Lionardo da Vinci

Letters

Letters 

'There is not a man who is capable — and you may believe me — except Leonardo the Florentine who is making the bronze horse of the Du\e Francesco; and you can leave him out of your calculations altogether, for he has a wor\ to do which will last him the whole of his life, and indeed I doubt whether he will ever finish it, so great it is! 

Bernardo di Simone. 

As I told you in days past you know that I am without any ... of the friends . . . and the winter . . . which requires your deeds. c.a. 4 v. b 


Dearest father, 

On the last of the past month I had the letter you wrote to me which in a brief space caused me pleasure and also sorrow. I was pleased at learning from it that you were in good health, for which God be praised. I was filled with sorrow at hearing of your discomfort. c.a. 62 v. a 


[Fragment of letter written while at Rome] 

I have satisfied myself that he accepts commissions from all and has a public shop; for which reason I do not wish that he should work for me at a salary, but that he should be paid for the works that he does for me; and since he has workshop and house from the Magnifico he should be obliged to give precedence to the works for the Magnifico before all. c.a. 92 r. b 

 

THE DIVISIONS OF THE BOOK 

The preaching and persuasion of faith. 
The sudden inundation down to its end. 

1 132 

 

LETTERS 1133 

The ruin of the city. 

The death of the people and their despair. 

The pursuit of the preacher And his liberation and benevolence. 

Description of the cause of this fall of the mountain. 

The havoc that it made. 

The avalanche. 

The finding of the prophet. 

His prophecy. 

The inundation of the lower parts of western Armenia, the channels 
in which were formed by the cutting of Mount Taurus. 

How the new prophet showed that this destruction occurred as he 
had foretold. 

Description of Mount Taurus and of the river Euphrates. To the 
Devatdar of Syria, lieutenant of the sacred Sultan of Babylon: 

The recent unforeseen event which has occurred in these our northern 
parts which I am certain will strike terror not only into you but into 
the whole world shall be revealed to you in its due order, showing first 
the effect and then the cause. 

Finding myself in this part of Armenia in order to discharge with 
devotion and care the duties of that office to which you have appointed 
me, and making a beginning in those parts which seem to me to be 
most suitable for our purpose, I entered into the city of Calindra which 
is near to our borders. This city is situated on the sea-coast of that part 
of the Taurus range which is separated from the Euphrates and looks 
westward to the peaks of the great Mount Taurus. These peaks are of 
such a height that they seem to touch the sky, for in the whole world 
there is no part of the earth that is higher than their summit, and they 
are always struck by the rays of the sun in the east four hours before 
day. And being of exceedingly white stone this shines brightly and 
performs the same office for the Armenians of these parts as the 
beautiful light of the moon would in the midst of the darkness; and 
by reason of its great height it outstretches the highest level of the 
clouds for a space of four miles in a straight line. 

This peak is visible from a great part of the west illuminated by the 
sun after its setting during the third part of the night. And it is this 
which among you in calm weather has formerly been thought to be a 

 

EI54 LETTERS 

comet, and seems to us in the darkness of the night to assume various 
shapes, sometimes dividing into two or three parts, sometimes long and 
sometimes short. And this proceeds from the fact that the clouds on the 
horizon come between part of this mountain and the sun, and by their 
cutting these solar rays the light of the mountain is broken by various 
spaces of clouds and therefore its brightness is variable in shape. 

Why the mountain shines at its summit half or a third of the night, 
and seems a comet after sunset to those who dwell in the west, and 
before sunrise to those who dwell in the east. 

Why this comet seems variable in shape, so that at one time it is 
round, at another long, at another divided into two or three parts, at 
another united, and sometimes invisible and sometimes becoming 
visible again. ca. 145 v. a 

OF THE SHAPE OF MOUNT TAURUS 

I am not justly to be accused of idleness, O Devatdar, as your stric- 
tures seem to intimate, but your unbounded affection which has caused 
you to confer these benefits upon me has constrained me to employ the 
utmost care in seeking out and diligently investigating the cause of so 
momentous and so startling an occurrence, and for this time was 
necessary. 

In order now to make you well acquainted with the cause of so great 
an effect it is necessary that I shall describe the nature of the place, and 
then I will proceed to the event, by which process I believe you will be 
fully satisfied. 

Do not distress yourself, O Devatdar, at my delay in replying to your 
urgent request, because the matters about which you have asked me 
are of such a nature as cannot well be expressed without lapse of time, 
and especially because in wishing to expound the cause of so great an 
effect it is necessary to describe exactly the nature of the place, and you 
will afterwards be able by means of this easily to satisfy yourself as to 
the above-mentioned request. 

I will omit any description of the shape of Asia Minor, or of what 
seas or lands they are which determine the aspect of its surface, know- 
ing as I do your diligence and care in your studies to be such that you 
will already have acquired this knowledge; I pass on thefefore to 

 

LETTERS 11 n 

furnish you with an account of the true shape of Mount Taurus which 

has been the scene of so surprising and destructive a catastrophe, for 
this may serve to advance our purpose. 

It is this Mount Taurus which, according to many, is said to be the 
ridge of the Caucasus, hut, wishing to be quite clear about this, 1 set 
mvself to interrogate some of the inhabitants of the shores of the 
Caspian Sea; and they inform me that although their mountains bear 
the same name these are of greater height, and they confirm this 
therefore to be the true Mount Caucasus, since Caucasus in the Scythian 
tongue means 'supreme height'. And in fact nothing is known of the 
existence either in the east or the west of any mountain of so great a 
height, and the proof of this is that the inhabitants of those countries 
which are on the west see the sun's rays illuminating part of its summit 
for a fourth part of the longest night, and similarly with the countries 
which are on the east. 

