University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Anthony J. and Frances A. Guzzetta Collection of Vinciana

Volume XVII · Spring 1963 · Number 3
The Anthony J. and Frances A. Guzzetta Collection of Vinciana*

I believe that you have been informed of the death of Master Leonardo your brother, who was also a brother and at the same time the best of fathers to me.. . . Everyone is stricken with sorrow at the loss of such a man, for it is not within the power of Nature to bring forth another like him...

Francesco Melzi, 1519


The heavens often rain down the richest gifts on human beings, naturally, but sometimes with lavish abundance bestow upon a single individual beauty, grace and ability, so that, whatever he does, every action is so divine that he distances all other men, and clearly displays how his genius is the gift of God and not an acquirement of human art. Men saw this in Lionardo da Vinci, whose personal beauty could not be exaggerated, whose every movement was grace itself and whose abilities were so extraordinary that he could readily solve every difficulty. He possessed great personal strength, combined with dexterity, and a spirit and courage invariably royal and magnanimous, and the fame of his name so spread abroad that, not only was he valued in his own day, but his renown has greatly increased since his death.

Giorgio Vasari, 1568

The collections of the University of Rochester Library have been substantially enriched during the past year by the acquisition of an unusually fine private library of material on Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). The collection is the munificent gift to the University of Dr. Anthony J. Guzzetta (University of Rochester Class of 1915), who for more than twenty years has been an ardent collector of books and articles relating to the thought, the artistic and scientific achievements, and the influence of the great Italian master.

The more than seven hundred volumes and pamphlets of the Guzzetta Collection--a number to which Dr. Guzzetta is continuing to add--together with the Library's own holdings, make Rochester a leading reference center in the important field of Leonardo studies.

In view of what Ludwig Heydenreich describes as the almost terrifying volume of his diverse activity, it is scarcely surprising that the Leonardo bibliography is itself almost overwhelming. Ettore Verga's invaluableBibliografica Vinciana, 1493-1930, though by no means exhaustive, contains 2900 entries, a number which today could doubtless be increased by several thousand. In the latest edition (1960) of the Raccolta Vinciana, the publication of the great Leonardo collection in the Castello Sforzesco, Milan, wherein this bibliography is periodically brought up to date, Lino Montagna notes that in the field of Leonardo studies ". . . la discussione dei problemi che suscitano si estendessero in modo sempre più capillare." Though this is in the main correct, and doubtless inevitable considering both the reach of Leonardo's mind and the increasing specialization of our time, works of a general and, within certain areas, comprehensive nature are also appearing. Thirty years ago Kenneth Clark could conclude his review of Verga's bibliography by suggesting that a really satisfactory book on Leonardo, combining the results of modern scholarship with some understanding of Leonardo as an artist, remained to be written. Today, to name but a few items, we have Sir Kenneth's own excellent monograph on Leonardo (1939, 2nd edition 1952) which is primarily concerned with his development as an artist, and also his indispensable catalogue of the artist's drawings in Windsor Castle (1935); the equally fine monograph by Heydenreich (1943, English edition 1954) which emphasizes and clarifies the interrelationship between Leonardo's artistic and scientific work and thought; the important series of publications of Leonardo's manuscripts and drawings--the latter in superb reproduction--by the Reale Commissione Vinciana; Edward MacCurdy's amplified edition of the Notebooks (1938); an enlarged and revised edition of Richter's excellent and well illustrated anthology, The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci (1939); and A. E. Popham's publication of the drawings (1945). The publication of the complete writings of Leonardo, under the direction of Augusto Marinoni, has well begun, while the systematic examination and collation of the artist's voluminous literary remains has produced notable studies and compilations, such as R. Giacomelli's Gli Scritti di Leonardo da Vinci sur Volo(1936), Arturo Uccelli's I Libri de Meccanica (1940), K. D. Keele's Leonardo da Vinci on Movement of the Heart and Blood (1952), and the posthumous publication of A. Philip McMahon's study of the Treatise on Painting(1956), which is the first English translation of the entire Vatican manuscript of Leonardo's projected treatise. We are told, too, that a new edition of the great Codex Atlanticus is in preparation under the direction of Carlo Pedretti.

