Filippo Gagliardi on Leonardo's Perspective

by Janis Bell

revised edition

published in Achademia Leonardi Vinci 5. 1992, pp. 117-119.

Filippo Gagliardi (active Rome 1637, d. 1659) is known to students of the Roman Baroque for having collaborated with Andrea Sacchi as a perspective specialist and for his major contribution to the renovation of the Roman church of San Martino al Monte (1647-1654).1 He is also known for the architectural perspectives he contributed as illustrations to Ferrari's Hesperides (Rome, 1646) and for his role as principe of the Accademia di San Luca (1656-7). His involvement with the theoretical aspects of his profession has so far passed unnoticed, and his name does not appear in Kemp's Science of Art, Vagnetti's De Naturali et artificiali perspectiva, Schlosser's Letteratura artistica (Kunstliteratur), nor in earlier accounts of writers on art, architecture, and perspective.2

An unpublished perspective treatise by him is preserved in the Archive of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.3 It is composed of 120 pages in 4· (205 x 275 mm), sewn together but lacking a cover. The preface is written on a sheet folded in half, which was sewn with the text at one time; the first numbered sheet, pp. 1-4, is also now loose; there is also a loose table of contents in another hand (one folded sheet), and a loose cut sheet in a third hand containing a list of illustrations.4 The text makes reference to perspective diagrams which are missing. The treatise is not dated, but a mention of Filippo Napoletano as already dead gives a terminus ante quem for the manuscript in 1630, the year of Napoletano's death.5 The compilation shows consistency of ductus except for occasional variations showing that it was taken on for minor modifications at a later time.

The Preface contains a brief reference to Leonardo's belief in the necessity of mastering perspective theory in support of pictorial practice. It reads as follows:

In English translation:

Constant practice with painters and others who use drawing has made me understand the importance of the fine art of perspective. Perspective is the basis and first principle of design. It is impossible to perfect works of art without it because accidents of vision6 arise at every moment in the the events themselves and the places where one paints. For example, there are an infinite number of odd viewpoints and illuminations, not only in terms of the whole ensemble but also in every minute part. The practice of perspective is merely imitating solid, concave and convex bodies with width and length on a flat surface, wherever enlarging and reducing is involved, whether it be a hand, or a finger, or knowing how to turn a head, whether inclined or raised. Many say that those who wish to adopt rules for the human body will not succeed. I agree that rules cannot produce either spirit nor expression and thus disapprove of their use in this way as potentially damaging. However, I believe that one must approach this problem with as much theory as possible: as Leonardo da Vinci used to say, a painter without perspective is like a doctor without grammar. The reason is that, in my opinion, foreshortening in large works is not possible to do simply by fixing the eye and following what the mind dictates; because [in judging with] the eye one has to remain near the work in order for the hand to reach it. But it never happens that one is at the right distance to see the [whole] work at once. Therefore, it is frequently necessary to work from ruled [i.e. geometric perspective] l

Here Gagliardi attributes to Leonardo the statement that a 'pittore senza perspectiva è come un dottore senza grammatica' -- a statement which is nowhere to be found in Leonardo's existing manuscripts.

None of the printed sources up to the time of the first edition of Leonardo's Treatise on Painting, which was published in Paris in 1651, reports Leonardo's opinions on perspective. If Gagliardi had access to a manuscript copy of the abridged version of Leonardo's treatise, he could have become acquainted with a similar but not identical pronouncement:

Quelli che s'inamoran di pratica sanza scientia son come 'l nochiere che entra in naviglio sanza timone o bussola, che mai hanno certezza dove si vadano.

Sempre la pratica debb'esser edificata sopra la bona teoria; della quale la perspectiva è guida e porta, e sanza questa nulla si fa bene ne' casi di pi

In translation:

Those who are in love with practice without science (i.e. theory) are like pilots who board a ship without rudder or compass, who are never certain where they are going.

Practice ought always to be built on sound theory; perspective is the guide and the path to this theory, and without it nothing is done well in painting.

This text, which appears as chapter 23 in the Du Fresne edition of 1651 and as 80 in the Ludwig edition of the Codex Urbinas (McM 70), comes from Paris MS. G, f. 8 r (Richter § 19) of c. 1510-11. A definition of perspective as 'briglia e timone della pittura' is found in Leonardo's early Paris MS. A, f. 93 r (Ash. MS., f. 13 r), c. 1492 (Richter 40; Lu 509, McM 490) and is also found in the abridged version of Leonardo's Trattato (Du Fresne, ch. 349).7

Such dicta or prounouncements probably circulated by word of mouth among artists, only a privileged few of whom would own a manuscript copy of Leonardo's Trattato, although copies owned by art patrons and the art academies were made available to artists.8 Because of his patronage by the Barberini and Cassiano dal Pozzo in the late 1630's - 1640's, Gagliardi certainly would have had many opportunities of seeing Leonardo's Trattato either in the manuscript copy owned by Cardinal Francesco Barberini or in copies prepared by Cassiano dal Pozzo during these years for eventual publication of the Treatise on Painting, which was delayed until 1651 due to the political misfortunes of the Barberini after the death of Pope Urban VIII in 1644. But if this be his source, he obviously chose to paraphrase it, turning Leonardo's image of the pilot without rudder into a doctor without grammar.

