Artibus et Historiae no. 62 (XXXI)

2010, ISSN 0391-9064

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ANNA FORLANI TEMPESTI - Stefano della Bella and Leonardo

The general interest of Stefano della Bella in the art of Leonardo da Vinci is documented in codex MS. 2275 of Biblioteca Riccardiana in Florence, signed and dated 1630 by the artist. In this manuscript have been copied the text and illustrations of the so-called “abbreviated version” of Leonardo’s Treatise on Painting. The codex is well-known both in the literature on the writings of Leonardo and on Stefano della Bella, also thanks to the now rare edition, published by Francesco Fontani in Florence in 1792, which reproduced with minor changes the text of the manuscript and its illustrations (in the form of tracings). The codex poses several problems which so far have been confronted only in part, and usually as a part of other arguments. Therefore it would seem worthwhile to finally and thoroughly sum up the state of research, e.g. on the occasion of a complete, fully illustrated, critical edition of the manuscript. Uncertain is the purpose of Stefano’s copying of the Treaty. He probably did that for his own study and exercise. Still unknown is which copy he used from among the many transcripts of the Leonardesque text that were in circulation at that time in Florence. He may have employed the so-called Berti-Pagani codex (Belt Library), known also to Furini, or some other copy. The relationship of Stefano’s manuscript to other contemporary copies, and the resulting differences, has been examined only occasionally, especially with regard to the images executed by Furini and Poussin. The actual impact of this Leonardesque experience on the subsequent work of della Bella is still to be determined.

With such a wealth of problems, the present article is limited to giving some hints, and particularly makes use of the complete set of figurative illustrations executed by Stefano on the basis of various copies of the Treaty, pointing to some more or less evident influences of them in his drawings, prints or paintings dating from the period after 1630. It is worth noting that he, unlike other contemporary artists, copied personally Leonardo’s text but did not repeat it faithfully in detail. Therefore his approach to Leonardo is based not only on his images, repeated after the manuscripts almost universally in a schematic fashion, but on his thoughts as well. He did not learn from them the principles of the infinite possibilities of figure movements but, above all, their arrangement in space and the effects of light in the atmosphere, which he later used to naturalistically render his figures and the play of light and shade in his etchings.

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