 

OF THE STRUCTURE AND DIMENSIONS OF 
MOUNT TAURUS 

The shadow of this ridge of the Taurus is so high that in the middle 
of June when the sun is at the meridian it reaches to the borders of 
Sarmatia, which are twelve days' journey, and in mid-December it 
extends as far as the Hyperborean Mountains, which are a month's 
journey to the north. And the side that faces the way the wind blows 
is full of clouds and mists, because the wind which is cleft in twain 
as it strikes against the rock and closes up again beyond it, carries with 
it in this way the clouds from all parts and leaves them where it strikes, 
and it is always full of thunderbolts through the great number of clouds 
which are gathered there, and this causes the rock to be all fissured and 
filled with huge debris. 

This mountain at its base is inhabited by a very opulent people; it 
abounds in most beautiful springs and rivers; it is fertile and teems 
with everything that is good and especially in those parts which have a 
southern aspect. After an ascent of about three miles, you come to 
where begin the forests of great firs and pines and beeches and other 
similar trees; beyond for a space of another three miles you find mead- 
ows and vast pastures, and all the rest as far as the beginning of the 

 

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LETTERS 

 

peak of Taurus is eternal snow, for this never disappears in any season, 
11 nd it extends at this height for about fourteen miles in all. From the 
point where the peak begins for about a mile the clouds never pass, so 
that they extend for about fifteen miles with a height of about five in a 
straight line. As far beyond or thereabouts we find the summit of the 
peaks of Taurus, and here from about half way upwards we commence 
to find the air grow warm, and there is no breath of wind to be felt and 
nothing can live there very long. Nothing is brought forth there except 
some birds of prey, which nest in the deep gorges of the Taurus and 
descend below the clouds to seek their prey upon the grassy hills. It is 
all bare rock from above where the clouds are, and the rock is of a 
dazzling whiteness, and it is not possible to go to the lofty summit 
because the ascent is rough and dangerous. c.a. 145 v. b 

People were to be seen who in a state of great excitement were bring- 
ing together all sorts of provisions upon vessels of all descriptions hastily 
put together as necessity dictated. 

The gleaming of the waves was not visible in the parts that reflected 
the dark rain and the clouds. But where they reflect the flashes produced 
by the thunderbolts, as many gleams were seen caused by the images 
of these flashes as were the waves that reflected them to the eyes of the 
spectators. And the number of the images caused by the flashes of the 
lightning upon the waves of the water increased in proportion to 
the distance of the eyes of the spectators. Similarly also the number of 
the images diminished in proportion as they were nearer to the eyes 
which saw them; as is proved in the definition of the radiance of the 
moon and of our maritime horizon, when the sun is reflected there 
with its rays and the eye which receives this reflection is at a great 
distance from this sea. c.a. 155 r. b 

I wished to keep him to eat with me, as . . . 

He went to eat with the bodyguard, and through this not only did 
he spend two or three hours at table, but very frequently the remainder 
of the day was spent in going about with a gun amid the ruins killing 
birds. 

And if any of my servants entered the workshop he abused them, and 
if anyone reproved him he said that he was working for the arsenal 

 

LETTERS [137 

cleaning armour and guns. As regards money, right from the very 
beginning of the month he was very eager to get hold of it. 

And in order not to he disturbed he left the workshop and made 
himself one in his room, and worked for others, and so at last I had 
to tell him . . . 

As I saw that he was very little in the workshop and consumed a 
good deal, I sent a message to him that if it pleased him I would strike 
a bargain with him for whatever he made, and have it valued, and I 
would then give him as much as we agreed upon: he took counsel with 
his neighbour and gave up his room, selling everything and came to 
look for . . . 

This other has hindered me in anatomy before the Pope, traducing 
me, and also with the hospital; and he has filled the whole of this 
Belvedere with workshops for mirrors, and workmen, and he has done 
the same in the apartment of the master Giorgio. 

He never did any work without discussing it every day with 
Giovanni, who then spread the news of it and proclaimed it everywhere, 
stating that he was a master of such art; and as regards the part which 
he did not understand he announced that I did not know what I wanted 
to do, thus shifting the blame of his ignorance upon me. 

I cannot make anything secretly because of him, for the other is 
always at his elbow, since the one room leads into the other. But his 
whole intent was to get possession of these two rooms in order to get to 
work on the mirrors. And if I set him there to make my model of a 
curved one he would publish it. 

He said that he had been promised eight ducats per month, to 
commence from the first day that he set out, or at latest from when he 
had his interview with you, and that you agreed to this. c.a. 182 v. c 

My most beloved brother, 1 

This is sent merely to inform you that a short time ago I received a 
letter from you from which I learnt that you have had an heir, which 
circumstance I understand has afforded you a great deal of pleasure. 
Now in so far as I had judged you to be possessed of prudence I am 
now entirely convinced that I am as far removed from having an 
accurate judgment as you are from prudence; seeing that you have been 

1 Reference, according to Beltrami, is to Domenico who was born in 1484. 

 

[138 LETTERS 

congratulating yourself in having created a watchful enemy, who will 
strive with all his energies after liberty, which can only come into 
being at your death. c.a. 202 v. a 

You wished the utmost evil to Francesco and have let him enjoy your 
property in your life; to me you do not wish great evil . . . 