Ludovico Cigoli's unpublished Prospettiva pratica, which in 1627-28 was being prepared for publication by his nephew, is also a precedent in citing Leonardo as an authority for the importance of perspective in the representation of three-dimensional objects on a flat surface. It is unlikely that Gagliardi could have known Cigoli's manuscript directly, unless he spent time in Florence, but Cigoli's ideas were promulgated by his immediate followers.9

There is another possibility, however remote. A generation earlier, Federico Zuccaro had shown in his L'idea de' pittori, scultori et architetti (Turin, 1607) to have been familiar with a Leonardo manuscript unknown to us today, but the reference was pejorative one, in which Leonardo's mathematical rules were valued as useless for contemporary artists.10 This lost manuscript was used by Carlo Urbino in the preparation of the Codex Huygens which, like the context of Gagliardi's remark, deals with rules for foreshortening human figures.11 Gagliardi's more positive assessment comes in the wake of Matteo Zaccolini's interest in Leonardo's writings.12 Contemporary sources speak of Zaccolini (1574-1630) as the painter who taught Domenichino perspective and optics and whose unpublished writings were copied and studied by Poussin.13 According to contemporary sources, Zaccollini had access to Leonardo's original manuscripts and had become so proficient in reading their lefthand script as to be able to write backwards himself. Gagliardi was familiar with Zaccolini's ideas on perspective, claiming the Theatine as his teacher and preceptor, although he did not know about Zaccolini's manuscript treatises on perspective and color.14

The idea Gagliardi attributed to Leonardo echoes statements comparing painting to the profession of writing by Giovio in a dialogue prefacing his biographies of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, and by Leonardo himself on a sheet of anatomical studies at Windsor.15 Giovio compared the process of mastering writing through constant practice to that of mastering the visual arts in the context of a synopsis of Leonardo's ideas on the teaching of young artists. The note on the Windsor sheet reads as follows:

Questa dimostrazione è tanto necessaria a' buoni disegnatori quanto alli buoni grammatici la dirivazione de' vocavoli latini, perché male farà li muscoli delle figure nelli movimenti e azioni di tal figure chi non sa quali sieno li muscoli che son causa delli lor movi

In translation:

This demonstration is as necessary to good draughtsmen as is the derivation of Latin words to good grammarians; because he who does not know what muscles cause their movements will draw the muscles of the figures in the movements and actions the such figures badly.16

It is possible that Leonardo had written something comparable about perspective in a lost manuscript such as that used Carlo Urbino in the compilation of the Codex Huygens, or which was the source of the early compilation on perspective acquired by Cellini in France, 'the most beautiful a man ever made', and also lost.17

The Treatise on Painting, as well known in the abriged version long before its publication in 1651, contains enough references to the importance of a theoretical knowledge of perspective as to account for Gagliardi's peculiar paraphrase - so peculiar, in fact, as to warrant speculations about an unknown Leonardo source. On the other hand, even after the publication of the Treatise on Painting (1651), some writers on perspective citing Leonardo as an authority for the importance of rules, continued to paraphrase the spirit of his ideas rather than quoting him verbatim. An example is M. De Saint-Morien in his treatise La perspective aérienne (1788) in which perspective is called `the guide and the door..without which one cannot succeed in anything in painting or any of the arts that depend upon drawing'.18


1.  Ann B. Sutherland, 'The Decoration of S. Martino ai Monti', Burlington Magazine, CVI, 1964, pp. 53-69, 115-120; and Giancarlo Miletti and Stefano Ray, 'Filippo Gagliardi e il rifacimento di S. Martino ai Monti', Palatino, XI, 1967, pp. 3-12 (with full bibliography). For Gagliardi's association with Andrea Sacchi and the circle of artists active in Rome under the patronage of the Barberini, see Ann Sutherland Harris, Andrea Sacchi, Princeton, N.J., 1977, cat. 40, 45, and 63, pp. 74-5, 78-9, 90-1.

2.  Martin Kemp, The Science of Art: optical themes in western art from Brunelleschi to Seurat, New Haven, 1990; Luigi Vagnetti, De Naturali et artificiali perspective, Studi e documenti di architettura, IX-X, Florence, 1979; Julius Schlosser Magnino, La letteratura artistica, 2nd revised edition, Vienna, 1956.

