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—was drawn upon. How an intellect so independent as Leonardo's could take the trouble to analyse--I will not say to receive—so many absurd beliefs, in which the basilisk, the phenix, and the sirens are accepted as real beings, it is difficult to explain. His only excuse is to be found in the example set by the most eminent men among his contemporaries.
He did not always confine himself to mere compilation. Many a
DELLA TORRE TEACHING IN THE UNIVERSITY OF PAVIA. BRONZE BAS RELIEF BY RICCIO,
comparison or maxim reveals a personal note. Thus he says of the lion : “We may compare him to the children (or disciples) of virtue, who awake at the call of glory and raise themselves by honourable studies, thanks to which they continually mount higher and higher. As for those who are deaf to this appeal, they stand apart and separate from virtuous men.”
In the domain of natural science, Leonardo was a student of anatomy, botany, and geology.
Anticipating the boldest speculations of the nineteenth century, he declares that motion is the cause of all life : “Il moto è causa d'ogni vita.”] We might almost fancy we were sitting at the feet of Haeckel, and hearing him say that “the life of any organism is nothing more than a continuous chain of movements in matter, and that vital motion is homogeneous, persistent, dominant."?
Leonardo was the first to propose the division of animals into two great classes : those which have their skeletons inside them, and those which have it outside (cockles, oysters, etc.), a division which would correspond roughly with the two classes of vertebrates and invertebrates as fixed by Lamarck, and generally adopted until superseded by the evolutionary theories of our own time.
Leonardo's studies of anatomy were not-as M. Mathias Duval reminds us-confined to such as will satisfy the artist who wishes merely to comprehend external forms. He was thorough in his researches, and determined to penetrate to the inmost secrets of the mechanism of motion and of the functions of the separate organs.
This section of his writings is so well known that we need not describe it again. We may turn, rather, to his studies in biology. Here, again, he shows a marvellous fertility, interesting himself at once in reflex action, in the flight of birds, in animal mechanism, in embryology. Thus—to take one example out of a hundredhe succeeds in unravelling, with curious precision, those complicated movements which have become familiar to us through instantaneous photography. To become convinced of this we have only to read section 401 of the Trattato della Pittura. M. Mathias Duvalwhom I must again ask leave to quote—shows that in his researches into the functions of the nervous system, the fifteenth century
1 Richter, vol. ii. p. 286.
4 Leonardo's library included a treatise on anatomy, perhaps that of Alessandro Benedetto, printed at Pavia in 1478, reprinted at Bologna in 1482, at Padua in 1484, at Leipzig in 1493, at Venice in 1494 and 1499 ; he may also have possessed the Fasciculus Medicina of Ketham, published at Venice in 1491. (D'Adda, La Biblioteca de Leonardo da Vinci, p. 44.)
savant clearly distinguished the movements which are independent of the brain, and are due to the immediate intervention of the spinal marrow. Leonardo goes so far as to say that reflex actions take place even when the will is tending to check them.
To properly appreciate Leonardo's activity in all the directions in which it was exercised, would require a genius as great as his own. The reader will therefore understand that I have had to select a certain number of examples, and that prudence compels me to fortify my judgments with those of the various specialists who have studied the different results of his researches. I shall borrow, then, from M. Mathias Duval the following classification of the master's anatomical studies. He divides them into three categories : i. Notes relating to various observation made on corpses, especially on subjects reduced to the last degree of emaciation. ii. Notes on the plan of the anatomical treatise which he proposed to publish. In one place he says he will begin with the skin, pointing out the variations of colour which it may undergo; in another he proposes to follow a more didactic sequence, first describing the skeleton, and then dressing it in its muscles, blood-vessels, etc. ; again, he enumerates the preparations and dissections he intends to make in order to study and explain the bones and cartilages, the muscles and tendons, the blood-vessels and the nerves, and shows how it will be necessary to exhibit each limb in at least three views to give a proper idea of it. In yet another place he gives a new plan for his treatise, in which he would begin with the embryo, with its formation, its increase, its development after birth, and go on to the final constitution of the adult man and woman. . iii. Notes in which he explains the necessity for reproducing with his pencil the results of his dissections, in order to bring them to the knowledge of those who might have neither courage nor opportunity for direct study from the dead subject. Here he describes in uncompromising but singularly expressive terms, the conditions under which a
1 “How it is that the nerves sometimes act of their own accord, without receiving orders from the will; this is clearly seen in paralytics, and in persons who are benumbed, with whom the limbs move without the intervention of the will, and even against its commands; so, too, with epileptics, and even with parts of bodies, as in tails of lizards, after being cut off.” (Mathias Duval, L'Anatomie des Maîtres.)
