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Treasured manuscript with da Vinci drawings unveiled in Geneva

In commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, the Geneva Library has made a late 15th-century manuscript with drawings attributed to the artist available to the public for the first time. It will then head to Rome where it will be on loan at the Scuderie del Quirinale.

On March 1-2, the Geneva Library welcomes the public for a unique viewing of De Divina Proportione, a treatise on mathematics written by Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan monk and mathematician. Dated 1498, the manuscript includes 60 geometric figures on full pages that Pacioli attributed to da Vinci. Pacioli and da Vinci met and became friends in Milan in 1496 while Pacioli was teaching mathematics.

The manuscript joined the library collection in 1756 by a bequest from Ami Lullin, a Geneva theologian, who has contributed a number of the library’s most valuable treasures. A major restoration work was carried out on the manuscript between 1992 and 1996.

Although the name of Leonardo da Vinci appears in the treatise De Divina Proportione, the attribution of the geometric figures to the famous artist is controversial. The treatise states that the images were drawn “according to the principle of Leonardo da Vinci”.

Not everyone is convinced that these are the drawings of da Vinci though. Mauro Natale, an honorary professor at the University of Geneva, told Swiss public television RTS, “I personally do not believe that Leonardo’s hand can be found either in the Geneva copy or in the copy that is, it must be said, more neatly kept in the Milanese library”.

“But these are subjects that are open to questions: experts say the opposite. And so all this has fortunately remained ambiguous. At the same time, the Geneva object is indeed very rare, and its quality must be appreciated.”

In an interview with Keystone-ATS, Nicolas Schaetti, head of the heritage collections at the Geneva Library, explained that “the text itself indicates that Leonardo da Vinci participated in the design of this treatise.” However, it is not clear whether the most famous Renaissance painter and inventor actually traced these figures, or whether he only guided their execution.

A scientific roundtable took place on Friday and the manuscript will be available for viewing by the public from 10am to 4pm on Saturday. The manuscript will then leave for Scuderie del Quirinale where it will be part of a large exhibition to commemorate 500 years since da Vinci’s death from March 13 to July 28.