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The chapters composing this portion of the work consist of observations on Form, Light and Shade in Plants, and particularly in Trees summed up in certain general rules by which the author intends to guide the artist in the pictorial representation of landscape.
With these the first principles of a Theory of Landscape painting are laid down--a theory as profoundly thought out in its main lines as it is lucidly worked out in its details. In reading these chapters the conviction is irresistible that such a Botany for painters is or ought to be of similar importance in the practice of painting as the principles of the Proportions and Movements of the human figure i. e. Anatomy for painters.
There can be no doubt that Leonardo, in laying down these rules, did not intend to write on Botany in the proper scientific sense--his own researches on that subject have no place here; it need only be observed that they are easily distinguished by their character and contents from those which are here collected and arranged under the title 'Botany for painters'. In some cases where this division might appear doubtful,--as for instance in No. 402--the Painter is directly addressed and enjoined to take the rule to heart as of special importance in his art.
The original materials are principally derived from MS. G, in which we often find this subject treated on several pages in succession without any of that intermixture of other matters, which is so frequent in Leonardo's writings. This MS., too, is one of the latest; when it was written, the great painter was already more than sixty years of age, so we can scarcely doubt that he regarded all he wrote as his final views on the subject. And the same remark applies to the chapters from MSS. E and M which were also written between 1513--15.
For the sake of clearness, however, it has been desirable to sacrifice--with few exceptions--the original order of the passages as written, though it was with much reluctance and only after long hesitation that I resigned myself to this necessity. Nor do I mean to impugn the logical connection of the author's ideas in his MS.; but it
will be easily understood that the sequence of disconnected notes, as they occurred to Leonardo and were written down from time to time, might be hardly satisfactory as a systematic arrangement of his principles. The reader will find in the Appendix an exact account of the order of the chapters in the original MS. and from the data there given can restore them at will. As the materials are here arranged, the structure of the tree as regards the growth of the branches comes first (394-411) and then the insertion of the leaves on the stems (412-419). Then follow the laws of Light and Shade as applied, first, to the leaves (420-434), and, secondly, to the whole tree and to groups of trees (435-457). After the remarks on the Light and Shade in landscapes generally (458-464), we find special observations on that of views of towns and buildings (465-469). To the theory of Landscape Painting belong also the passages on the effect of Wind on Trees (470-473) and on the Light and Shade of Clouds (474-477), since we find in these certain comparisons with the effect of Light and Shade on Trees (e. g.: in No. 476, 4. 5; and No. 477, 9. 12). The chapters given in the Appendix Nos. 478 and 481 have hardly any connection with the subjects previously treated.