Architectural Designs.

It never looks well to see the roofs of a church; they should rather be flat and the water should run off by gutters made in the frieze.

[Footnote: This text is to the left of the domed church reproduced on Pl. LXXXVII, No. 2.]

B. The theory of Dome Architecture.

This subject has been more extensively treated by Leonardo in drawings than in writing. Still we may fairly assume that it was his purpose, ultimately to embody the results of his investigation in a “Trattato delle Cupole.” The amount of materials is remarkably extensive. MS. B is particularly rich in plans and elevations of churches with one or more domes—from the simplest form to the most complicated that can be imagined. Considering the evident connexion between a great number of these sketches, as well as the impossibility of seeing in them designs or preparatory sketches for any building intended to be erected, the conclusion is obvious that they were not designed for any particular monument, but were theoretical and ideal researches, made in order to obtain a clear understanding of the laws which must govern the construction of a great central dome, with smaller ones grouped round it; and with or without the addition of spires, so that each of these parts by itself and in its juxtaposition to the other parts should produce the grandest possible effect.

In these sketches Leonardo seems to have exhausted every imaginable combination. [Footnote 1: In MS. B, 32b (see Pl. C III, No. 2) we find eight geometrical patterns, each drawn in a square; and in MS. C.A., fol. 87 to 98 form a whole series of patterns done with the same intention.] The results of some of these problems are perhaps not quite satisfactory; still they cannot be considered to give evidence of a want of taste or of any other defect in Leonardo s architectural capacity. They were no doubt intended exclusively for his own instruction, and, before all, as it seems, to illustrate the features or consequences resulting from a given principle.

I have already, in another place, [Footnote 1: Les Projets Primitifs pour la Basilique de St. Pierre de Rome, par Bramante, Raphael etc.,Vol. I, p. 2.] pointed out the law of construction for buildings crowned by a large dome: namely, that such a dome, to produce the greatest effect possible, should rise either from the centre of a Greek cross, or from the centre of a structure of which the plan has some symmetrical affinity to a circle, this circle being at the same time the centre of the whole plan of the building.

Leonardo’s sketches show that he was fully aware, as was to be expected, of this truth. Few of them exhibit the form of a Latin cross, and when this is met with, it generally gives evidence of the determination to assign as prominent a part as possible to the dome in the general effect of the building.

While it is evident, on the one hand, that the greater number of these domes had no particular purpose, not being designed for execution, on the other hand several reasons may be found for Leonardo’s perseverance in his studies of the subject.

Besides the theoretical interest of the question for Leonardo and his Trattato and besides the taste for domes prevailing at that time, it seems likely that the intended erection of some building of the first importance like the Duomos of Pavia and Como, the church of Sta. Maria delle Grazie at Milan, and the construction of a Dome or central Tower (Tiburio) on the cathedral of Milan, may have stimulated Leonardo to undertake a general and thorough investigation of the subject; whilst Leonardo’s intercourse with Bramante for ten years or more, can hardly have remained without influence in this matter. In fact now that some of this great Architect’s studies for S. Peter’s at Rome have at last become known, he must be considered henceforth as the greatest master of Dome-Architecture that ever existed. His influence, direct or indirect even on a genius like Leonardo seems the more likely, since Leonardo’s sketches reveal a style most similar to that of Bramante, whose name indeed, occurs twice in Leonardo’s manuscript notes. It must not be forgotten that Leonardo was a Florentine; the characteristic form of the two principal domes of Florence, Sta. Maria del Fiore and the Battisterio, constantly appear as leading features in his sketches.

The church of San Lorenzo at Milan, was at that time still intact. The dome is to this day one of the most wonderful cupolas ever constructed, and with its two smaller domes might well attract the attention and study of a never resting genius such as Leonardo. A whole class of these sketches betray in fact the direct influence of the church of S. Lorenzo, and this also seems to have suggested the plan of Bramante’s dome of St. Peter’s at Rome.

In the following pages the various sketches for the construction of domes have been classified and discussed from a general point of view. On two sheets: Pl. LXXXIV (C.A. 354b; 118a) and Pl. LXXXV, Nos. 1-11 (Ash. II, 6b) we see various dissimilar types, grouped together; thus these two sheets may be regarded as a sort of nomenclature of the different types, on which we shall now have to treat.

1. Churches formed on the plan of a Greek cross.

Group I.

Domes rising from a circular base.

The simplest type of central building is a circular edifice.

Pl. LXXXIV, No. 9. Plan of a circular building surrounded by a colonnade.

Pl. LXXXIV, No. 8. Elevation of the former, with a conical roof.

Pl. XC. No. 5. A dodecagon, as most nearly approaching the circle.