3.  I wish to thank Dr. Angela Cipriano of the Archivio of the Accademia di San Luca for bringing this manuscript to my attention more than a decade ago, which was noted in my publications on Zaccolini (for which see n. # below). My thanks to Lisa Goldenberg Stoppato for assistance with the translation of the excerpts given in the text below. Maria Losito has joined me in the plan of editing the Gagliardi manuscript for publication. Research for the present note was carried out during the term of a Mellon fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, 1990-91.

4.  The list of illustrations is in a later hand and is on a different paper stock. The relationship of the text to the table of chapter headings and the list of illustrations will be discussed in the full study of the manuscript.

5.  On p. 37 [41]; The manuscript has two paginations, one in the original ink which begins with the text and which continues to the end, a second which begins on p. 9 with number 13 in a different ink and continues to p. 99 [103].

6.  Accidents of vision refer to shifting color, light, and shape resulting from changes in the illumination, from movement, and from viewing positions.

7.   Carlo Pedretti supplied this reference.

8.  For the knowledge of Leonardo's Trattato before its publication, see Richter Commentary, Vol. I, pp. 31-36 (with full bibliography).

9.  Martin Kemp, 'Ludovico Cigoli on the Origins and Ragione of Painting', Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, XXXV, 1991, pp. 133-150.

10.  Zuccaro's derogatory remarks on p. 31 on his L'idea of 1607 (facsimile ed. in Scritti D'Arte, Ed. Detlef Heikamp, Florence, 1961) are quoted in full and discussed by Pedretti, Libro A, pp. 71-72, note 88 (English translation), and Richter Commentary, Vol. I, p. 50 (Italian transcription). They refer to Leonardo's autograph writings ('scritti alla rovescia') and are on the subject of kinematics in human movement ('the motion and twisting of the human figure, by means of perpendicular lines, square and compass.') I owe this suggestion of a lost manuscript to Carlo Pedretti.

11.  On the date and authorship of the Codex Huygens, see Sergio Marinelli, 'The Author of the Codex Huygens', in The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XLIV, 1981, pp. 214-220; Frank Zollner, 'Agrippa, Leonardo and the Codex Huygens', in The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XLVIII, 1985, pp. 229-234. For a brief discussion of the diffusion of Leonardo's ideas on perspective, geometry and optics, and sixteenth through early seventeenth-century debates about the usefulness of geometrically constructed perspective in contrast to workshop methods, see Claire Farago, 'Leonardo's Color and Chiaroscuro Reconsidered: The Visual Force of Painted Images', in The Art Bulletin, LXXIII, 1991, pp. 63-88, esp. pp. 83-4.

12.  For evidence that Leonardo's writings were criticized in Florentine circles in the early seventeenth century see Richter, Commentary II, pp. 396-7, and Pietro Accolti, Inganno degli Occhi (Florence, 1625) who, on p. 109, disparages the value of Leonardo's scientific writings on light and shadow, even while paraphrasing Leonardo extensively in his appendix on the instruction of young artists for which see Carlo Pedretti,'Il Trattato della Pittura' di Leonardo Plagiato da Pietro Accolti nel 1625," Raccolta Vinciana, XIX, 1962, pp. 292-4.

13.  Early sources on Zaccolini are given by Kate T. Steinitz, Leonardo da Vinci's Trattato della Pittura... A Bibliography, Copenhagen, 1958, pp. 110-16 and 130-2. For his manuscripts rediscovered in 1973, see Carlo Pedretti, 'The Zaccolini manuscripts', Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance, XXXV, 1973, pp. 39-53, reprinted with additions in Richter Commentary, Vol. I, pp. 36-47. See also Elizabeth Cropper, "Poussin and Leonardo: Evidence from the Zaccolini MSS', Art Bulletin XLII, 1980, pp. 570-83; Janis Bell, 'The Life and works of Fra Matteo Zaccolini', Regnum Dei, XLI, 1985, pp. 227-258; Id., 'Cassiano dal Pozzo's Copy of the Zaccolini Manuscripts', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, LI, 1988, pp. 103-125; and Id., 'Zaccolini and Leonardo's Manuscript A', in I leonardeschi a Milano: fortuna e collezionismo, ed. by Maria Teresa Fiorio and Pietro C. Marani, Milan, 1991, pp. 183-93.

14.  Preface, p. iii; another reference to Zaccolini on p. 116 says he did not write anything, which suggests that Gagliardi studied with him before 1617.

15.  Carlo Pedretti kindly informed me of these sources.

16.  Anatomical MS. B, f. 4 v (RL 19021 v; K/ P 62 v), c. 1506-8.

17.  Cf. Steinitz, op. cit., pp. 25-26. See also Richter Commentary, Vol. I, p. 67 and note 2.

18.  M. De Saint-Morien, La perspective aérienne, Paris, 1788, p. 27.