Comparison of the Arts 

I know now how to describe and write down the appearance of the forms, the painter can make them so that they appear enlivened with lights and shadows which create the very expression of the faces; herein you cannot attain with the pen where he attains with the brush! 

How painting surpasses all human works by reason of the subtle possibilities which it contains: 

The eye, which is called the window of the soul, is the chief means whereby the understanding may most fully and abundantly appreciate the infinite works of nature; and the ear is the second, inasmuch as it acquires its importance from the fact that it hears the things which the eye has seen. If you historians, or poets, or mathematicians had never seen things with your eyes you would be ill able to describe them in your writings. And if you, O poet, represent a story by depicting it with your pen, the painter with his brush will so render it as to be more easily satisfying and less tedious to understand. If you call painting 'dumb poetry', then the painter may say of the poet that his art is 'blind painting'. Consider then which is the more grievous affliction, to be blind or to be dumb! Although the poet has as wide a choice of subjects as the painter, his creations fail to afford as much satisfaction to mankind as do paintings, for while poetry attempts to represent forms, actions and scenes with words, the painter employs the exact images of these forms in order to reproduce them. Consider, then, which is more fundamental to man, the name of man or his image? The name changes with change of country; the form is unchanged except by death. 

And if the poet serves the understanding by way of the ear, the painter does so by the eye, which is the nobler sense. 


I will only cite as an instance ot this how il a good painter represents the fury of a battle and a pod also describes one, and the two descriptions are shown together to the public, yon will soon see which will draw most of the spectators, and where there will be most discussion, to which most praise will he given and which will satisfy the more. There is no doubt that the painting, which is by far the more useful and beautiful, will give the greater pleasure. Inscribe in any place the name of God and set opposite to it His image, you will see which will be held in greater reverence! 

Since painting embraces within itself all the forms of nature, you have omitted nothing except the names, and these are not universal like the forms. If you have the results of her processes we have the processes of her results. 

Take the case of a poet describing the beauties of a lady to her lover and that of a painter who makes a portrait of her; you will see whither nature will the more incline the enamoured judge. Surely the proof of the matter ought to rest upon the verdict of experience! 

You have set painting among the mechanical arts! Truly were painters as ready equipped as you are to praise their own works in writing, I doubt whether it would endure the reproach of so vile a name. If you call it mechanical because it is by manual work that the hands represent what the imagination creates, your writers are setting down with the pen by manual work what originates in the mind. If you call it mechanical because it is done for money, who fall into this error — if indeed it can be called an error — more than you yourselves? If you lecture for the Schools do you not go to whoever pays you the most? Do you do any work without some reward? 

And yet I do not say this in order to censure such opinions, for every labour looks for its reward. And if the poet should say, 'I will create a fiction which shall express great things', so likewise will the painter also, for even so Apelles made the Calumny. If you should say that poetry is the more enduring, — to this I would reply that the works of a coppersmith are more enduring still, since time preserves them longer than either your works or ours; nevertheless they show but little imagination; and painting, if it be done upon copper in enamel colours, can be made far more enduring. 

In Art we may be said to be grandsons unto God. If poetry treats of moral philosophy, painting has to do with natural philosophy; if the one describes the workings of the mind, the other considers what the mind effects by movements of the body; if the one dismays folk by hellish fictions, the other does the like by showing the same things in action. Suppose the poet sets himself to represent some image of beauty or terror, something vile and foul, or some monstrous thing, in contest with the painter, and suppose in his own way he makes a change of forms at his pleasure, will not the painter still satisfy the more ? Have we not seen pictures which bear so close a resemblance to the actual thing that they have deceived both men and beasts? 

If you know how to describe and write down the appearance of the forms, the painter can make them so that they appear enlivened with lights and shadows which create the very expression of the faces; herein you cannot attain with the pen where he attains with the brush. ms. 2038 Bib. Nat. 19 r. and v., 20 r.

How he who despises painting has no love for the philosophy in nature : 

If you despise painting, which is the sole imitator of all the visible 
works of nature, it is certain that you will be despising a subtle inven- 
tion which with philosophical and ingenious speculation takes as its 
theme all the various kinds of forms, airs and scenes, plants, animals, 
grasses and flowers, which are surrounded by light and shade. And 
this truly is a science and the true-born daughter of nature, since paint- 
ing is the offspring of nature. But in order to speak more correctly we 
may call it the grandchild of nature; for all visible things derive their 
existence from nature, and from these same things is born painting. 
So therefore we may justly speak of it as the grandchild of nature and 
as related to God himself. ms. 2038 Bib. Nat. 20 r. 