Pl. LXXXVI, No. 1, 2, 3. Four round chapels are added at the extremities of the two principal axes;—compare this plan with fig. 1 on p. 44 and fig. 3 on p. 47 (W. P. 5b) where the outer wall is octagonal.

Group II.

Domes rising from a square base.

The plan is a square surrounded by a colonnade, and the dome seems to be octagonal.

Pl. LXXXIV. The square plan below the circular building No. 8, and its elevation to the left, above the plan: here the ground-plan is square, the upper storey octagonal. A further development of this type is shown in two sketches C. A. 3a (not reproduced here), and in

Pl. LXXXVI, No. 5 (which possibly belongs to No. 7 on Pl. LXXXIV).

Pl, LXXXV, No. 4, and p. 45, Fig. 3, a Greek cross, repeated p. 45, Fig. 3, is another development of the square central plan.

The remainder of these studies show two different systems; in the first the dome rises from a square plan,—in the second from an octagonal base.

Group III.

Domes rising from a square base and four pillars. [Footnote 1: The ancient chapel San Satiro, via del Falcone, Milan, is a specimen of this type.]

a) First type. A Dome resting on four pillars in the centre of a square edifice, with an apse in the middle, of each of the four sides. We have eleven variations of this type.

aa) Pl. LXXXVIII, No. 3.

bb) Pl. LXXX, No. 5.

cc) Pl. LXXXV, Nos. 2, 3, 5.

dd) Pl. LXXXIV, No. 1 and 4 beneath.

ee) Pl. LXXXV, Nos. 1, 7, 10, 11.

b) Second type. This consists in adding aisles to the whole plan of the first type; columns are placed between the apses and the aisles; the plan thus obtained is very nearly identical with that of S. Lorenzo at Milan.

Fig. 1 on p. 56. (MS. B, 75a) shows the result of this treatment adapted to a peculiar purpose about which we shall have to say a few words later on.

Pl. XCV, No. 1, shows the same plan but with the addition of a short nave. This plan seems to have been suggested by the general arrangement of S. Sepolcro at Milan.

MS. B. 57b (see the sketch reproduced on p.51). By adding towers in the four outer angles to the last named plan, we obtain a plan which bears the general features of Bramante’s plans for S. Peter’s at Rome. [Footnote 2: See Les projets primitifs etc., Pl. 9-12.] (See p. 51 Fig. 1.)

Group IV.

Domes rising from an octagonal base.

This system, developed according to two different schemes, has given rise to two classes with many varieties.

In a) On each side of the octagon chapels of equal form are added.

In b) The chapels are dissimilar; those which terminate the principal axes being different in form from those which are added on the diagonal sides of the octagon.

a. First Class.

The Chapel “degli Angeli,” at Florence, built only to a height of about 20 feet by Brunellesco, may be considered as the prototype of this group; and, indeed it probably suggested it. The fact that we see in MS. B. 11b (Pl. XCIV, No. 3) by the side of Brunellesco’s plan for the Basilica of Sto. Spirito at Florence, a plan almost identical with that of the Capella degli Angeli, confirms this supposition. Only two small differences, or we may say improvements, have been introduced by Leonardo. Firstly the back of the chapels contains a third niche, and each angle of the Octagon a folded pilaster like those in Bramante’s Sagrestia di S. M. presso San Satiro at Milan, instead of an interval between the two pilasters as seen in the Battistero at Florence and in the Sacristy of Sto. Spirito in the same town and also in the above named chapel by Brunellesco.

The first set of sketches which come under consideration have at first sight the appearance of mere geometrical studies. They seem to have been suggested by the plan given on page 44 Fig. 2 (MS. B, 55a) in the centre of which is written “Santa Maria in perticha da Pavia”, at the place marked A on the reproduction.

a) (MS. B, 34b, page 44 Fig. 3). In the middle of each side a column is added, and in the axes of the intercolumnar spaces a second row of columns forms an aisle round the octagon. These are placed at the intersection of a system of semicircles, of which the sixteen columns on the sides of the octagon are the centres.

b) The preceding diagram is completed and becomes more monumental in style in the sketch next to it (MS. B, 35a, see p. 45 Fig. 1). An outer aisle is added by circles, having for radius the distance between the columns in the middle sides of the octagon.

c) (MS. B. 96b, see p. 45 Fig. 2). Octagon with an aisle round it; the angles of both are formed by columns. The outer sides are formed by 8 niches forming chapels. The exterior is likewise octagonal, with the angles corresponding to the centre of each of the interior chapels.

