Anonimo Magliabechiano

Excerpts of the manuscript with all mentions of Leonardo da Vinci

Nothing is known about the author of this biography. This very short Leonardo biography is part of a 128-page manuscript containing other Italian artists' biographies. The manuscript is today also called Codex Magliabechiano or Codex Gaddiano after its former owners Antonio Magliabechi and Niccolò Gaddi. Accordingly, the names of the author are given as Anonimo Magliabechiano and Anonimo Gaddiano, respectively.
In older books on Leonardo da Vinci, the presumed patron of the artist's biographies, the Florentine merchant Antonio Billi, continues to be named as the author. He was the first known owner of the manuscript. Whether he was also the author is unknown. The date of composition of the work can be roughly placed between 1542 and 1548.
The text appears very disorganized. Nevertheless, it is often used to prove authorship of Leonardo paintings, including the portrait of Ginevra de' Benci.
It cannot be ruled out that the Leonardo biographer Giorgio Vasari himself is the author, since there are many similarities to his main work, The Lives of the Best Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors from Cimabue to the Present. Thus, the manuscript could be a preliminary work. Due to the similarity of the content of the passages, it is at least likely that Vasari knew this manuscript and incorporated it into his work.

The Codex Magliabechiano also reports on the life of Michelangelo. The passages in which Leonardo is mentioned are also listed here.

The life of Leonardo da Vinci

The original text from 1545


Leonardo da Vinci, a citizen of Florence, was born out of wedlock as the son of Ser Piero da Vinci, but was descended from good blood on his mother's side.

Leonardo's interests and character

He was so extraordinary and versatile that it seems as if nature had performed a miracle in creating him; and not only because of his physical beauty, but also because of the multiple gifts it bestowed upon him and in which it made him a master. Highly gifted in mathematics and no less in the science of perspective, he far surpassed all others in sculpture and drawing. He was very inventive in fine compositions, but executed little in colors, because he was hardly ever satisfied with his work; hence we possess few works by his hand. He was a brilliant orator, an excellent lute player and the master of Atalante Migliorotti. He was much and passionately occupied with botany and was well versed in artillery, aqueducts, and other fantastic inventions; his mind never rested, but was ceaselessly occupied in making ever new ingenious inventions.

Leonardo's locations

As a young man he was a protégé of Lorenzo de' Medici, called the Magnifico, and was allowed to work in the garden of his palace in Piazza S. Marco in Florence. When he was 30 years old, the Magnifico sent him, along with Atalante Migliorotti, to the Duke of Milan to give him a lute, an instrument that Leonardo himself could play masterfully.

However, he later returned to Florence for some time; but then, while busy with a painting in the great council chamber, he suddenly left - either because he felt insulted or because he had some other reason for his displeasure - and went back to Milan, where he served the Duke for several years.

After that he was in the service of Cesare Borgia and was also in France in several places. At this point he returned to Milan. While he was busy casting the bronze equestrian monument, a coup d'état in the Duchy of Milan caused him to return to Florence; there he stayed for six months in via Martelli with the sculptor Gian Francesco Rustici.

Again he returned to Milan and finally went to France and to the service of King Francis I. He took a large number of his drawings with him, leaving others in the monastery of Santa Maria Nuova, along with his household goods and most of the drawing for the painting of the Sala del Consiglio, of which the cordon of a group of knights in the palazzo can still be seen.

Leonardo's death

He died at the age of 72 near Amboise, a town in France, at a place called Cloux, where he had had his last residence.

Leonardo's Testament

In his will he left everything to Messer Francesco da Melzi, a Milanese nobleman, all his money and clothes, his paintings, manuscripts and drawings, his instruments, his treatises on painting and art and technique and whatever else there was, and made him his executor.
To his servant Battista Villani he left half of a garden on the outskirts of Milan;
the other half of this property he bequeathed to his disciple Salai.
To his brothers he left 400 ducats, which were his assets in the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova; after his death, however, only 300 ducats were found there.

Leonardo's pupil

He had many pupils, including Salai da Milano, Zoroastro da Peretola, the Florentine Riccio della Porta alla Croce and the Spaniard Ferrando (de Llanos), who was his assistant when he painted in the Town Hall.

Leonardo's works

  • In Florence, he painted from nature the portrait of Ginevra d'Amerigo Benci, so well executed that it appeared not as a portrait, but as Ginevra herself.
  • He painted a Madonna, on a wooden panel, an excellent image.
  • He also painted a Saint John.
  • He painted a watercolor of Adam and Eve, which today hangs in the house of Ottaviano de' Medici.
  • He made a portrait based on the nature of Piero Francesco del Giocondo.
  • He painted a head of Medusa intertwined with a tangle of surprising and strange snakes; this work is now in the art cabinet of the famous Duke Cosimo de' Medici.
  • From part of the caricature, he painted the scene of the war in which Niccolò Piccinino, the condottiere of the Duke of Milan, is attacked by the Florentines, in the great council chamber of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence; Leonardo began the work in the place where it can still be seen today, varnished.
  • He began a painting on wood, also in Palazzo Vecchio, which was then completed by Filippino Lippi according to his design.
  • He painted an altarpiece for Ludovico, the ruler of Milan, and all who have seen the painting declare it to be one of the most beautiful and unusual works to be found in painting; it was sent by said Duke to the Emperor in Germany.
  • In Milan he also painted a Last Supper, a masterpiece.
  • And also in Milan he made a horse of monumental size and on it the figure of Duke Francesco Sforza, a very beautiful work that was to be cast in bronze, but which was generally considered impracticable, especially since he had planned to cast the whole in one piece; this work was never completed.
  • He made innumerable drawings, magnificent things,
  • including a Madonna with St. Anne,
  • a work that went to France;
  • and many anatomical studies, which he drew at the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence.

The life of Michelangelo

The original text from 1545, excerpt with the mention of Leonardo da Vinci

Battle of Anghiari

Leonardo was a contemporary of Michelangelo. He applied a recipe from Pliny to color the stucco, but he did not succeed. The first time he had used it was on a painting in the Pope's room. [...] He lit a large coal fire, in which he scraped and dried the surface by the great heat of the coals. And then he put it in the hall, where from below the fire was added, and dried it there too. But up there, the great distance did not provide heat, and the paint fell off again.

Leonardo and Michelangelo

He was of handsome, harmonious and graceful figure, and handsome. He wore a rose-colored robe, short to the knee, although long dresses were worn at that time.
(Era di bella persona, proportionata, gratiata et bello aspetto. Portaua un pitoccho rosato, corto sino al ginocchio, che allora s'usauano i vestiri lunghi.)

He had beautiful curly hair that went down to the middle of his chest. And when Lionardo and Giouanni da Gauine from Santa Trinità passed by the bench of the Spini, where there was a gathering of good men and where a passage from Dante was being discussed, they called Lionardo and told him to explain this passage to them. And when Michelangelo happened to pass by and was called by one of them, Lionardo replied, "Michelangelo will declare it himself." Michelangelo, thinking that he had said this to mock him, replied angrily, "You too should be able to explain it, for you made a drawing of a model to cast it in bronze, and could not cast it, and out of shame left it alone." And having said this, he cut them off and left, whereupon Leonardo remained, blushing because of the said words.