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The Codex Leicester PDF
A singular fatality has ruled the destiny of nearly all the most famous of Leonardo da Vinci’s works.
Two of the three most important were never completed, obstacles having arisen during his lifetime, which obliged him to leave them unfinished; namely, the Sforza Monument and the Wall-painting of the Battle of Anghiari, while the third—the picture of the Last Supper at Milan—has suffered irremediable injury from decay and the repeated restorations to which it was recklessly subjected during the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries.
Nevertheless, no other picture of the Renaissance has become so well known and popular through copies of every description.
Vasari says, and rightly, in his Life of Leonardo, “that he labored much more by his word than in fact or by deed”, and the biographer evidently had in his mind the numerous works in Manuscript which have been preserved to this day.
To us, now, it seems almost inexplicable that these valuable and interesting original texts should have remained so long unpublished, and indeed forgotten.
It is certain that during the XVIth and XVIIth centuries their exceptional value was highly appreciated.
This is proved not merely by the prices which they commanded, but also by the exceptional interest which has been attached to the change of ownership of merely a few pages of Manuscript That, notwithstanding this eagerness to possess the Manuscripts, their contents remained a mystery, can only be accounted for by the many and great difficulties attending the task of deciphering them.
The handwriting is so peculiar that it requires considerable practice to read even a few detached phrases, much more to solve with any certainty the numerous difficulties of alternative readings, and to master the sense as a connected whole.
Vasari observes with reference to Leonardos’s writing: “he wrote backward, in rude characters, and with the left hand, so that anyone who is not practiced in reading them, cannot understand them”.
The aid of a mirror in reading reversed handwriting appears to be available only for a first experimental reading.
Speaking from my own experience, the persistent use of it is too fatiguing and inconvenient to be practically advisable, considering the enormous mass of Manuscripts to be deciphered.
And as, after all, Leonardo’s handwriting runs backward just as all Oriental character runs backward—that is to say from right to left—the difficulty of reading directly from the writing is not insuperable.
This obvious peculiarity in the writing is not, however, by any means the only obstacle in the way of mastering the text.
Leonardo made use of an orthography peculiar to himself; he had a fashion of amalgamating several short words into one long one, or, again, he would quite arbitrarily divide a long word into two separate halves; added to this there is no punctuation whatever to regulate the division and construction of the sentences, nor are there any accents—and the reader may imagine that such difficulties were almost sufficient to make the task seem a desperate one to a beginner.
It is therefore not surprising that the good intentions of some of Leonardo s most reverent admirers should have failed. Leonardo’s literary labors in various departments both of Art and of Science were those essentially of an enquirer, hence the analytical method is that which he employs in arguing out his investigations and dissertations.
The vast structure of his scientific theories is consequently built up of numerous separate types of research, and it is much to be lamented that he should never have collated and arranged them.
His love for detailed research—as it seems to me—was the reason that in almost all the Manuscripts, the different paragraphs appear to us to be in utter confusion; on one and the same page, observations on the most dissimilar subjects follow each other without any connection.
A page, for instance, will begin with some principles of astronomy, or the motion of the earth; then come the laws of sound, and finally some precepts as to color.
Another page will begin with his investigations on the structure of the intestines, and end with philosophical remarks as to the relations of poetry to painting; and so forth.
Leonardo himself lamented this confusion, and for that reason, I do not think that the publication of the texts in the order in which they occur in the originals would at all fulfill his intentions.
No reader could find his way through such a labyrinth; Leonardo himself could not have done it. Added to this, more than half of the five thousand manuscript pages which now remain to us, are written on loose leaves, and at present arranged in a manner that has no justification beyond the fancy of the collector who first brought them together to make volumes of more or less extent.
Nay, even in the volumes, the pages of which were numbered by Leonardo himself, their order, so far as the connection of the texts was concerned, was obviously a matter of indifference to him.
The only point he seems to have kept in view, when first writing down his notes, was that each observation should be complete to the end on the page on which it was begun.
The exceptions to this rule are extremely few, and it is certainly noteworthy that we find in such cases, in bound volumes with numbered pages, the written observations: “turn over”, “This is the continuation of the previous page”, and the like.
Is not this sufficient to prove that it was only in quite exceptional cases that the writer intended the consecutive pages to remain connected, when he should, at last, carry out the often planned arrangement of his writings?
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