greatest martyr.
  • Science, knowledge of the things that are possible present and past; prescience, knowledge of the things which may come to pass.
  • To enjoy—to love a thing for its own sake and for no other reason.
  • Life well spent is long.
  • Observe the light and consider its beauty. Blink your eye and look at it. That which you see was not there at first, and that which was there is there no more.
  • The water which rises in the mountain is the blood which keeps the mountain in life.
  • He who does not value life does not deserve it.
  • Nature is full of infinite causes which were never set forth in experience.
  • Wine is good, but water is preferable at table.
  • He who suffers time to slip away and does not grow in virtue the more one thinks about him the sadder one becomes. No man has a capacity for virtue who sacrifices honour for gain. Fortune is powerless to help one who does not exert himself. That man becomes happy who follows Christ. There is no perfect gift without great suffering. Our triumphs and our pomps pass away; gluttony and sloth and enervating luxury have banished every virtue from the world; so that as it were wandering from its course our nature is subdued by habit. Now and henceforth it is meet that you cure yourself of laziness. The Master has said that sitting on down or lying under the quilts will not bring thee to fame. He who without it has frittered life away leaves no more trace of himself upon the earth than smoke does in the air or the foam on the water.
    • p. 91

XVII Flight

  • Since the wings are swifter to press the air than the air is to escape from beneath the wings the air becomes condensed and resists the movement of the wings; and the motive power of these wings by subduing the resistance of the air raises itself in a contrary movement to the movement of the wings.
  • A bird makes the same use of wings and tail in the air as a swimmer does of his arms and legs in the water.
  • Every body that is moved continues to move so long as the impression of the force of its mover is retained in it, therefore the movement of this wing with violence... will come to move the whole bird with it until the impetus of the moved air has been consumed.
  • Remember that your bird should have no other model than the bat, because its membranes serve as an armour or rather as a means of building together the pieces of its armour, that is the framework of the wings.
  • If you take as your pattern the wings of feathered birds, these are more powerful in structure of bone and sinew because they are penetrable, that is to say the feathers are separated from one another and the air passes through them. But the bat is aided by its membrane, which binds the whole together and is not penetrated by the air.
  • You will perhaps say that the sinews and muscles of a bird are incomparably more powerful than those of a man... But the reply to this is that such great strength gives it a reserve of power beyond what it ordinarily uses...
  • Swimming upon water teaches men how birds do upon the air.
  • The air which is struck with most swiftness by the movable thing is compressed to the greatest degree in itself.
  • The function which the wing performs against the air when the air is motionless is the same as that of the air moved against the wings when these are without motion.
  • It is always the under side of the branches of any plant that show themselves to the wind which strikes it, and one leans against the other.
  • That part of the air which is nearest to the wing which presses on it, will have the greatest density.
  • The properties of the air are such that it may become condensed or rarefied.
  • No impetus created by any movement whatever can be immediately consumed, but if it finds an object which has a great resistance it consumes itself in a reflex movement.
  • Impetus is a power of the mover applied in a movable thing which causes the movable thing to move after it is separated from its mover.

