OPUSeJ reference number: OPUSeJ 201206262038LLM
Links: to full article: http://www.opusej.org/library/leonardos-landscapes-as-maps-cover-page/
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Title: Leonardo’s Landscapes as Maps
Author: Pezzutto, Donato
Moderator: Donato Pezzutto
Overview: The nature of Leonardo’s landscapes, have been the subject of debate. The position that they are fictional—imagined as a synthesis of disparate elements—has been challenged by evidence that the Mona Lisa landscape is a realistic portrayal that matches a particular place. Evidence is reviewed, that the landscape is a topographic map, displaying a fly-over view of an actual location, as depicted by Leonardo in his Val di Chiana map. Methods used to support this hypothesis are applied to the analysis of the Annunciation, Madonna of the Yarnwinder and Virgin and Child with St Anne and Lamb. The landscapes of these three Leonardo paintings will also be matched to particular locations.
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Citation: Pezzutto, Donato, 2012, “Leonardo’s Landscapes as Maps”, OPUSeJ 201206262038LLM, 2012-10-24, 1-31. http://www.opusej.org/archive/leonardos-landscapes-as-maps-cover-page/.
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Editor’s note: the following excerpts are from an exchange of e-mails between Prof Martin Kemp and Donato Pezzutto, author of “Leonardo’s Landscapes as Maps”.
[…the article] is not founded securely on anything that can be sustained in the primary sources for the period, in particular those about Leonardo. Anyone wishing to write a high scholarly level in this area needs to have a detailed grasp of the relevant primary sources for Leonardo and geography / geology and maps, including his drawings and manuscripts in the original or in good facsimiles (especially the long and complex Codex Leceister, many sheets in the Codice Atlantico, MSS A, H and I in the Institut de France), the detailed documentation of his life, also evidence of the function and reception of his paintings. It is also incumbent on a researcher to read the main contribution of other scholars beyond the small list of often unreliable sources [Pezzutto] cites.
Let me take one example, the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, which [Pezzutto] states is based on an Adda landscape. Leonardo engagement with the Adda, including the Martesana canal, can be firmly dated not to the first Milanese period but the second, not least when he was staying in the Villa Melzi at Vapprio D’Adda. He was involved in a scheme to bypass the non-navigable section at Tre Corni, which was a project of Francis I and is dateable about 1516.
[T]he painting, on the other hand, is documented as 1501-7 and was executed in Florence. There is technical analysis of the underpainting in both versions of the picture that need to be taken into account. …,[Pezzutto] does not look at Leonardo’s actual drawings of the Adda. It is also worth adding, having trawled for Leonardo sites along the Adda, that there is not a view that looks even approximately like the one in the painting. I could undertake the same kind of analysis of each of the “proofs”.
Emeritus Professor of the History of Art
Trinity College, Oxford, U.K.
The main argument is whether Leonard’s landscapes portray actual places (albeit in the projection or map form of a fly-over view) or fictional places (as a collage of disparate elements—real or imagined). There is nothing in the primary sources to support my hypothesis of the former, nor is there any evidence in the primary sources or secondary sources for that matter, to support the later. If his Notebooks tell us anything of this matter it is that Leonardo repeatedly exhorted painters to paint from nature—from the actual, not the imagined or copied.
The fact that examples of the works produce by Leonardo of the Adda do largely date from the second Milanese period, i.e. after the painting, does not exclude the notion that he was familiar with the river from the first Milanese period. He did originally solicit the role of engineer, including idraulico to Ludovico. There is strong evidence that he became intimately familiar with the navigli waterways of the Lombard area around Milan, including the vital Adda and already existent Martesana canal, before painting the Madonna of the Yarnwinder.
The river in the painting and the actual Adda river both flow from a gap in a wall of high alpine mountains, through a steep walled U-shaped valley, meandering through a flat plain, under an arched medieval bridge, through a distinct S-shaped curve then split into a double channel with an elongated island between the two streams. It is true that there is no single vantage point that could take in all these features. One needs to appreciate this landscape, along with the others in the article, as maps. They represent not single viewpoints but are projections of a series of fly-over views. I call this technique of Leonardo’s, topographic perspective. This relies on Leonardo’s considerable talents of visualization and continuous transformation,…
He [Leonardo] mentioned in passing to Ludovico that he could “move water” but his main claims were all military. There is no evidence that [he] actually worked …as a water engineer before c. 1503, and no evidence that he had undertaken extensive studies of the Adda before 1500.,…
There are 2 big overriding problems that are to my mind wholly decisive.
1) There is not the slightest trace of any evidence in all the many drawings (incl. many of mountains) of any of the elaborate procedures that [Pezzutto] adduces. Please do not tell me the evidence is lost. The nature and diversity of Leonardo’s surviving legacy is such that there is no realistic chance that such a major and repeated procedure is not signalled at some point.
2) Who was Leonardo doing this for? Was he waiting for some smart person 500 years later who could play with digital images? There are symbols and allegories in paintings in the Renaissance but no abstruse puzzles that no-one would even have recognised as puzzles at the time. What is the meaning intended? ,…
Leonardo’s message to study nature was not paint like Constable. It was to learn how to remake natural effects from an understanding of causes. If he wanted his paintings to look like the places he knew, he could have done so, but that was no[t] the job of landscapes in his paintings, which are “fictions that signify great things”.