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February 25, 2013

Leonardo and the Birth of Urban Sketching

While Urban Sketchers started in 2007, sketching itself is as old as the hills. The Tuscan hills, that is. 

Recently, when reading the new book Leonardo and the Last Supper, by Ross King, I was stuck by a passage that described a drawing that da Vinci made when he was just twenty one years old. The drawing is of the Arno Valley outside Florence, and it is speculated that he drew it as a study for a background to a painting that he was entrusted to do for the artist Verrochio, of whom he was a pupil. 

King states, "The drawing is celebrated as the first landscape in Western art; the first time that someone regarded the features of the natural world, devoid of human presence, worthy of reproduction."

Leonardo was most certainly an artist who worked from observation over imagination. "The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding," he once said. His anatomy drawings from dissected carcasses are well known. 

Many urban sketchers will certainly relate to another passage from the book:

"Leonardo carefully dated his sketch: "The Day of Our Lady of Sorrows, 2 August 1473." On the reverse of the paper he wrote "Sono chotento" (I am happy).

He was the first of many happy sketchers to come.


lain said...

Interesting fact.
Thank you!

Marina Grechanik said...

Really inspiring! "Sono chotento" could be USk's second motto, sure that's what all of urban sketchers feel when they sketch!

Wool Moth said...

At twenty, after 6 years of studying he was already "master of art" and a member of painters guild.
First landscape art (landscape and cityscape without humans) is dated 1 B.C. -1 A.D. and was found in Pompeii (so called second style, wall paintings included fantastic architecture and illusionary architecture with illusion of perspective).

miked said...

Beautiful information.
Made me happy just reading it.

Schizzinosa said...

Great story. I love how Leonardo gives the depth of field. Anyway "chontento" has two "n" (today we omit the "h" so it will be: "contento"). I read that the rest of Leonardo's note is difficult to interpret, since has no meaning in italian now (“Io morando dant sono chontento…”), but there is no doubt that drawing makes everybody happy!

VHein said...

A really beautiful and inspiring post, Fred! And as we sketchers know, there is an undeniable link between observation and imagination.