That sculpture is less intellectual than painting, and lacks many of 
its natural parts: 

As practising myself the art of sculpture no less than that of paint- 
ing, and doing both the one and the other in the same degree, it seems 
to me that without suspicion of unfairness I may venture to give an 
opinion as to which of the two is the more intellectual, and of the 
greater difficulty and perfection. 

In the first place, sculpture is dependent on certain lights, namely 



those from above, while a picture carries everywhere with it its own 
light and shade; light and shade therefore are essential to sculpture. 
Ill this respect, the sculptor is aided by the nature of the relief, which 
produces these of its own accord, but the painter artificially creates 
them by his art in places where nature would normally do the like. 
The sculptor cannot render the difference in the varying natures of 
the colours of objects; painting does not fail to do so in any particular. 
The lines of perspective of sculptors do not seem in any way true; 
those of painters may appear to extend a hundred miles beyond the 
work itself. The effects of aerial perspective are outside the scope of 
sculptors' work; they can neither represent transparent bodies nor 
luminous bodies nor angles of reflection nor shining bodies such as 
mirrors and like things of glittering surface, nor mists, nor dull 
weather, nor an infinite number of things which I forbear to mention 
lest they should prove wearisome. 

The one advantage which sculpture has is that of offering greater 
resistance to time; yet painting offers a like resistance if it is done upon 
thick copper covered with white enamel and then painted upon with 
enamel colours and placed in a fire and fused. In degree of permanence 
it then surpasses even sculpture. 

It may be urged that if a mistake is made it is not easy to set it 
right, but it is a poor line of argument to attempt to prove that the 
fact of a mistake being irremediable makes the work more noble. I 
should say indeed that it is more difficult to correct the mind of the 
master who makes such mistakes than the work which he has spoiled. 

We know very well that a good experienced painter will not make 
such mistakes; on the contrary, following sound rules he will proceed 
by removing so little at a time that his work will progress well. The 
sculptor also if he is working in clay or wax can either take away from 
it or add to it, and when the model is completed it is easy to cast it in 
bronze; and this is the last process and it is the most enduring form 
of sculpture, since that which is only in marble is liable to be destroyed, 
but not when done in bronze. 

But painting done upon copper, which by the methods in use in 
painting may be either taken from or altered, is like the bronze, for 
when you have first made the model for this in wax it can still be 
either reduced or altered. While the sculpture in bronze is imperish- 



able this painting upon copper and enamelling is absolutely eternal; 
and while bronze remains dark and rough, this is full of an infinite 
variety of varied and lovely colours, of which I have already made 
mention. But if you would have me speak only of panel painting I am 
content to give an opinion between it and sculpture by saying that 
painting is more beautiful, more imaginative, and richer in resource, 
while sculpture is more enduring, but excels in nothing else. 

Sculpture reveals what it is with little effort; painting seems a thing 
miraculous, making things intangible appear tangible, presenting in 
relief things which are flat, in distance things near at hand. 

In fact, painting is adorned with infinite possibilities of which 
sculpture can make no use. ms. 2038 Bib. Nat. 25 v. and 24 v. 

One of the chief proofs of skill of the painter is that his picture 
should seem in relief, and this is not the case with the sculptor, for in 
this respect he is aided by nature. c.a. 305 r. a 

[Of poetry and painting] 

When the poet ceases to represent in words what exists in nature, he 
then ceases to be the equal of the painter; for if the poet, leaving such 
representation, were to describe the polished and persuasive words of 
one whom he wishes to represent as speaking, he would be becoming 
an orator and be no more a poet or a painter. And if he were to de- 
scribe the heavens he makes himself an astrologer, and a philosopher 
or theologian when speaking of the things of nature or of God. But if 
he returns to the representation of some definite thing he would be- 
come the equal of the painter if he could satisfy the eye with words as 
the painter does with brush and colour, [for with these he creates] 
a harmony to the eye, even as music does in an instant to the ear. 

Quaderni in 7 r. 
[Painting and sculpture] 

Why the picture seen with two eyes will not be an example of such 
relief as the relief seen with two eyes; this is because the picture seen 
with one eye will place itself in relief like the actual relief, having 
the same qualities of light and shade. Quaderni in 8 r.