Rediscovered Stories: Science and Soul in Sketched Figures

by Catherine D’Andrea

According to Leonardo Da Vinci, force is “a spiritual power, incorporeal and invisible, which with brief life is produced”1. Though just a partial sketch, “Figures to Represent Labor” demonstrates the artist’s understanding of force and anatomy, mass and gravity, vectors and torque. It is not complete and was abandoned mid-deed. It survives without context or connection, and little has been written about it. Yet, the sketch captures a motion in stillness, which reveals an intention of soul and of humanity itself. Five centuries later these figures continue to provoke thought and imagination.

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) was a pivotal figure in civilization, illuminating humanity by uncovering aspects of existence at the root of life. Best known for iconic masterpieces such as the Last Supper, Vitruvian Man, and the Mona Lisa, Leonardo immersed himself in sculpture, architecture, engineering, botany, and anatomy, as well as drawing and painting. A careful observer of the laws of science and nature, he sought to explore, understand, and reveal underlying structures and forces at work in the world around him. The numerous significant achievements by Leonardo in both sciences and the arts are remarkable. He is most exceptional for his ability to integrate the disciplines. 

The paintings of Leonardo are evidence that his work in one arena is informed and enhanced by his studies in the others. They provide clear demonstrations of logic, geometry, time, place, and action, and portray both individuality and universality. It was his view that man should continue the work and creation of nature, not simply repeat its forms2. He believed that “a good painter has two chief objects to paint, man and the intention of his soul; the former is easy, the latter hard… because he has to represent it by the attitudes and movements of the limbs”1. Leonardo considered his paintings “the summation of knowledge,” and drawing was a means to this end3.



1. McCurdy, Edward. The Mind of Leonardo Da Vinci. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1928. 285. Dover edition. Web. 11 Feb. 2005

2. Brizio, Anna Maria.  “The Painter.”  The Unknown Leonardo.  Ed. Ladislao Reti.  New York: Abradale Press, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1990.  20-55.

3. Wasserman, Jack.  Leonardo Da Vinci.  New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1984.