Marianne Moore: Poetry

May 13, 2011

“An Expedient–Leonardo Da Vinci’s–and a Query”

Moore’s note takes us to the Da Vinci’s Notebooks for lines 21-22, “Nature the text.” It is likely that the following passage is the one consulted:

HOW FROM AGE TO AGE THE ART OF PAINTING CONTINUALLY DECLINES AND DETERIORATES WHEN PAINTERS HAVE NO OTHER STANDARD THAN WORK ALREADY DONE

The painter will produce pictures of little merit if he takes the works of others as his standard; but if he will apply himself to learn from the objects of nature he will produce good results. This we see was the case with the painters who came after the time of the Romans, for they continually imitated each other, and from age, to age their art steadily declined.

After these came Giotto the Florentine, and he,— reared in mountain solitudes, inhabited only by goats and such like beasts—turning straight from nature to his art, began to draw on the

Da Vinci's "Leda and the Swan"

rocks the movements of the goats which he was tending, and so began to draw the figures of all the animals which were to be found in the country, in such a way that after much study he not only surpassed the masters of his own time but all those of many preceding centuries. After him art again declined, because all were imitating paintings already * done; and so for centuries it continued to decline until such time as Tommaso the Florentine, nicknamed Masaccio, showed by the perfection of his work how those who took as their standard anything other than nature, the supreme guide of all the masters, were wearying themselves in vain. Similarly I would say as to these mathematical subjects, that those who study only the authorities and not the works of nature are in art the grandsons and not the sons of nature, which is the supreme guide of the good authorities. [pp. 164-65]

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Notebooks Arranged and Rendered into English with Introductions by Edward MacCurdy. London:  Duckworth; New York: Scribner’s, 1908.

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