student of anatomy had then to work, sharing his home with “corpses flayed, stripped of flesh, and terrible to look at.” 1
Leonardo divined the circulation of the blood, but he failed to explain its mechanism. “The heart,” he says, “is a muscle of great strength, much stronger than the other muscles . . . . The blood which returns when the heart opens again is not the same as that which closes the valves.” ?
The relations of Leonardo with Marc Antonio della Torre, a famous professor at the University of Pavia, were particularly interesting. This young savant, whose native place was Verona, a city dear to students of the classics, and whose father was a doctor and
professor of Padua, was one of the first to throw off the Arab yoke, and to study nature for himself, under the auspices of the Greeks, notably of Galen. Scarcely had he reached manhood (he was born in 1481), before he won fame by his anatomical studies. His lectures had a great vogue, first at Padua, where he taught until 1506, and then at Pavia. His stay in the last-named city lasted from 1506 to 1512, when he died
at the early age of thirty. His acquaintance with Leonardo took place during the artist's second stay at Milan. One of the estates of the Melzi, at Vaverole (Vapri ?), must have been the ground on which the two friends met. Vasari tells us that “ Della Torre made great use, in his works, of the genius, the knowledge, and the hand of Leonardo, who, for his part, made a book in which figures were drawn with red chalk and shaded with the
i Mathias Duval and Albert Bical, L'Anatomie des Maîtres, p. 13-14. (Paris, 1890-91).
2 Ravaisson-Mollien, Les Manuscrits, M.G., fol. I verso.-Richter, vol. ii. p. 132.— Séailles, p. 297-302.
pen. After studies of osteology came those of the nerves and muscles divided into three sections : the first for the innermost layer, the second for the layer in the middle, and the last for the superficial muscles. Each figure is accompanied by explanatory notes written in fantastic characters, traced in the reverse direction and with the left hand, so that the eye unaccustomed to them cannot decipher them without the help of a mirror.”
I must not forget to say that, contrary to the usually received opinion, Leonardo was the
Top oor d nmpt of monet master, and not the
Aa Jepan pupil of Della Torre in this class of studies. One of his compilations, the “ Libro titolato de Figura umana," was begun, according to its author's own statement, April 2nd,
1 It is rather surprising to find this remarkable idea once more put forward in M. Mathias Duval's recent dissertation upon Leonardo : “Leonardo da Vinci was the pupil and fellow-worker of Della Torre” (Dall'Anatomia, folio A, 1898, p. 27). As early as 1891, I demonstrated the absurdity of such a belief in the Revue des Deux Mondes.See also De Toni, Frammenti Vinciani, vol. i. p. 6.- Strzygowski, Jahrbuch, 1895, p. 167. -No work of Della Torre seems to have been printed.–Vasari says that Caroto painted a portrait by Della Torre (ed. Milanesi, vol. v. p. 289). The Louvre possesses the bronze bas-reliefs, modelled and cast by Andrea Riccio for the tomb of Della Torre in the Church of San Fermo Maggiore at Verona. These reliefs deal with the teaching of Della Torre, etc. As for the portrait in the Ambrosiana, which passes for a work of Leonardo's and is said to represent his friend, it was a very feeble performance at its best and has been entirely repainted. (Rigollot, Catalogue de l'Euvre de Leonardo da Vinci, p. 78–79.)