The Da Vinci Notebooks at sacred-texts.com
Leonardo's original writings on the theory of Architecture have come down to us only in a fragmentary state; still, there seems to be no doubt that he himself did not complete them. It would seem that Leonardo entertained the idea of writing a large and connected book on Architecture; and it is quite evident that the materials we possess, which can be proved to have been written at different periods, were noted down with a more or less definite aim and purpose. They might all be collected under the one title: "Studies on the Strength of Materials". Among them the investigations on the subject of fissures in walls are particularly thorough, and very fully reported; these passages are also especially interesting, because Leonardo was certainly the first writer on architecture who ever treated the subject at all. Here, as in all other cases Leonardo carefully avoids all abstract argument. His data are not derived from the principles of algebra, but from the laws of mechanics, and his method throughout is strictly experimental.
Though the conclusions drawn from his investigations may not have that precision which we are accustomed to find in Leonardo's scientific labours, their interest is not lessened. They prove at any rate his deep sagacity and wonderfully clear mind. No one perhaps, who has studied these questions since Leonardo, has combined with a scientific mind anything like the artistic delicacy of perception which gives interest and lucidity to his observations.
I do not assert that the arrangement here adopted for the passages in question is that originally intended by Leonardo; but their distribution into five groups was suggested by the titles, or headings, which Leonardo himself prefixed to most of these notes. Some of the longer sections perhaps should not, to be in strict agreement with this division,
have been reproduced in their entirety in the place where they occur. But the comparatively small amount of the materials we possess will render them, even so, sufficiently intelligible to the reader; it did not therefore seem necessary or desirable to subdivide the passages merely for the sake of strict classification.
The small number of chapters given under the fifth class, treating on the centre of gravity in roof-beams, bears no proportion to the number of drawings and studies which refer to the same subject. Only a small selection of these are reproduced in this work since the majority have no explanatory text.