To whom have you wished better? To Francesco or to me? To you 
he wishes it, and he gives mine after me so that I cannot act according 
to my wish, and he knows that I cannot alienate my heir. He wishes 
then to demand from my heirs and not as F., but as one entirely alien, 
and I as one entirely alien will receive him and his. 

Have you given such money to Leonardo? No. Oh what excuse 
whether feigned or true will you be able to give for having drawn him 
into this trap, except to take him and his money. And I will not say 
anything to him as long as he lives. You do not wish therefore to repay 
the money lent on your account to his heirs; but you wish that he 
should pay over the revenues that he has from this possession. 

Oh why do you not allow him to enjoy them during his life, since 
afterwards they would return to your children, and he cannot live 
many years? 

If then you take into account that I may do that, you will wish that 
I was the heir, because I should not be able as heir to demand from 
you the moneys which I had had from Francesco. c.a. 214 v. a 

As I have in my letters rejoiced with you many times over your 
prosperous fortunes so I know now that you as a friend will share my 
sorrow at the miserable condition to which I am reduced; for the fact 
is that in these last days I have had so many anxieties, so many fears, 
dangers and losses, as have also the wretched country-folk, that we have 
come to envy the dead. 

And certainly I for my part cannot imagine that since first the 
elements by their separation made order out of chaos, they can ever 
have united their force or rather their frenzy to work such destruction 
to mankind, as has now been seen and experienced by us; so that I 
cannot imagine what could further increase so great a misfortune as 
this that we have experienced in a space of ten hours. First we were 
assailed and bufTeted by the might and fury of the winds, and then 
followed the avalanches from the great snow-covered mountains which 

 

LETTERS 1 139 

have choked up all these valleys, and caused a great pan of this city to 
tall in ruins. And, not content with this, the tempest has submerged 
with a sudden deluge of water all the lower parts oi the city; and 
beyond all this there was added a sudden storm of rain and a furious 
hurricane, laden with water, sand, mud, and stones all mingled together 
with roots, branches, and stumps of various trees; and every kind of 
thing came hurtling through the air and descended upon us, and finally 
a great fire — which did not seem to be borne by the wind but as though 
carried by thirty thousand devils — has burnt up and destroyed all this 
country and has not yet ceased. And the few of us who remain are left 
in such a state of dismay and fear that, like those who are half-witted, 
we scarce dare to hold speech one with another, but giving up even the 
attempt at work we stay huddled together in the ruins of some of the 
churches, men and women small and great all mingled together like 
herds of goats; and but for certain people having helped us with 
provisions we should all have died of hunger. Now you can understand 
the state we are in; and yet all these evils are as nothing by comparison 
with those which threaten us within a brief space of time. 

I know that you as a friend will have a fellow-feeling for my mis- 
fortunes, even as I in my former letters have shown myself glad at your 
prosperity. 1 c.a. 214 v. d 

\ Drafts of parts of a letter to the Venetian Senate concerning the 

defences of the Isonzo against the Tur\s\ 2 
My most illustrious Lords, 

As I have perceived that the Turks cannot invade Italy by any part 
of the mainland without crossing the river Isonzo . . . and although 
I know 7 that it is not possible to devise any means of protection which 
shall endure for any length of time, I cannot refrain from bringing to 
your notice the fact that a small number of men aided by this river 
might do the work of many, seeing that where these rivers . . . 

I have formed the opinion that it is not possible to make a defence 

1 From the subject matter of this letter it would seem to have been written at about 
the same time as those to the Devatdar of Syria. 

All this letter is crossed out in MS. Passages in brackets have been crossed out 
several lv in addition. 

 

ri40 LETTERS 

in any other position which would be of such universal efficacy as that 
made over this river. 

In proportion as the water is more turbid it is heavier, and as it is 
heavier it is the swifter in its descent, and that substance which is 
swifter makes more impression upon its object. 

They will approach by night if they are suspicious of . . . 

An armed force cannot prevail against these if it is not united, and 
if it is united it can only be in one particular place, and being thus 
united in one particular place it is either weaker or stronger than the 
enemy; and if it be weaker and this be discerned by the enemy by 
means of its spies they will pass by treachery . . . 

(I having) my most illustrious lords (examined closely the river of 
the Isonzo) having the conditions (and in addition to this having been 
informed) by the country-folk (I have been informed) how from 
whatever side (the country-folk) the enemy may arrive. 

My most illustrious Lords — As I have carefully examined the con- 
ditions of the river Isonzo, and have been given to understand by the 
country-folk that whatever route on the mainland the Turks may take 
in order to approach this part of Italy they must finally arrive at this 
river, I have therefore formed the opinion that even though it may not 
be possible to make such defences upon this river as would not 
ultimately be ruined and destroyed by its floods . . . 

My most illustrious Lords — As I have (well considered the conditions 
of the river) recognised that by whatever side of the mainland the 
Turks may think to approach our Italian lands they must needs finally 
arrive at them by the river Isonzo . . . 

OF CHANGING THE POSITION OF THE RIVER 

Of what may be said against its permanence, and what the logs 
which are brought by the rivers will break. 