The appearance of these exemplary works may serve to indicate that much yet remains to be done in Leonardo studies. In part this is due to the comparative youth of the history of art and the history of science and technology as professional disciplines; in part it stems from the late and still incomplete publication of Leonardo's writings; but primarily it is due to the very profuseness and extraordinary complexity of his graphic and written works and of the mind and art that conceived and executed them.

A note of explanation is in order here. At his death in 1519 all of Leonardo's notebooks and manuscripts passed by his bequest into the ownership of a friend and pupil, Francesco Melzi (1493-1570), a nobleman of Milan. Although carefully preserved by him and evidently made available to anyone seriously interested--they were seen, for example, by Vasari--Melzi unfortunately, but in view of the difficulties involved, understandably, did little in the way of organizing the numerous and complex writings of his master. One compilation only was begun under his direction, that of Leonardo's scattered notes for the Treatise on Painting. This compilation, which happily still survives as Codex Urbinas Latinus 1270 in the Vatican Library, was made in the midsixteenth century, but was only first rediscovered and published by Guglielmo Manzi in 1817 and did not receive a thorough and scholarly editing until Heinrich Ludwig's bilingual publication in 1882. Various partial or abridged manuscript copies, containing roughly one-third of the original material, were early made and circulated, however, until the famous first printed edition, in abbreviated form and with illustrations after Nicolas Poussin, was published by Du Fresne in 1651. Some indication of its popularity and influence is given by the appearance of more than sixty editions of the Treatise between 1651 and 1956. Of these, thirty-four editions are in the Guzzetta Collection, including a hitherto unknown Dutch version of 1753 and a scarce edition published in Belgrade in 1953.

There is ample evidence that his contemporaries and followers had some knowledge, too, of Leonardo's studies on anatomy, architecture and mechanics, but the sad fact is that the laborious task of ordering these for publication was postponed by Melzi until too late. In commenting on a visit to Leonardo on October 10th, 1517, by Cardinal Louis of Aragon, the Cardinal's secretary, Antonio de 'Beatis, writes:

This gentleman has compiled a particular treatise of anatomy, with the demonstration in draft not only of the members, but also of the muscles, nerves, veins, joints, intestines, and of whatever can be reasoned about in the bodies of both men and women, in a way that has never yet been done by any other person. All which we have seen with our eyes; and he said that he has already dissected more than thirty bodies, both men and women of all ages. He has, also, written concerning the nature of water, and of divers machines, and other things, which he has set down in an endless number of volumes, all in the vulgar tongue, which if they should be published will be profitable and very enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the volumes were not published. None of Melzi's heirs shared his concern and shortly after his death the dispersion of the artist's graphic and literary remains began. Some were given away, some sold, some stolen. Some notebooks were cut up and reformed into collections of single sheets--primarily for the drawings thereon--and much was lost. The concordance in McMahon's edition of the Treatise on Painting shows, for example, that but 235 of the 1008 paragraphs in the Vatican manuscript can now be traced in the extant writings of Leonardo. Even so, the fragments that now remain, having come after many vicissitudes to their present locations in London, Windsor, Milan, Turin and Paris, comprise some 3500 closely written pages--for the most part with writing and drawing on both sides--by far the largest heritage of the sort of any great Renaissance artist. Nineteen of the notebooks are extant, as well as numerous single sheets. The largest collection of the latter is, because of its size, called the Codex Atlanticus and is preserved in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan. It contains some 1700 sheets with drawings and notes. Next in size is the collection of some 600 drawings at Windsor Castle.

The Guzzetta Collection in the University Library contains all the published manuscript material in the original editions, with the exception of two items which are covered by later editions. As Kenneth Clark writes:

This mass of material is the most exacting subject of study because of its complete lack of continuity. At any point, on any sheet, embedded in the most trivial discussion, there may be some important evidence of Leonardo's movements or opinions. The student of Leonardo is engaged in a vast jigsaw puzzle, and in spite of the labours of devoted scholars such as Muller-Walde, Calvi and Solmi, much remains to be discovered.

