In this capacity, hands in Leonardo’s paintings also enact Renaissance contemplations and pictorial wisdoms that put into play likeness vis-à-vis image, or perspectivalism vis-à-vis facture, mediation, and autonomy. Christopher Pye has recently shown with great perspicacity how the upturned pointing gesture of St. John (Paris), St. Anne (London), and the lost Angel of the Annunciation (in contemporary copies) evoke the self-limiting awareness which is inscribed in the act of painting itself. [3] These works embody «the new awareness of representation as a field of contingent and differentially defined meaning», writes Pye. The hands are their key: they indicate the invisible origin of figurability, of the prime generator. In view of the theological dogmas of the divine creation ex nihilo and the Immaculate Conception, they thematize the idea of the created work, while refuting its hubris. At the same time, these devotional-skeptical gestures celebrate the self-sustaining order of painting and the authoritative position of its maker. Leonardo’s hands beckon the entrance of the sign into the world and attest to its mimetic insufficiency. They perform the dialectical sublation of the artist’s hand.

Certain references to the hand in Leonardo’s anatomical reports, so I hope to demonstrate in this essay, should also be understood as a discourse within narrative: for they also introduce a dimension of modal utterance into the indifference of the scientific narrative. Like their numerous textual and visual analogues in Leonardo’s scientific studies, they breach the detached, seemingly authorless protocol, and infringe on the code of dissective expertise. [4]

Guarda, se tu credi… Look here, can you believe it?

Folio K/P 142v [fig. 2] comprises three distinct topical and visual areas. It contains studies of the nerves of the hand and the muscles of the arm; studies of facial muscles; and a small drawing of a man’s profile that seems foreign to the overall anatomical agenda of the page. All but the last are accompanied by explicative notes and constitute an efficient series of image-text segments. This concatenation was routinely considered arbitrary, but I shall contend here that the folio as a whole has a coherent rationale.

Following the downward rhythm of these enclaves we encounter an interpolation that seems to harbor a parallel stream of thought, wedged inside a textual section that deals with phantom, displaced and erroneous sensations in the fingers: «See if you believe that this sense is affected in an organ player whilst at the same time his soul is giving attention to the sense of hearing» (Guarda se tu credi che tal senso sia travagliato ‘n un sonatore d’organo e l’anima in tal tempo attende al senso dell’audito.) [5]

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