Representing Deluges

 Leonardo became almost obsessed with the ideas of destruction in the last couple years of his life. He drew these scenes of a deluge ravaging the earth. Casually glancing at them they appear to be just squiggly doodles or waves but if you look more closely they are filled with details. Tree’s, ruins, buildings. Some framing lines are left along some of the paper’s back edges, alluding that they were intended to be finished works - or that even though they do not seem very clear or ‘finished’ they were intended to look this way. 

'Let there be represented the summit of a rugged mountain with valleys surrounding its base, and on its sides let the surface of the soil be seen to slide, together with the small roots of the bushes, denuding great portions of the surrounding rocks … and let the mountains as they are laid bare reveal the deep fissures made in them by ancient earthquakes … And into the depth of some valley may have fallen the fragments of a mountain, forming a shore to the swollen waters of its river, which, having already burst its banks, will rush on in monstrous waves; and the greatest will strike upon and destroy the walls of the cities and farmhouses in the valley.

Trees and plants must be bent to the ground, almost as if they would follow the course of the gale, with their branches twisted out of their natural growth and their leaves tossed and turned about. Of the men who are there some must have fallen to the ground and be entangled in their garments, and hardly to be recognized for the dust, while those who remain standing may be behind some tree, with their arms around it that the wind may not tear them away; others with their hand over their eyes for the dust, bending to the ground with their clothes and hair streaming in the wind.’ - Leonardo da Vinci 
"Of Leonardo’s many drawings of deluges made at this time, ten are uniform in size and style, but not in technique - most are in black chalk only, though all are as meticulously worked up as the present sheet, which is finished with the pen to give a remarkably formal, measured quality to the destruction. Huge cubic blocks of a mountain arch over to crash down at the centre, sending curling waves of debris shooting out like shock-waves to blast the landscape along the lower edge of the sheet. Yet the dual nature of these drawings - both visionary and theoretical - is confirmed by the dispassionate inscription hidden among the clouds at the top, which reads:" (Holbein to Hockney:)
'Of rain. You will show the degrees of falling rain at various distances and of varying degrees of obscurity, and let the darkest part be closest to the middle of its thickness.'

This is how some of Leonardo’s notebook pages are stored and presented by the Royal Collection Trust. Most of this particular collection  stems back to 1690. Leonardo left his notebooks to his assistant Melzi who’s family then eventually sold them. Some of them went to the Royal Collection while others went else where. Today the individual collection of notebooks and sketches are referred to as Codex ___. (Windsor, Arundel, Atlanticus, Leicester, Madrid etc.) which really only means that a certain and sometimes random collection of Leonardo’s notebooks ended up together and owned by __. It doesn’t necessarily mean that is how Leonardo intended for them to be combined or that some of them are out of place. Codex Leicester was actually bought by Bill Gates for over 30 million. You can read more about the different Codexes here. 

Pictured here is a single page from Leonardo’s notebooks showing front and back (Verso) that is housed in the Royal Collection trust. It explains how to draw a deluge and shows some sketches. 

  • Creator: Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519) (artist)
  • Creation Date: c.1517-18
  • Materials: Pen and ink
  • Dimensions: 30.1 x 20.9 cm
  • Acquirer: Charles II, King of Great Britain (1630-85)
Bequeathed to Francesco Melzi; from whose heirs purchased by Pompeo Leoni, c.1582-90; Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel, by 1630; Probably acquired by Charles II; Royal Collection by 1690
Recto: a sheet of instructions in Leonardo’s handwriting describing how to paint a Deluge, illustrated by seven slight sketches.
 Verso: a description of a Deluge in Leonardo’s handwriting, illustrated by three slight sketches.

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