XXIX Precepts of the Painter

  • Painting is concerned with all the ten attributes of sight, namely darkness and brightness, substance and colour, form and place, remoteness and nearness, movement and rest; and it is with these attributes that this my small book will be woven, recalling to the painter by what rules and in what way he ought by his art to imitate all things that are the work of nature and the adornment of the world.
  • Whenever you make a figure of a man or of some graceful animal remember to avoid making it seem wooden; that is it should move with counterpoise and balance in such a way as not to seem a block of wood.
  • I give the degrees of things seen by the eye as the musician does of the sounds heard by the ear.
  • When you have drawn the same thing so many times that it seems that you know it by heart try to do it without the model; but having a tracing made of the model upon a thin piece of smooth glass and lay this upon the drawing you have made without the model. ...where you find that you have erred bear it in mind in order not to make the mistake again. ...if you cannot procure smooth glass to make a tracing... take a piece of very fine parchment well oiled and then dried, and when you have used it for for one drawing you can wipe this out with a sponge and do a second.
  • Take a piece of glass of the size of a half sheet of royal folio paper, and fix it... between your eye and the object you wish to portray. Then move it away until your eye is two-thirds of a braccio away from the piece of glass, and fasten your head by means of an instrument in such a way as to prevent any movement of it whatsoever. Then close or cover up one eye, and with a brush or a piece of red chalk finely ground mark out on the glass what is visible beyond it; afterwards, copy it by tracing on paper from the glass, then prick it out upon paper of a better quality and paint it if you so desire, paying special attention to the aerial perspective.
  • If you wish to thoroughly accustom yourself to correct and good positions for your fingers, fasten a frame or a loom divided into squares by threads between your eye and the nude figure which you are representing, and then make the same squares upon the paper where you wish to draw the said nude but very faintly. You should then put a pellet of wax on a part of the network to serve as a mark which as you look at your model should always cover the pit of the throat, or if he should have turned his back make it cover one of the vertebrae of the neck. ...The squares you draw may be as much smaller than those of the network in proportion as you wish your figure to be less than life size...
  • When you wish to see whether the general effect of your picture corresponds with that of the object represented after nature, take a mirror and set it so that it reflects the actual thing, and then compare the reflection with your picture, and consider carefully whether the subject of the two images is in conformity with both, studying especially the mirror. The mirror ought to be taken as a guide... you see the picture made upon one plane showing things which appear in relief, and the mirror upon one plane does the same. The picture is on one single surface, and the mirror is the same. ...if you but know well how to compose your picture it will also seem a natural thing seen in a great mirror.
  • You know that in an atmosphere of uniform density the most distant things seen through it, such as the mountains, in consequence of the great quantity of atmosphere which is between your eye and them, will appear blue. Therfore you should make the building... wall which is more distant less defined and bluer. ...five times as far away make five times as blue.
  • Painting embraces and contains within itself all the things which nature produces or which results from the fortuitous actions of men... he is but a poor master who makes only a single figure well.
  • Surely when a man is painting a picture he ought not refuse to hear any man's opinion... Since men are able to form a true judgement as to the works of nature, how much more does it behoove us to admit that they are able to judge our faults. Therefore you should be desirous of hearing patiently the opinions of others, and consider and reflect carefully whether or no he who censures you has reason for his censure; and correct your work if you find that he is right, but if not, then let it seem that you have not understood him, or, in case he is a man whom you esteem, show him by argument why it is that he is mistaken.

XLV Prophecies

  • Happy will be those who give ear to the words of the dead:—The reading of good works and the observing of their precepts.
  • Feathers shall raise men towards the heaven even as they do the birds:—That is by the letters written by their quills.
  • Things severed shall be united and shall acquire of themselves such virtue that they shall restore to men their lost memory:—That is the papyrus sheets, which are formed out of several strips and preserve the memory of the thoughts and deeds of men.
  • Men will deal rude blows to that which is the cause of their life:—They will thrash the grain.
  • The wind which passes through the skins of animals will make men leap up:—That is the bagpipes, which cause men to dance.


  • Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
    • Used as an early slogan at Apple Computer in 1977, but the earliest occurence of this exact phrase is found in the 1952 article Simplicity Marks New Dining Room by Elizabeth Hillyer. Earliest known attribution to Leonardo da Vinci is in Wisdom Through the Ages : Book Two (2003) by Helen Granat, p. 225, where it is attributed without any citation. The quotation "The height of sophistication is simplicity." is found in Clare Boothe Luce's Stuffed Shirts (1931) [2]
Es ist nicht genug, zu wissen, man muß auch anwenden; es ist nicht genug, zu wollen, man muß auch tun.


  • Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
    • This quotation, which cannot be found in any of da Vinci's writings, was first used in print (and misattributed to Leonardo da Vinci) in a science fiction story published in 1975, The Storms of Windhaven. One of the authors, Lisa Tuttle, remembers that the quote was suggested by science fiction writer Ben Bova, who says he believes he got the quote from a TV documentary narrated by Fredric March, presumably I, Leonardo da Vinci, written by John H. Secondari for the series Saga of Western Man, which aired on 23 February 1965. Bova incorrectly assumed that he was quoting da Vinci. The probable author is John Hermes Secondari (1919-1975), American author and television producer.
  • I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.
    • Quoted allegedly "From da Vinci`s Notes" in Jon Wynne-Tyson: The Extended Circle. A Dictionary of Humane Thought. Centaur Press 1985, p. 65 books.google.
    • Actually the quote is not authentic but made up from a novel by Dmitri Merejkowski (w:Dmitry Merezhkovsky) entitled "The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci" (La Résurrecton de Dieux 1901), translated from Russian into English by Herbert Trench. G.P. Putnam's Sons New York and London, The Knickerbocker Press. There, in Book (i.e. chapter) VI, entitled The Diary of Giovanni Boltraffio, one finds the following:
    • The master [Leonardo da Vinci] permits harm to no living creatures, not even to plants. Zoroastro tells me that from an early age he has abjured meat, and says that the time shall come when all men such as he will be content with a vegetable diet, and will think on the murder of animals as now they think on the murder of men (p. 226 books.google).
    • However, despite the quote's false attribution, da Vinci was in fact a vegetarian.
  • Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.
  • I awoke, only to find that the rest of the world is still asleep.
    • This derives from a comment about him written by Sigmund Freud, in Leonardo Da Vinci (1916): He was like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep.