To this I reply that all the supports should be equal in height with 
the lowest depth of the banks; so if the river should come to rise to 
this height it will not enter in the woods near to the bank, and not 

 

LETTERS 1141 

entering there it will not be possible lor it to carry away any logs, and 
so the river will flow with only its own water in mere turbulence. 

And it it rises above its bank, as has been seen this year when it rose 
about four braeeia above the lower bank, it carries very great logs with 
it, bearing them floating along accompanying its course, and then leaves 
them resting firmly fixed against the larger trees which are of such a 
kind as to offer resistance, and they remain caught in the branches. 

If however they are borne along on the river it is because they have 
few or no branches and float on the surface and do not touch the 
toothed barrier which I have set up. 

When the great floods come which carry logs and very large trees 
they will pass four or five braccia above the tops of these defences, and 
the signs of this are seen by the objects left fixed to the branches of the 
trees when it has risen. 

When the water has no current it will easily and speedily become 
choked up with faggots, for those which have fallen into it will be 
always turning back . . . 1 c.a. 234 v. c 

So greatly did I rejoice, most illustrious Lord, at your much wished- 
for restoration to health that I found my own malady had almost left 
me at the news of your Excellency's recovery. But I am extremely sorry 
that I have not been able entirely to satisfy your Excellency's desires, 
through the malice of this rogue, as regards whom I have never omitted 
to do anything which I possibly could which might be of service to 
him. In the first place, his salary was always paid him before it was due, 

1 1 have ventured to change the order of a few of the sentences of this letter as they 
occur in the edition published by the Accademia dei Lincei, in the attempt to enhance 
the sense of continuity. 

On the same page is a slighdy drawn sketch or plan of road and river communica- 
tions with the words ponte di goritia (bridge of Gorizia) and vil pagho alta alta. The 
last word refers presumably to the nature of the land, the first is identical with Wip- 
pach (Italian Vipacco), the name of an eastern tributary of the Isonzo and also of a 
village under which it flows, which lies on a spur of the hills some twenty kilometres 
west of Gorizia. From the position of Wippach it would seem to dominate the road 
across the mountains from Laibach to Gorizia, which would be the probable route that 
would be taken by an army advancing from the east to cross the Isonzo at Gorizia. 
Wippach lies some four kilometres to the south of this road and is connected with it 
bv two roads running north-east and north-west. 

 

ii42 LETTERS 

which I believe he would gladly deny if it were not that I had the 
signature witnessed by the hand of the interpreter. And as I saw that 
he would not work for me unless he could not find any work to do for 
others, and that he sought for this diligently, I urged him to have his 
meals with me and to work with his files near to me, for besides this 
being economical and good for his work it would help him to acquire 
Italian; and so he always promised to do but he was never willing to 
do it. He acted in this way because that German Giovanni who makes 
mirrors was every day in his workshop, and wanted to see and under- 
stand all that was being done and then talked about it everywhere, 
finding fault with what he did not understand. And also because he 
went to dine with the men of the Pope's guard, and then went out with 
them with guns to kill birds in the ruins, and pursued this course from 
dinner-time until the evening. And if I sent Lorenzo to him to urge him 
to work he got in a rage with him, and told him that he wasn't going 
to have so many masters over him, and that he was at work upon your 
Excellency's Wardrobe. So two months passed and the thing still went 
on, until one day happening to find Gian Niccolo of the Wardrobe I 
asked him whether the German had finished his work for II Magnifico, 
and he told me that it was none of it true because he had only given 
him two guns to clean. After this when I expostulated with him he left 
the workshop and began to work in his own room, and wasted a lot of 
time in making another vice and files and other instruments with 
screws, and made shuttles there to twist silk and gold, which he hid 
whenever any of my people went in, and this with a thousand oaths 
and revilings, so that none of them were willing to go there any more. 

So greatly did I rejoice, most illustrious Lord, at your much wished- 
for restoration to health that my own malady almost left me. But I 
greatly regret that I have been unable to satisfy the desires of your 
Excellency, entirely through the malice of that German rogue, as 
regards whom I have left nothing undone which I thought might give 
him pleasure. And firstly because I invited him to take up his abode 
and have meals with me, so that I could always see what work he was 
doing and could easily correct his errors, and moreover he would 
acquire Italian and so be able to speak it easily without an interpreter, 
and most important of all the moneys due to him could always be paid 

 

LETTERS n.|; 

before the time, as always has been. Then he asked that he might have 
the models finished in wood just as they were to be in iron, and wished 
to carry them away to his own country. But this I refused, telling him 
that I would give him a drawing of the width, length, thickness and 
outline of what he had to, and so we remained at enmity. 

The second thing was that in the room where he slept he made 
himself another workshop with new screw-vices and instruments, and 
diere worked for others. Afterwards he went to dine with the Swiss of 
the Guard where there are plenty of idlers, but he beat them all at it. 
Then he used to go out and more often than not two or three of them 
went together with guns to shoot birds among the ruins, and this went 
on until the evening. 

Finally I discovered that it was this master Giovanni who made 
mirrors who had brought all this about and this for two reasons; first 
because he had said that my coming here had deprived him of the 
countenance and favour of your Lordship which always . . . , and the 
other reason is because he says the room of this iron-worker would suit 
him for working at mirrors, and he has given proof of this, for besides 
setting him against me he has made him sell all his effects and leave his 
workshop to him, and he has established himself there now with a 
number of assistants making many mirrors to send to the fairs. 

c.a. 247 v. b 

My Lords, Fathers, Deputies, — Just as for the doctors, the tutors and 
guardians of the sick, it is necessary that they should understand what 
man is, what life is, and what health is, and how a parity or harmony 
of elements maintains this, and in like manner a discord of these ruins 
and destroys it; and anyone who has acquired a good knowledge of 
these conditions will be better able to effect cures than one who is 
without it . . . 

