Architectural projects and works

Architectural projects and works

Leonardo was frequently called upon to act as consultant for initiatives promoted by the Florentine Signoria; only rarely, instead, did he work as designer for the Medici family. He drew up numerous projects for remodelling the city according to the ideal canons formulated in the 15th century. Among these were the proposal to raise the Baptistry on steps, extraordinary projects for channeling on different levels and a geometric rearrangement of the urban grid.

  • The elevation of the monument, imagined by Leonardo, actually had precedents: a few years earlier, in 1455, the Bolognese engineer and architect Aristotile Fioravanti had successfully moved a tower in Bologna. Fiorovanti had also worked for some of Leonardo's friends and clients. Leonardo's project called for raising the Baptistery on four steps, as can be seen in a drawing attributed to Francesco Granacci (now in the Uffizi Cabinet of Drawings and Prints) and in two replicas of the Baptistery published in the Discorsi [Discourses] of Vincenzo Borghini.

  • As is evident from several drawings and sketches, the Cathedral of Florence, and Brunelleschi's Dome in particular, were fundamental to Leonard's formation especially as regards knowledge of the principles of church architecture and the operation of construction site machines.

  • In 1515 Pope Leo X stayed in Florence: the city held extraordinary festivities in his honour. Some of the greatest artists of the time collaborated on the scenography and organisation of the event. At this time there arose the idea of rearranging the section of Florence between Piazza San Marco and Piazza San Lorenzo. Leonardo worked on a project consisting of several parts, including the following initiatives: constructing a Medici Palace, opposite that of Cosimo the Elder; demolishing the Church of San Giovannino and rebuilding it in front of the new Medici Palace; providing a facade for San Lorenzo and enlarging the square in front of it; a new arrangement of the San Marco area.

  • Returning to Florence in the year 1500, Leonardo was consulted in regard to the new bell tower of San Miniato and the static problems of the church of San Salvatore al Monte. In the Strozzi Papers in the Florence State Archive we can read the opinion of Leonardo. In the Codex Arundel, Leonardo had been concerned with the breakage of the walls and their repair. In regard to the lantern on the Milan Cathedral, he had already noted in the Codex Atlanticus the similarity between the physician and the architect: Leonardo considered buildings, in fact, to be living organisms having need, when "ill", of an "architect/physician".

  • Just outside Florence, along Via Santa Margherita a Montici, we find what was the Villa Tovaglia. On August 11, 1500 Francesco Malatesta sent from Florence to Francesco II Gonzaga, at the latter's request, a drawing of the villa done by Leonardo, as a project for replicating it. In effect, the architecture of this building complex, in spite of the discontinuity due to remodelling and additions, is remarkable. It is interesting to note that Bartolomeo del Tovaglia was one of the bankers recorded by Leonardo in a memorandum in the Codex Atlanticus as one of his correspondents from France and Flanders.