Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Deluge

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
A Deluge, with a Falling Mountain and Collapsing Town (c. 1515),
Black chalk,
Royal Library, Windsor, (12378)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
A Deluge, Formalized (c. 1515),
Black chalk, pen and ink,
Royal Library, Windsor, (12380)

A series of sixteen drawings held in the Royal Library at Windsor composed in the latter years of Leonardo da Vinci’s life (1452-1519) depict the Deluge.

Torrid, fierce, uncontrollable nature consumes human and animal forms, and trees and buildings

Under the heading ‘The Deluge and its demonstration in painting’, Leonardo da Vinci composed an extended description of considerable power. It begins:

"Let the dark and gloomy air be shown battered by the rush of contrary and convoluted winds, mixed with the weight of the incessant rain and bearing hither and thither numberless branches rent from trees and mingled with numberless leaves . . . The ruins of mountains may be seen, already scoured by the racing of the rivers, collapsing above these rivers and blocking the valleys; the pent up rivers burst forth and inundate many lands and their inhabitants . . .Let the biggest of [the waves] strike and demolish the cities and country residences of that valley. And let the disintegration of the high buildings of the said cities raise much dust which will rise up like smoke or wreathed clouds through the descending rain …."(W.12665v).

Again he writes:

"O how many might be seen closing their eyes with their hands to block out the immense rumbles made in the lowering air by the fury of the winds mingled with rain, the thunder of the heavens and the fury of the thunderbolts; others, finding it is not enough to shut their eyes, laid their hands one over the other to cover them more closely so as not to see the cruel slaughter made on the human species by the wrath of God. O how many lamentations and how many flung themselves from the rocks in terror! " (W.12665v).

Was it simply the Biblical Deluge that Leonardo had in mind ? Commentators say that the evidence is that Leonardo was neutral on whether the Deluge had happened as historical fact. There is evidence that he was sceptical.

But it is certain that he had witnessed personally "prodigies" of weather. He hotes that he had observed a ‘cloud shaped like a huge mountain’ over Milan which caused a ‘stupendous storm of wind`, and a ‘hollow column of air’ which excavated considerable quantities of stones, sand and seaweed.

His description of a tornado gives a good idea of the tone of these accounts:

`I have seen motions of air so furious that they have gathered up and mingled in their course the largest trees of the forests and whole roofs of great palaces, and this same fury made a hollow opening with its vortex motion and excavated a gravel pit and transported gravel, sand and water more than half a mile through the air’