You know that medicines when well used restore health to the sick: 
they will be well used when the doctor together with his understanding 
of their nature shall understand also what man is, what life is, and 
what constitution and health are. Know these well and you will know 
their opposites; and when this is the case you will know well how to 
devise a remedy — 

 

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You know that medicines when well used restore health to the sick, 
and he who knows them well will use them well when he also knows 
what man is, and what life and the constitution are, and what health is. 
Knowing these well he will know their opposites, and being thus 
equipped he will be nearer to devising a remedy than anyone else. In 
just the same way a cathedral in need of repair requires a doctor- 
architect who understands well what a building is, and on what rules 
the correct method of construction is based, and from whence these 
rules are derived, and into how many parts they are divided, and what 
are the causes which hold the structure together, and make it perma- 
nent, and what the nature of weight is and what the desire of strength, 
and how these should be interwoven and bound up together, and what 
effect their union produces. Whoever shall have a true knowledge 
about the above-named things will satisfy you both by his intelligence 
and his work. 

So for this reason I shall endeavour without disparaging and with- 
out defaming anyone to satisfy you partly by arguments and partly by 
demonstration, sometimes revealing the effects from the causes, some- 
times confirming the reasoning from experience, fitting with them 
certain of the principles of the architects of old time and the evidence 
of the buildings they constructed and [showing] what were the reasons 
of their destruction or their permanence. 

And I shall show at the same time what is the first [law] of weight, 
and what and how many are the causes which bring ruin to buildings, 
and what is the condition of their stability and permanence. 

But in order not to be diffuse to your Excellencies I will speak first 
of the invention of the first architect of the cathedral, and will show 
you clearly what was his purpose, confirming this by the building 
which has been commenced, and when I have made you understand 
this you will be able clearly to recognise that the model which I have 
constructed possesses in itself that symmetry, that harmony, and that 
regularity which belongs to the building already begun. 

What a building is, and where the rules of sound construction de- 
rive their origin, and what and how many are the parts that belong to 
these. . . . 

Either I or some other who may expound it better than I, choose 
him, and set aside all partiality. c.a. 270 r. c 

 

LETTERS [145 

Though the marble should be delayed Eor ben years I do not wish 
to wait Eor my payment beyond the term of the end of my work. 

C.A. 277 v. a 

So greatly did I rejoice, most illustrious Lord, at your much wished 
for restoration to health that my own malady almost left me, for which 
God be praised. But I am extremely sorry that I have not been able 
entirely to satisfy your Excellency's desires, through the malice of this 
German rogue, as regards whom I have left nothing undone which I 
thought would give him pleasure. 

And in the first place his money was always paid in full before the 
date of the month at which his salary was due; secondly I invited him 
to lodge and board with me; for which purpose I was prepared to set 
up a table at the foot of one of these windows, where he could work 
with his file and finish the things he had made below; and by this 
means I should always see the work that he did and it could be cor- 
rected with ease. And besides this he would learn the Italian language 
and so be able to speak it easily without an interpreter, c.a. 283 r. a 

[Fragments of a letter to Ludovic Sforza] 

I do not regret so much my being. . . . 

I regret very much my being in want, but I mourn for it the more 
because it has been the means of preventing me from carrying out my 
desire, which has always been to obey your Excellency. 

I regret very much that you should have requisitioned me and found 
me in want, and that the fact of my having to gain my living should 
have hindered me. 

I regret very much that the fact of my having to gain my living 
should have prevented me from continuing the work which your 
Highness has entrusted to me: but I hope that within a short time I 
shall have earned so much as to be able with a tranquil mind to sat- 
isfy your Excellency, to whom I commend myself. If your Highness 
thought that I had money, you were deceived, for I have had six 
mouths to feed for thirty-six months, and I have had fifty ducats. 

It may be that your Excellency did not give any further orders to 
Messer Gualtieri, believing that I had money. c.a. 315 v. a 

I suspect that the poor return I have made for the great benefits 

 

n 4 6 LETTERS 

that I have received from your Excellency, may have made you some- 
what indignant with me, and thus it is that I have written so many 
letters to your Lordship and have never had a reply. I now send Salai 
to you, to explain to your Lordship that I am almost at the end of the 
lawsuit that I have had with my brothers, and that I expect to find 
myself with you this Easter, and to bring with me two pictures of the 
Madonna, of different sizes, which have been made either for our Most 
Christian King, or for whomsoever your Lordship pleases. I should be 
very glad to know on my return there where I am to take up my 
abode, as I would not give any more trouble to your Lordship; and 
also, as I have been working for the Most Christian King, whether my 
salary is to continue or not. 

I am writing to the President about that water which the King 
granted me, and of which I was not given the possession, because at 
that time there was a shortage in the canal by reason of the great 
drought, and because its outlets were not being regulated; but he gave 
me a definite promise that when this was done I should be put in pos- 
session, so that I beseech your Lordship not to be unwilling now that 
the outlets are regulated to remind the President of my suit, namely 
that I should be given possession of this water, for when I am estab- 
lished there I look forward to constructing machines and devices which 
should be a source of great pleasure to our Most Christian King. Noth- 
ing else occurs to me. I am always at your commands, c.a. 317 r. b 

Piacenza is a place of resort like Florence. 