Quotes about Leonardo da Vinci

Sorted alphabetically by author or source
  • Studying Leonardo... will not only allow us to recognize his science as a solid body of knowledge. It will also show why it cannot be understood without his art, nor his art without the science.
  • For Leonardo, painting is both an art and a science...
    • Fritjof Capra, The Science of Leonardo (2007), Introduction, p. 3
  • Leonardo is the hamlet of art history whom each of us must recreate for ourselves.
  • The genius of Leonardo as a painter came through unfolding the mystery of life..."Look at the grace and sweetness of men and women in the street," he wrote. The most ordinary functions of life and nature amazed him most. He observed of the eye how in it form and colour, and the entire universe it reflected, were reduced to a single point. "Wonderful law of nature, which forced all effects to participate with their cause in the mind of man. These are the true miracles!" Elsewhere he wrote again: "Nature is full of infinite reasons which have not yet passed into experience."
  • He conceived it to be the painter's duty not only to comment on natural phenomena as restrained by law, but to merge his very mind into that of nature by interpreting its relation with art... The whole world was full of a mystery to him, which his work reflected. The smile of consciousness, pregnant of that which is beyond, illumines the expression of Mona Lisa.
  • Leonardo had found a refuge in art from the pettiness of material environment. Like his own creations, he, too, had learned the secret of the inner life. The painter, he wrote, could create a world of his own, and take refuge in this new realm. But it must not be one of shadows only. The very mystery he felt so keenly had yet to rest on a real foundation; to treat it otherwise would be to plunge into mere vapouring. Although attempting to bridge the gulf which separated the real from the unreal, he refused to treat the latter supernaturally. That mystery which lesser minds found in the occult, he saw in nature all about him.
  • His art took, thus, its guidance in realism, its purpose in spirituality. The search for truth and the desire for beauty were the twin ideals he strove to attain. The keenness of this pursuit saved him from the blemish of egoism which aloofness from his surroundings would otherwise have forced upon him. For his character presented the anomaly, peculiar to the Renaissance, of a lofty idealism coupled in action with irresponsibility of duty. He stood on a higher plane, his attitude toward life recognizing no claims on the part of his fellowmen. In his desire to surpass himself, fostered by this isolation of spirit and spurred on by the eager wish to attain universal knowledge, he has been compared to Faust; but the likeness is only half correct. He was not blind to the limitations which encompassed him, his very genius making him realize their bounds. Of the ancients he said that in attempting to define the nature of the soul, they sought the impossible. He wrote elsewhere, "It is the infinite alone that cannot be attained, for if it could it would become finite."
  • He was like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep.
  • Much as Leonardo da Vinci and other Renaissance artists used the revelations of human anatomy to help them depict the body more accurately and compellingly, so, too, many contemporary artists may create new forms of representation in response to revelations about how the brain works.
  • Incredibly endowed both physically and mentally, he achieved greatness as a linguist, botanist, zoologist, anatomist, geologist, musician, sculptor, painter, architect, inventor, and engineer. Leonardo made quite a point of distrusting the knowledge that scholars professed so dogmatically. These men of book learning he described as strutting about puffed up and pompous, adorned not by their own labors but by the labors of others whose work they merely repeated... they did not deal with the real world.
    • Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times (1972)
  • Leonardo did believe in the combination of theory and practice.
    • Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times (1972)
  • Reading Leonardo one finds many statements suggesting that he was a learned mathematician and a profound philosopher who worked on the level of a professional mathematician. ...To pass beyond observation and experience there was for him only one trustworthy road through deceptions and mirages—mathematics. ...On the basis of such pronouncements, no doubt, Leonardo is often credited with being a greater mathematician than he actually was. When one examines Leonardo's notebooks one realizes how little he knew of mathematics and that his approach was empirical and intuitive.
    • Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times (1972)
  • What thinker has ever possessed the cosmic vision so insistently? He sought to establish the essential unity of structure of all living things, the earth an organism with veins and arteries, the body of a man a type of that of the world.
    • Edward MacCurdy, The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (1938)
  • I sometimes dwell on the fact that there's one thing that time and humankind will not be able to take away from me, leaving me rich, richer than Croesus: the bliss that I derive from a Heine poem, from a Beethoven sonata or a DaVinci painting.
    • Anna Margolin "From a Diary" short story (1909) translated from Yiddish by Daniel Kennedy, ‘’During Sleepless Nights and Other Stories’’ (2022)
  • The more the manuscripts of Leonardo are studied, the more one begins to see him not so much as a transcendent artist, but primarily as a man of science, whose skills and commissions as an artist and engineer enabled him to support his fascination with nature.
  • Leonardo da Vinci commented, "By the ancients man has been called the world in miniature; and certainly this name is well bestowed because, inasmuch as man is composed of earth, water, air, and fire his body resembles that of the earth."
    • Rebecca Solnit As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art (2001)
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