Pl. XCII, No. 2 (MS. B. 96b). Detail and modification of the preceding plan—half columns against piers—an arrangement by which the chapels of the aisle have the same width of opening as the inner arches between the half columns. Underneath this sketch the following note occurs: questo vole - avere 12 facce - co 12 tabernaculi - come - a - b. (This will have twelve sides with twelve tabernacles as a b.) In the remaining sketches of this class the octagon is not formed by columns at the angles.

The simplest type shows a niche in the middle of each side and is repeated on several sheets, viz: MS. B 3; MS. C.A. 354b (see Pl. LXXXIV, No. 11) and MS. Ash II 6b; (see Pl. LXXXV, No. 9 and the elevations No. 8; Pl. XCII, No. 3; MS. B. 4b [not reproduced here] and Pl. LXXXIV, No. 2).

Pl. XCII, 3 (MS. B, 56b) corresponds to a plan like the one in MS. B 35a, in which the niches would be visible outside or, as in the following sketch, with the addition of a niche in the middle of each chapel.

Pl. XC, No. 6. The niches themselves are surrounded by smaller niches (see also No. 1 on the same plate).

Octagon expanded on each side.

A. by a square chapel:

MS. B. 34b (not reproduced here).

B. by a square with 3 niches:

MS. B. 11b (see Pl. XCIV, No. 3).

C. by octagonal chapels:

a) MS. B, 21a; Pl. LXXXVIII, No. 4.

b) No. 2 on the same plate. Underneath there is the remark: “quest’e come le 8 cappele ano a essere facte” (this is how the eight chapels are to be executed).

c) Pl. LXXXVIII, No. 5. Elevation to the plans on the same sheet, it is accompanied by the note: “ciasscuno de’ 9 tiburi no’uole - passare l’alteza - di - 2 - quadri” (neither of the 9 domes must exceed the height of two squares).

d) Pl. LXXXVIII, No. 1. Inside of the same octagon. MS. B, 30a, and 34b; these are three repetitions of parts of the same plan with very slight variations.

D. by a circular chapel:

MS. B, 18a (see Fig. 1 on page 47) gives the plan of this arrangement in which the exterior is square on the ground floor with only four of the chapels projecting, as is explained in the next sketch.

Pl. LXXXIX, MS. B, 17b. Elevation to the preceding plan sketched on the opposite side of the sheet, and also marked A. It is accompanied by the following remark, indicating the theoretical character of these studies: questo - edifitio - anchora - starebbe - bene affarlo dalla linja - a - b - c - d - insu. (“This edifice would also produce a good effect if only the part above the lines a b, c d, were executed”).

Pl. LXXXIV, No. 11. The exterior has the form of an octagon, but the chapels project partly beyond it. On the left side of the sketch they appear larger than on the right side.

Pl. XC, No. 1, (MS. B, 25b); Repetition of Pl. LXXXIV, No. 11.

Pl. XC, No. 2. Elevation to the plan No. 1, and also to No. 6 of the same sheet.

E. By chapels formed by four niches:

Pl. LXXXIV, No. 7 (the circular plan on the left below) shows this arrangement in which the central dome has become circular inside and might therefore be classed after this group. [Footnote 1: This plan and some others of this class remind us of the plan of the Mausoleum of Augustus as it is represented for instance by Durand. See Cab. des Estampes, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, Topographie de Rome, V, 6, 82.]

The sketch on the right hand side gives most likely the elevation for the last named plan.

F. By chapels of still richer combinations, which necessitate an octagon of larger dimensions:

Pl. XCI, No. 2 (MS. Ash. 11. 8b) [Footnote 2: The note accompanying this plan is given under No. 754.]; on this plan the chapels themselves appear to be central buildings formed like the first type of the third group. Pl. LXXXVIII, No. 3.

Pl. XCI, No. 2 above; the exterior of the preceding figure, particularly interesting on account of the alternation of apses and niches, the latter containing statues of a gigantic size, in proportion to the dimension of the niches.

b. Second Class.

Composite plans of this class are generally obtained by combining two types of the first class—the one worked out on the principal axes, the other on the diagonal ones.

MS. B. 22 shows an elementary combination, without any additions on the diagonal axes, but with the dimensions of the squares on the two principal axes exceeding those of the sides of the octagon.

In the drawing W. P. 5b (see page 44 Fig. 1) the exterior only of the edifice is octagonal, the interior being formed by a circular colonnade; round chapels are placed against the four sides of the principal axes.

The elevation, drawn on the same sheet (see page 47 Fig. 3), shows the whole arrangement which is closely related with the one on Pl. LXXXVI No. 1, 2.

