This paper considers Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of water, specifically those that depict how one might travel under and through water, through the vexing problem of picturing knowledge. He drew
This paper considers Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of water, specifically those that depict how one might travel under and through water, through the vexing problem of picturing knowledge. He drew figures fitted with masks to breathe under water and others fitted with flotation devices to walk across its surface. These proto-scuba divers and walkers on water offer the promise—or at least the potential—for gaining a new kind of access to water’s depths. These drawings reveal Leonardo’s serious inquiry into their invention. The devices are not merely whimsical inventions, but invite comparison with Leonardo’s deepest concerns about the observable world. These mechanisms open up ways for thinking about Leonardo’s preoccupation with a phenomenological investigation of the water environment—after all, what is scuba gear but a means for experiencing fully one’s senses under water?—and by extension, its picturing. These drawings pinpoint where technological challenges abut the difficulty of accounting for and depicting water’s ever-changing form.
Leslie Geddes is Assistant Professor in the Newcomb Art Department at Tulane University in New Orleans. She received her Ph.D. in the history of art from Princeton University in 2014. An art historian, she specializes in Italian Renaissance art and architecture. Her research focuses on how early modern architects and engineers studied and depicted the natural landscape, specifically attending to the use of drawing in the production of knowledge. Her book project, “Watermarks: Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance Mastery of Nature”, analyzes the subject of water in art in conjunction with the practical undertakings of hydraulic engineering.
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