Illustrious Commissioners of Buildings! hearing that your Excellen- 
cies have resolved upon the construction of certain great works in 
bronze, I propose to offer you certain counsels on the subject. First 
then take care not to act so swiftly and hastily in awarding the com- 
mission that by your speed you put it out of your power to make a 
good choice both of subject and of a master, as Italy has a number of 
men of capacity. Some fellow, that is, who by his incompetence may 
afterwards afford occasion to your successors to cast blame on your- 
selves and your generation, judging that this age was poorly equipped 
either with men of good judgment or good masters, seeing that other 
cities and especially the city of the Florentines were almost at this very 
same time enriched with such beautiful and great works in bronze, 

 

LETTERS 1147 

amongst these being the gates of their baptistery. Florence indeed, like 
Piacenza, is a place oi resort, where many visitors congregate, and 

these when they see its beautiful and stately works of art form the im- 
sion that the city must have worthy inhabitants, seeing that these 
works serve as evidence of this; but they form quite a different im- 
pression if they see a great expenditure in metal wrought so poorly 
that it would be less of a reproach to the city if the doors were of plain 
wood, for then the material would have cost little and therefore would 
not seem to require a great degree of skill. 

Now, the parts principally sought for in cities are their cathedrals, 
and, as one approaches these, the first objects which meet the eye are 
their doors by which one enters into the churches. 

Beware, gentlemen of the Commission, lest the too great speed, 
whereby you desire, with such swiftness as I perceive you use, to allot 
the commission for so important a work, may become the reason why 
what was intended for the honour of God and of men may prove a 
great dishonour to your judgment and to your city, where as it is a 
place of distinction and of resort there is an innumerable concourse of 
visitors. This disgrace would befall you if by your negligence you put 
your trust in some braggart who, by his subterfuges or by the favour 
here shown him, were to be awarded such a commission by you as 
should bring great and lasting shame both to him and to you. 

I cannot help feeling angry when I reflect upon the sort of men who 
have made me a confidant of their desire to embark upon such an 
undertaking, without giving a thought to their capacity for it — not to 
say more. 

One is a maker of pots, another of cuirasses, a third makes bells and 
another collars for them, another even is a bombardier; yet another is 
in the Duke's household and boasts that he is by way of being an inti- 
mate acquaintance of Messer Ambrogio Ferrere, and that he has some 
influence and has made certain promises to him, and if this does not 
satisfy you he will get on his horse and ride off to the Duke, and will 
get such letters from him that you will never be able to refuse him the 
work. 

But consider to what straits the poor masters who by study have 
made themselves competent to execute such works are reduced, when 

 

1148 

 

LETTERS 

 

they have to contend against fellows like these! What hope have they 
of being able to look for reward for their talent! 

Open your eyes and try to ensure that your money is not so spent as 
to purchase your own shame. I can assure you that from this district 
you will get nothing except the works of hard, mean, or clumsy mas- 
ters. There is not a man who is capable — and you may believe me — 
except Leonardo the Florentine who is making the bronze horse of 
the Duke Francesco; and you can leave him out of your calculations 
altogether, for he has a work to do which will last him the whole of 
his life, and indeed I doubt whether he will ever finish it, so great it is. 

c.a. 323 r. b 

Here is one whom the Lord has invited from Florence to do this 
work for him and he is a capable master, but he has so much, oh! so 
much, to do that he will never finish it. 

What do you imagine is the difference between seeing a beautiful 
object and an ugly one? Quote Pliny. c.a. 323 v. b 

[Fragment of letter to Ludovic Sforza] (MS. Sheet torn vertically} 

And if you give me some further commission for any [, 
for the reward of my service for I am unable to 
certain drafts because they have revenues from 
who can adjust them properly more than I can 
not my art which I wish to change and 
given some clothing. 

My Lord, knowing the mind of your Excellency to be 

occupied [. . .] 
to remind your Lordship of my small matters, and I 

should have maintained silence [. . .] 
that my silence should be the cause of making your Lord- 
ship become angry [. . .] 
my life to your service I hold myself ever ready to obey [. . .] 
Of the horse I will say nothing because I know the 

times [. . .] 
to your Lordship how my salary is now two years 

in arrear of [. . .] 

 

LETTERS wag 

with two masters whose salaries and hoard I have always 

P aul|...| 
that at last 1 found that I had advanced the said work 

about fifteen lire | . . . | 
works of tame by which I could show to those who are to 

come that I have been [. . .] 
does everywhere; but I do not know where I could spend 

my work in order to [. . .] 
1 have been occupied with gaining a living 
Through not being informed in what condition I find 

myself as it [. . .] 
you remember the commission to paint the Camerini [. . .] 
I conveyed to your Lordship only requesting from you [. . .] 

c.a. 335 v. a 

Amid the whirling currents of the winds were seen a great number 
of companies of birds coming from distant lands, and these appeared 
in such a way as to be almost indistinguishable, for in their wheeling 
movements at one time all the birds of one company were seen edge- 
wise, that is showing as little as possible of their bodies, and at another 
time showing the whole measure of their breadth, that is full in face; 
and at the time of their first appearance they took the form of an 
indistinguishable cloud, and then the second and third bands became 
by degrees more clearly defined as they approached nearer to the eye 
of the beholder. 