MS. B. 21a shows:

a) four sides with rectangular chapels crowned by pediments Pl. LXXXVII No. 3 (plan and elevation);

b) four sides with square chapels crowned by octagonal domes. Pl. LXXXVII No. 4; the plan underneath.

MS. B. 18a shows a variation obtained by replacing the round chapels in the principal axes of the sketch MS. B. l8a by square ones, with an apse. Leonardo repeated both ideas for better comparison side by side, see page 47. Fig. 2.

Pl. LXXXIX (MS. B. 17b). Elevation for the preceding figure. The comparison of the drawing marked M with the plan on page 47 Fig. 2, bearing the same mark, and of the elevation on Pl. LXXXIX below (marked A) with the corresponding plan on page 47 is highly instructive, as illustrating the spirit in which Leonardo pursued these studies.

Pl. LXXXIV No. 12 shows the design Pl. LXXXVII No. 3 combined with apses, with the addition of round chapels on the diagonal sides.

Pl. LXXXIV No. 13 is a variation of the preceding sketch.

Pl. XC No. 3. MS. B. 25b. The round chapels of the preceding sketch are replaced by octagonal chapels, above which rise campaniles.

Pl. XC No. 4 is the elevation for the preceding plan.

Pl. XCII No. 1. (MS. B. 39b.); the plan below. On the principal as well as on the diagonal axes are diagonal chapels, but the latter are separated from the dome by semicircular recesses. The communication between these eight chapels forms a square aisle round the central dome.

Above this figure is the elevation, showing four campaniles on the angles. [Footnote 1: The note accompanying this drawing is reproduced under No. 753.]

Pl. LXXXIV No. 3. On the principal axes are square chapels with three niches; on the diagonals octagonal chapels with niches. Cod. Atl. 340b gives a somewhat similar arrangement.

MS. B. 30. The principal development is thrown on the diagonal axes by square chapels with three niches; on the principal axes are inner recesses communicating with outer ones.

The plan Pl. XCIII No. 2 (MS. B. 22) differs from this only in so far as the outer semicircles have become circular chapels, projecting from the external square as apses; one of them serves as the entrance by a semicircular portico.

The elevation is drawn on the left side of the plan.

MS. B. 19. A further development of MS. B. 18, by employing for the four principal chapels the type Pl. LXXXVIII No. 3, as we have already seen in Pl. XCI No. 2; the exterior presents two varieties.

a) The outer contour follows the inner. [Footnote 2: These chapels are here sketched in two different sizes; it is the smaller type which is thus formed.]

b) It is semicircular.

Pl. LXXXVII No. 2 (MS. B. 18b) Elevation to the first variation MS. B. 19. If we were not certain that this sketch was by Leonardo, we might feel tempted to take it as a study by Bramante for St. Peter’s at Rome. [Footnote 3: See Les projets primitifs Pl. 43.]

MS. P. V. 39b. In the principal axes the chapels of MS. B. 19, and semicircular niches on the diagonals. The exterior of the whole edifice is also an octagon, concealing the form of the interior chapels, but with its angles on their axes.

Group V.

Suggested by San Lorenzo at Milan.

In MS. C. A. 266 IIb, 8l2b there is a plan almost identical with that of San Lorenzo. The diagonal sides of the irregular octagon are not indicated.

If it could be proved that the arches which, in the actual church, exist on these sides in the first story, were added in 1574 by Martimo Bassi, then this plan and the following section would be still nearer the original state of San Lorenzo than at present. A reproduction of this slightly sketched plan has not been possible. It may however be understood from Pl. LXXXVIII No. 3, by suppressing the four pillars corresponding to the apses.

Pl. LXXXVII No. 1 shows the section in elevation corresponding with the above-named plan. The recessed chapels are decorated with large shells in the halfdomes like the arrangement in San Lorenzo, but with proportions like those of Bramante’s Sacristy of Santa Maria presso S. Satiro.

MS. C. A. 266; a sheet containing three views of exteriors of Domes. On the same sheet there is a plan similar to the one above-named but with uninterrupted aisles and with the addition of round chapels in the axes (compare Pl. XCVII No. 3 and page 44 Fig. 1), perhaps a reminiscence of the two chapels annexed to San Lorenzo.—Leonardo has here sketched the way of transforming this plan into a Latin cross by means of a nave with side aisles.

Pl. XCI No. 1. Plan showing a type deprived of aisles and comprised in a square building which is surrounded by a portico. It is accompanied by the following text:

Taken from The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci edited by Jean Paul Richter, 1880.

Notebooks of Leonoardo da Vinci
XII: Architectural Designs.
. . .
On the proportions of a court yard.
On the dispositions of a stable.
Decorations for feasts.
. . .