While Leonardo da Vinci’s name is synonymous with “artist,” he’s seldom associated with the word “illustrator.” And yet, he was. Perhaps it’s another reason to consider him a “Renaissance man”. In the late 1490’s when Leonardo was living and working in Milan in the court of Duke Lodovico Sforza, he created ink and watercolor illustrations for a book by Luca Pacioli entitled De Divina Proportione (On Divine Proportion). Pacioli, also working for the duke, was a Franciscan friar and mathematician and together they created a book about mathematical and artistic proportion, a topic that Pacioli and da Vinci shared great interest in.
For De Divina Proportione, Leonardo created 60 drawings of polyhedrons, seen as solid forms in perspective. The complex images speak well for the artist’s reputation as a visual genius. His drawings were translated into woodblock prints for the book’s publication in Venice, in 1509. Only two copies of the original text survive.
At the time that Leonardo da Vinci created his illustrations, he was working on another commission as well, and that one would become far better known: The Last Supper. In that painting, created for the wall of a refectory of a Dominican convent (Santa Maria delle Grazie), the artist also addresses precise proportion, this time in a dramatic one-point perspective leading to Christ’s head.
Further Further Observation
The famous “M” logo for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is taken from De Divina Proportione.