Leonardo da Vinci’s Treatise on Painting

by Jean Marie Carey on September 11, 2013

Leonardo da Vinci and His Treatise on Painting is a digital archive dedicated to the Treatise on Painting, the pivotal text for disseminating Leonardo’s art theory in Renaissance and Baroque Europe. Rather than focusing on Leonardo’s original manuscripts, which remained largely unavailable until the early nineteenth century, the digital archive focuses on the Treatise on Painting, the only text by Leonardo that circulated widely in Renaissance and Baroque Europe.

In collaboration with institutional partners and private collectors from across the globe, the digital archive gathers for the first time, in a single place, critical resource materials on the legacy and reception of Leonardo’s art theory.

These materials include over forty manuscript copies of the Treatise on Painting, dating from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, as well as early printed editions of Leonardo’s Treatise on Painting in Italian (1651), French (1651), and English (1721). The digital archive anticipates expanding its coverage of materials as new manuscripts and printed editions of the Treatise on Painting become available for inclusion.

The digital archive makes it possible to analyze the text and images of these materials systematically, comprehensively, and comparatively.

The project Leonardo da Vinci and his Treatise on Painting documents the legacy of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) on the science of art. It concentrates on the Treatise on Painting, a disorganized, fragmented, and misleading text that was compiled by Francesco Melzi, one of Leonardo’s pupils, around 1540 but that was regarded as a Leonardo original for centuries. The Treatise on Painting circulated widely. Artists, scientists, and scholars including Nicholas Poussin and Galileo Galilei, read it avidly as an authoritative record of Leonardo’s thoughts. In the 19th century, when the artist’s original notes became available, scholars realized that the text poorly reflected Leonardo’s sophisticated ideas. This project unearths and examines the inaccurate but highly influential interpretation of Leonardo’s legacy transmitted in the Treatise on Painting. The digital platform gathers restricted visual and verbal materials of the Treatise on Painting from around the globe. Its analytical and comparative functions make it possible to demonstrate breakdowns and misinterpretations of Leonardo’s legacy.

Posted in: Digital/Analog Resources

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