Leonardo da Vinci Criticism - Essay

Paul Valéry (essay date 1936)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Leonardo and the Philosophers,” in Leonardo da Vinci: Aspects of the Renaissance Genius, edited by Morris Philipson, George Braziller, 1966, pp. 350-71.

[The following essay was first published in French as the preface to Leo Ferrero's 1929 work, Léonard de Vinci, and reprinted in slightly revised form in Valéry's Variété III (1936).The translation by Malcolm Cowley originally appeared in volume 8 of The Collected Works of Paul Valéry, edited by Jackson Mathews (1956-75). In this essay Valéry seeks to determine why Leonardo is not often recognized as a philosopher, despite his penetrating intellect. He proposes that it is because Leonardo“does not...

(The entire section is 11324 words.)

George Kimball Plochmann (essay date 1952)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Leonardo da Vinci as Philosopher,” in The Resources of Leonardo da Vinci: Papers Delivered at Southern Illinois University, November 12th-15th, 1952, edited by George Kimball Plochmann, Carbondale, 1953, pp. 28-39.

[In the following essay, Plochmann asserts that, despite the fragmented nature of Leonardo's writings, his work was informed by a philosophical system. The critic concedes, however, that Leonardo failed to provide connections between his distinct areas of study, and that his philosophy lacked a “single guiding principle.”]

Just as men who see the tattered remains of The Last Supper feel certain that behind its hopeless flakes was once...

(The entire section is 9419 words.)

Karl Jaspers (essay date 1953)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Leonardo as Philosopher,” in Three Essays: Leonardo, Descartes, Max Weber, translated by Ralph Manheim, Harcourt Brace & World, 1964, pp. 3-58.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in German in 1953, Jaspers provides “an account of Leonardo's philosophizing, describing first the character of his thinking, then its content, and its reflection in the painter's way of life.”]


Leonardo has left us a few marvelous paintings in a poor state of preservation, notably the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, a self-portrait whose authenticity is doubted, but which all who have seen it remember...

(The entire section is 16222 words.)

Ludwig H. Heydenreich (essay date 1956)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Introduction to Treatise on Painting [Codex Urbinas Latinus 1270], Volume I: Translation, by Leonardo da Vinci, translated and annotated by A. Philip McMahon, Princeton University Press, 1956, pp. xi-xliii.

[In the following essay, Heydenreich reviews the content, construction, and textual history of the Treatise on Painting. He also assesses the significance of the treatise, discussing its influence on other painters.]


The Codex Urbinas Latinus 1270 in the Vatican Library, which contains the earliest known compilation of Leonardo's Treatise on Painting, stems...

(The entire section is 12438 words.)

Augusto Marinoni (essay date 1969)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Leonardo as a Writer,” in Leonardo's Legacy: An International Symposium, edited by C. D. O'Malley, University of California Press, 1969, pp. 57-66.

[In the essay that follows, Marinoni traces the critical opinion of Leonardo's literary work from the disdain it garnered from early scholars to the “mythological” image of Leonardo established by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century critics.]

The fame of Leonardo as a writer—if we can speak of real fame—remained for some centuries limited to the Treatise on Painting, which was in great demand and deeply appreciated by the artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A medal struck...

(The entire section is 5493 words.)

D. van Maelsaeke (essay date 1970)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Goethe and Leonardo: A Comparative Study,” in Theoria, Vol. XXXIV, May 1970, pp. 21-47.

[In the following essay, van Maelsaeke highlights similarities between the philosophical thought of Leonardo and that of German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He notes, for example, that in terms of natural philosophy, both men advocated the use of the experimental method, and both viewed nature as a force with both good and evil qualities.]

Goethe's providential encounter with Leonardo's art was one of the leading experiences of his human and artistic rejuvenation in Italy (1786-88). From his reading of Leonardo's Trattato della Pittura in Rome (1788) Goethe...

(The entire section is 11432 words.)

Carlo Pedretti (essay date 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Supplement to Giovio's Leonardi Vincii Vita,” and “The Codex Huygens,” in The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, Vol. 1, edited by Jean Paul Richter, University of California Press, 1977, pp. 9-11, 48-75.

[In the following excerpts, Pedretti discusses Leonardo as a teacher of art and analyzes the Codex Huygens,a compilation of Leonardo's writings that deals with, among other things, the form, structure, and movement of the human figure.]

The short biography of Leonardo da Vinci written by Paolo Giovio around 1527 has been well known since 1796, the date of its first publication in Tiraboschi's Storia della letteratura...

(The entire section is 11461 words.)

Emanuel Winternitz (essay date 1982)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Paragone: The Role of Music in the Comparison of the Arts,” in Leonardo da Vinci as a Musician, Yale University Press, 1982, pp. 204-23.

[In the essay that follows, Winternitz examines the Paragone, the section of Trattato della Pittura in which Leonardo reveres painting as the noblest of the arts. The critic maintains that upon close analysis of this text, music is demonstrated to be an art equal to painting.]

Leonardo's most interesting ideas about the nature of Music and her noble status as an art are included in his Paragone (comparison of the arts), a treatise animated by the intention to exalt the noblest of all arts,...

(The entire section is 10420 words.)

Richard Fly (essay date 1987)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Great Observers: A Comparative Essay on Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci,” in The Centennial Review, Vol. XXXI, No. 2, Spring 1987, pp. 146-66.

[In the following essay, Fly contrasts the differing conceptions of human sight reflected in the works of Leonardo and Shakespeare. For Leonardo, he declares, “the primary function of the eyes” is “the scientific scrutiny of the phenomenal world,” while for Shakespeare it is “the acknowledgment and expression of essential human relationships.”]

He is a great observer, and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men.

(Julius Caesar I.ii.202-3)

My general subject in...

(The entire section is 7010 words.)

Robert J. Rodini (essay date 1991)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Weight of Words: Leonardo da Vinci and the Anxiety of Language,” in Philological Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 3, Summer 1991, pp. 277-84.

[In the following essay, Rodini focuses on Leonardo's fascination with both the potential and the limitations of language, stressing that “Leonardo shared with his contemporaries the notion that language defines culture and the individual, and that our humanity resides in our capacity to articulate or to concretize abstractions.”]

All language, if you examine it scrupulously and pick its components apart deliberately, turns out to be made of the same loose texture.1


(The entire section is 4599 words.)

Claire J. Farago (essay date 1992)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Leonardo's Defense of Painting,” in Leonardo da Vinci's Paragone : A Critical Interpretation with a New Edition of the Text in the Codex Urbinas, E. J. Brill, 1992, pp. 92-117.

[In the following essay, Farago outlines the method by which Leonardo distinguished painting as superior to poetry, music, and sculpture. She also analyzes Leonardo's treatment of painting as a science, discussing his views on the creation of optical effects.]


The 46 passages compiled in the Parte Prima originate in various manuscripts of which only two are identified today.1 The heterogenous...

(The entire section is 12081 words.)

Ernst H. Gombrich (essay date 1999)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Tratatto della Pittura, Some Questions and Desiderata,” in Leonardo's Writings and Theory of Art, edited by Claire Farago, Garland Publishing, 1999, pp. 371-84.

[In the following essay, Gombrich calls for a new edition of Leonardo's Trattato della Pittura, one in which the problems of the “derivation and date” of particular items are addressed, and one which provides an analysis of the relationship between Leonardo's theories and practice.]

In accordance with traditional usage I mean by Leonardo's Trattato della Pittura the collection of the master's notes compiled by Melzi and preserved for us in the Codex Urbinas 1270...

(The entire section is 9066 words.)