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A Treatise on Painting (Trattato della pittura), printed edition Roma, 1817.

A Treatise on Painting is a collection of Leonardo da Vinci's writings entered in his notebooks under the general heading "On Painting". The manuscripts were begun in Milan while Leonardo was under the service of Ludovico Sforza (between 1482 and 1499), being worked on substantially for the last 25 years of Leonardo's life.[1] The papers were gathered together by Francesco Melzi sometime before 1542, and first printed in an abridged form (from an unknown source) in French and Italian as Trattato della pittura by Raffaelo du Fresne in 1651. After Melzi's version was rediscovered in the Vatican Library, the treatise was first published in its modern form in 1817.[2]

The main aim of the treatise was to argue that painting was a science.[3][4] Leonardo's keen observation of expression and character is evidenced in his comparison of laughing and weeping, about which he notes that the only difference between the two emotions in terms of the "motion of the [facial] features" is "the ruffling of the brows, which is added in weeping, but more elevated and extended in laughing." [5]

In 1937, Max Ernst wrote in Cahiers d'Art that Leonardo's advice on the studying of stains on walls caused him an "unbearable visual obsession".[2] All editions of the treatise are kept at the Elmer Belt Library of Vinciana at UCLA.[6]


  1. ^ Wallace, Robert (1972) [1966]. The World of Leonardo: 1452–1519. New York: Time-Life Books. pp. 57, 169.
  2. ^ a b Wallace, Robert (1972) [1966]. The World of Leonardo: 1452–1519. New York: Time-Life Books. p. 171.
  3. ^ "Science: Science of Painting". Britannica. Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  4. ^ The Collected Essays and Criticism: Affirmations and refusals, 1950-1956 By Clement Greenberg, John O'Brian, page 259. Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  5. ^ Chapter CLXXII, trans. Rigaud.
  6. ^ "UCLA Library". UCLA Library. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  • Leonardo da Vinci, Treatise on Painting, [Codex Rurbinas Latinus, translated and annotated by P. Philip McMachon,Princeton University Press 1956

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