It is not surprising, therefore, that a sound knowledge of Leonardo, both as artist and scientist, has had to await the publication and collation of the written material and the development of scholarship and method in the history of art and of science. It is surprising, especially to those of us who have been somewhat over "Mona Lisa'd" of late, to realize that for almost two hundred years after his death about the only works of Leonardo to be appreciated widely, apart from the Treatise on Painting, were his so-called caricatures. A serious study of the artist really began only in 1810 with Giuseppe Bossi's publication on "The Last Supper," and especially with Goethe's long and influential review of this book, which he wrote in 1817. It was not until the 1870's and 1880's, however, that Gaetano Milanesi and Gustavo Uzielli through the publication of documents, Giovanni Morelli through a close comparative study of the paintings, Jean Paul Richter through his massive anthology of the writings and excellent reproduction of numerous drawings, and Charles Ravaisson Mollien through the publication of the Paris manuscripts, built the base upon which modern Leonardo scholarship continues to grow.

It now appears evident from what remains to us of Leonardo's work that in a general way he planned, perhaps beginning in the early years of his first Milanese period, to prepare an encyclopedic work aiming at total knowledge covering all realms of nature and spirit. In this aim he is in the tradition of medieval scholasticism, but what is essentially and decisively new is his be1ief, elaborately put forward in the Treatise on Painting, that art is a science and his consistent use of direct observation and experimental method. Because they embody truth, correctness and measure--note the importance in his studies of perspective and the theory of proportions--painting and drawing are for Leonardo the ideal means for the transmission of knowledge. Saper vedere--to know how to see--is the means by which the reconciliation of art and science may be effected. From this unity will develop a method of teaching that can pass on this encyclopedic knowledge. So he plunges into the most wide-ranging and yet detailed study of nature and its operations; the painter-scientist must attempt--and who can say that Leonardo failed--to become the universal man. Anyone who looks through the magnificent facsimiles of the drawings in the Guzzetta Collection will agree with Heydenreich when he says that Leonardo appears as the versatile, inquisitive genius possessed by a passion for experimentation whose one desire was to explore and to understand the universe. His goal as a scientist was to grasp the forms and laws of nature and of life as revealed to his eye, and to set them down in drawings. He was convinced that it is not sufficient to lay down the laws of nature in abstract formulations, but that these laws have to be represented in their operation and in their tangible appearance.

Given this belief, it becomes impossible to separate Leonardo's art and thought, to see him either as an artist led astray by a concern with scientific investigation or as a scientist forced by the nature of the times to expend his energies on art. What has been increasingly revealed to us through modern scholarship and a close study of his art is the unity of his personality. The whole movement of his mind, as Kenneth Clark admirably states, is from mechanism to organism; his manifold investigations into all aspects of nature and of art led him to the conclusion that all is in a state of universal flux, of continuous energy and change. This knowledge and feeling for what is organic, changing, living, finds graphic expression in his art, whether in the complex pose and chiaroscuro of the Mona Lisa, the dynamic studies of the horse or of the human figure in motion, studies of the flow and action of water, the stratification of rock, or the flight of birds.

It seems certain that Leonardo planned his main treatises--on Painting, Mechanics, Anatomy--for publication. Equally certain is it that the tremendous range of his interests and activities, added to what may have been a lack of ability to synthesize, made their ordering and preparation in suitable form impossible for him. What is left of his works, in art and in scientific investigation, has been appropriately described by Heydenreich in the words with which Goethe once defined his own life work: "Fragments of a great confession." But each fragment of the "confession" of such a man is of great human value and worthy of close study. The Guzzetta Collection, containing the published manuscripts; the anthologies; the studies of Leonardo as scientist, as artist, as engineer and inventor; the works dealing with his activities and thought in painting, sculpture, architecture, anatomy, biology, physiology, botany, geology, geography, mathematics, optics, and much else, now makes such study possible at Rochester.

*    All of the published works referred to in this article are in the Guzzetta Collection. I have not given here a résumé of Leonardo's life and art, in the knowledge that they are superbly treated in the easily available monographs by Sir Kenneth Clark and Ludwig Heydenreich. It is upon these works and others that this writer, by no means one of the rare stock of Leonardo scholars, has largely drawn.