And the nearest of the above-mentioned bands dropped down low 
with a slanting movement, and settled upon the dead bodies, which 
were borne along by the waves of this great deluge, and fed upon 
them, and so continued until such time as the buoyancy of the inflated 
dead bodies came to fail, and with slow descent they sank gradually 
down to the bottom of the waters. 1 c.a. 354 v. b 

Illustrious President, I am sending Salai, my pupil, to you as the 
bearer of this, and you will learn from his own mouth the reason of 
my great . . . 

Illustrious President, — Having often remembered the promises made 
Ko me by your Excellency, I have several times thought of insuring 

1 See Note on page 1139. 

 

ii50 LETTERS 

myself by writing and reminding you of the promise made to me at 
my last departure, namely as to the possession of those twelve ounces 
of water granted to me by the Most Christian King. Your Lordship 
knows that I did not enter into possession of it, because at the time 
when it was granted to me there was a dearth of water in the canal, 
partly on account of the great drought and partly because the outlets 
had not yet been regulated. But your Excellency promised me that 
when this had taken place I should have my expectations fulfilled. 
Consequently when I was given to understand that the canal had been 
regulated I wrote several times to your Lordship and to Messer 
Girolamo da Cusano who has the deed of gift in his keeping, and I 
wrote also to Corigero, but have never had any reply. 

I am now sending to you as bearer of this [letter] Salai, my pupil, 
to whom your Lordship will be able to tell by word of mouth all that 
has occurred as regards the matter in which I am petitioning your 
Excellency. 

I expect to be with you this Easter as I am almost at the end of my 
lawsuit, and I shall bring with me two Madonna pictures which I have 
begun, and which considering the time at my disposal I have brought 
to a very fair state of completion. Nothing else occurs to me. . . . 

My Illustrious Lord [Antonio Maria], the affection which your 
Excellency has always shown to me and the benefits which I have 
received from you are continually in my thoughts. 

I have a suspicion that the small response I have made for the great 
benefits which I have received from your Excellency may have made 
you somewhat incensed with me; and that this is the reason why I 
have never had any reply to the many letters that I have written to 
your Excellency. I am now sending Salai to you to explain to your 
Lordship that I am almost at the end of my litigation with my brothers, 
and that I hope to be with you this Easter, and to bring with me two 
pictures of the Madonna of different sizes, which I have begun for the 
Most Christian King or for whomsoever else it shall please you. I shall 
be very glad to know on my return there where I am to have my 
lodging, because I would not wish to give any more trouble to your 
Lordship, and further whether seeing that I have been engaged in 
work for the Most Christian Kins: mv salary is to continue or not. I 

 

LETTERS 1151 

am writing to the President of that water which the king granted me, 

of which 1 was not given possession on account of the scarcity in the 
canal due to the great drought, and to the tact of the outlets not having 
been regulated; he promised me however that as soon as this was done 

I should be put in possession; so that I beseech you if you should 
happen to meet the said President not to think it irksome, now that 
these outlets are regulated, to remind him to have me put in possession 
of this water, since I am given to understand that in great measure it 
rests with him. Nothing else occurs to me. I am always at your com- 
mands. 

 

Good day to you, Messer Francesco, God knows why when I have 
written you so many letters you have never made me a single reply. 
Just wait until I come to you, by God, for I will make you write so 
much that you will perhaps be sorry for it. 

Dear Messer Francesco, I am sending Salai to you in order to learn 
from his Excellency the President what conclusion has been reached in 
the matter of the regulation of the water, since at my departure the 
order for the outlets of the canal had been set in hand; because the 
illustrious President promised me that my claim should be settled so 
soon as ever this adjustment had been made. It is now a considerable 
time since I learnt that the canal was set in working order and likewise 
its outlets, and I wrote immediately to the President and to you, and 
then repeated my letters, but have never had any reply. Will you there- 
fore have the kindness to write and inform me what has taken place, 
and unless it is actually on the point of settlement, will you for my 
sake be so kind as to exert a little pressure on the President and also 
on Messer Girolamo da Cusano, to whom please commend me, and 
also ofler my respects to his Excellency? c.a. 372 v. a 

I have one who having promised himself things from me which 
were not at all what he deserved, and being baulked of his presump- 
tuous desire has tried to turn all my friends from me. And because he 
has found them wise and not pliant to his will, he has threatened me 
that he will spread such a report x about me as will deprive me of my 
benefactors. For this reason I have informed your Lordship of this, so 

~ rdazione, (MS., . . . zione). 

 

n 5 2 LETTERS 

that when this fellow attempts to sow the usual scandals he may find 
no ground suitable for sowing to receive the thoughts and acts of his 
evil nature. Consequently if he should try to make your Lordship the 
instrument of his wicked and malicious nature he may be left baulked 
of his desire. c.a. 389 v. d 

[Draft of letter to hudovic Sforza, 1482 (circa)] 

Most Illustrious Lord, having now sufficiently seen and considered 
the proofs of all those who count themselves masters and inventors of 
instruments of war, and finding that their invention and use of the 
said instruments does not differ in any respect from those in common 
practice, I am emboldened without prejudice to anyone else to put 
myself in communication with your Excellency, in order to acquaint 
you with my secrets, thereafter offering myself at your pleasure effectu- 
ally to demonstrate at any convenient time all those matters which are 
in part briefly recorded below. 

