For example, Libro di Pittura (idem.as in note 26), 38, p. 162.


Fabio Frosini, Vita, tempo e linguaggio, Lettura Vinciana, 30, 2010.


Libro di Pittura (as in note 26), 21, p. 145.


See comparable passages in the Libro di Pittura (as in note 26) 23, 25, 29, 30, 31b.


I will succinctly recapitulate these parameters under four categories: truth (indexicality), beauty, affectivity (arousal of emotional, erotic, or devotional response), and what Leonardo calls artifice (artifitio). [27] What he means, I think, is bravura, namely, the clever optimization of a difficult medium for the sake of the three former goals. Pictorial rendering, Leonardo asserts, excels in all. Poetry, or rather language products as such, fail the first three criteria of merit. Because of the very incommensurability of signs and things, it can be neither true nor truly affective. Because it is sequential, it cannot produce or reproduce beauty. On linguistic bravura Leonardo says nothing at all, and betrays no insight regarding the generative advantage inherent in the very gaps that institute sign-systems (an advantage he will recognize only many years later, in his anatomical investigations of the mechanisms of voice and speech). [28] As to sculpture, it fulfills only partially the first two parameters, but blatantly lacks artifice. Leonardo remains silent about its erotic and devotional affectivity; again, a conspicuous lacuna.

The assessments of music in this posthumous compilation are apparently clear, but actually oblique. The two pronounced merits of this medium are beauty and affectivity. By means of rich polyphonic sonorities that are heard «at the same time», music creates «proportional harmony» that pleases the sense of hearing to such a degree, that «the listeners remain stupefied with admiration and only half alive» ([proporzione armonica], la quale contenta tanto il senso de lo audito che li auditori restano con stupente admirazione quasi semivivi). [29] Here and in other places in this text the experience of music reverberates orgasmic overtones; but Leonardo is quick to qualify them, albeit implicitly, through the concatenated poetics of the chanted text.

The drive of his arguments constantly posits the abstract affectivity of music against the erotic promise of faces and bodies in painting. The passage cited above immediately continues thus: «Yet much greater is the effect of the proportionate beauties of an angelic face in a painting […] If such harmony of beauties is shown to the lover of the woman whose beauty it imitates, without a doubt he will remain stupefied with admiration and incomparable joy and overcome in all his senses» (Ma molto più fara le proporzionali bellezze d’un angelico viso posto in pirttura […] e tal bellezze saranno mostre allo amante di quella di chi tale bellezze sono imitate senza dubbio esso restera con istupenda admirazione e gaudio incomparabile […]). [30]

Poor music (sventurata musica) is excluded from the economy of desire, lack and transference that institutes Leonardo’s aesthetic. Because of its transience in time, the intense musical experience enhances the ephemerality of subjecthood in the body: its core and rationale is loss, not the redemptive retrieval of absence through representation.

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