1. I have plans for bridges, very light and strong and suitable for 
carrying very easily, with which to pursue and at times defeat the 
enemy; and others solid and indestructible by fire or assault, easy and 
convenient to carry away and place in position. And plans for burning 
and destroying those of the enemy. 

2. When a place is besieged I know how to cut off water from the 
trenches, and how to construct an infinite number of bridges, mantlets, 
scaling ladders and other instruments which have to do with the same 
enterprise. 

3. Also if a place cannot be reduced by the method of bombard- 
ment, either through the height of its glacis or the strength of its posi- 
tion, I have plans for destroying every fortress or other stronghold 
unless it has been founded upon rock. 

4. I have also plans for making cannon, very convenient and easy of 
transport, with which to hurl small stones in the manner almost of 
hail, causing great terror to the enemy from their smoke, and great loss 
and confusion. 

9. And if it should happen that the engagement was at sea, I have 
plans for constructing many engines most suitable either for attack or 
defence, and ships which can resist the fire of all the heaviest cannon, 
and powder and smoke. 

 

LETTERS 1153 

5, Also I have ways ot arriving .it a certain fixed spot by caverns and 
secret winding passages, made without any noise even though it may 

be necessary to pass underneath trenches or a river. 

(>. Also I can make armoured ears,' safe and unassailable, which will 
enter the serried ranks of the enemy with their artillery, and there is no 
company of men at arms so great that they will not break it. And 
behind these the infantry will be able to follow quite unharmed and 
without any opposition. 

7. Also, if need shall arise, I can make cannon, mortars, and light 
ordnance, of very beautiful and useful shapes, quite different from 
those in common use. 

8. Where it is not possible to employ cannon, I can supply catapults, 
mangonels, trabocchi and other engines of wonderful efficacy not in 
general use. In short, as the variety of circumstances shall necessitate, I 
can supply an infinite number of different engines of attack and 
defence. 

10. In time of peace I believe that I can give you as complete satis- 
faction as anyone else in architecture in the construction of buildings 
both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to 
another. 

Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, and also 
painting, in which my work will stand comparison with that of anyone 
else whoever he may be. 

Moreover, I would undertake the work of the bronze horse, which 
shall endue with immortal glory and eternal honour the auspicious 
memory of the Prince your father and of the illustrious house of 
Sforza. 

And if any of the aforesaid things should seem impossible or im- 
practicable to anyone, I offer myself as ready to make trial of them in 
your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency, to whom I 
commend myself with all possible humility. c.a. 391 r. a 

[Fragment of letter] 

All the evils that exist or that ever have existed set in train by this 
man would not satisfy the desire of his malignant spirit. 

1 MS., carri coperti. 

 

1 154 LETTERS 

No length of time would suffice me to unfold this man's nature to 
you, but I am fully convinced that ... h 137 [6 v.] r. 

To release my salary, not to give out the works in a block, but to 
bring about that the chief official be he who by the use of my instru- 
ments curtails all the superfluous and cumbersome inventions of those 
of whom one makes use. l 91 r. 

To my most illustrious Lord, Ludovic, 
Duke of Bari, 
Leonardo da Vinci, Florentine, 

Leonardo . . .* Forster in 62 v. 

May it please you to look at a model 2 which may be of advantage 
both to you and to me and its usefulness may extend to those who will 
be the cause of our usefulness. Forster in 68 r. 

Most Illustrious, most Reverend, and my Unique Lord, The Lord 
Ippolito, Cardinal of Este, My Supreme Lord, at Ferrara. 

Most Illustrious and Most Reverend Lord, 

A few days ago I arrived from Milan, and finding that one of my 
elder brothers refuses to carry out the provisions of a will made three 
years ago when our father died: as also no less because I would not 
seem to myself to fail in a matter that I consider most urgent, I cannot 
forbear to request of your most Reverend Highness a letter of com- 
mendation and favour to Ser Raphaello Hieronymo, who is now one 
of the members of our illustrious Signoria before whom my case is 
being tried; and more particularly it has been referred by his Excel- 
lency the Gonfaloniere to the said Ser Raphaello, so that his Lordship 
may be able to reach a decision and bring it to completion before the 
coming of the festival of All Saints. 

And therefore, my Lord, I beseech you, as earnestly as I know how 
and am able, that your Highness will write a letter to the said Ser 
Raphaello in that happy and engaging manner that you have the art 

1 Opening words of letter written presumably before September 1494 at which date 
Ludovic was proclaimed Duke of Milan. 

2 The model here referred to may be that of the equestrian statue exhibited in Milan 
on the occasion of the marriage of the Emperor Maximilian with Bianca Maria Sforza 
in the year 1493. 

 

LETTERS 1155 

of, commending to him Leonardo Vincio, your most humble servant, 
as I call myself and always wish to be; requesting and urging that he 
may be desirous not only to do me justice but to do so with kindly 
urgency; and I have no doubt at all from many reports that have 
reached me that inasmuch as Ser Raphaello is most kindly disposed to 
your Highness the matter will then proceed ad votum. And this I shall 
attribute to the letter of your most Reverend Highness, to whom once 
more I commend myself. 1 Et bene valeat. 
Florence 18 September 1507. 
E.V.R.D. 

Your most humble servant, 

Leonardus Vincius, pictor. 

1 Text in Marchese G. Campori: Nuovi Documenti per la Vita di Leonardo da 
Vinci. 'Atti e Memorie della R. Deputazione di storia patria di Modena,' 1865.