"Art is the queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world." 

Where exactly does this Leonardo Da Vinci quote come from? Was it part of a larger paragraph - if so what was it? And what exactly does it mean?

[Someone asked a similar question on Yahoo but the answers were of no great use.]


Thank you everyone for your contributions. In the answer of Pieter Geerkens The DaVinci Globe is mentioned where on pg. 120, indeed, the author uses this quote. But, according to its footnote (6), the quote comes from Nora Hamerman, “Leonardo da Vinci and The Scientific Revolution of Renaissance Visual Arts,” in Fidelio, Volume 2, Number 4, Winter 1993, pg. 30-42. But reading this entire article I do not see the Leonardo Da Vinci quote or anything resembling it in the slightest.

I cannot see any way to contact the author Stefaan Missinne regarding this anomaly.

  • Generally you should limit questions to asking one thing. Where it's from and What it means might be better if separated. – user32121 Feb 20 '19 at 19:07

It is paraphrased from the collection A Treatise on Painting (Trattato della pittura), §3 [ page 4 of the following 1890 edition of the cod.Vaticano Urbinate 1270]. It can be understood as:

Quale scienza è piú utile, ed in che consiste la sua utilità.

Which science is the most useful, and in what consists its usefulness.

The original text reads:

Quella scienza è piú utile della quale il frutto è piú comunicabile, e cosí per contrario è meno utile quella ch'è meno comunicabile. La pittura ha il suo fine comunicabile a tutte le generazioni dell'universo, perché il suo fine è subietto della virtú visiva, e non passa per l'orecchio al senso comune col medesimo modo che vi passa per il vedere.

That science is the most useful of which the fruit is most communicable, and so, on the contrary, that which is least communicable is less useful. Painting has its end that can be communicated to all generations of the universe [...]

  • Outstanding find! – Johan88 May 26 at 12:11
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    @Johan88 - Thanks ! – Mauro ALLEGRANZA May 26 at 12:12
  • It is a nice find. However: "it" is not 'a quote', but a paraphrase at best. / Could you elaborate on the different versions of that treatise? I mentioned it below, compared multiple translations in different languages, and while Angelo Borzelli/Carabba editore, 1947 has the version here, the English language version in my A is completely different? (Such info seems missing on WP) – LаngLаngС May 26 at 13:01
  • @LаngLаngС - not clear... Different English versions of the same original Italian text: it is possible. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA May 26 at 13:13
  • Italian first words translated: "Parte prima: Science is said to be that mental discourse which has its origin in its ultimate principles,] English: "Chap. I.—What the young Student in Painting ought in the first Place to learn." German: "The method by which young people should be taught to paint" German version gives a hint at mangled chapters – LаngLаngС May 26 at 13:22

According to The Da Vinci Globe (info here) the comment was made during reflection on Leonardo's study of how to accurately render surveyed maps onto a (nearly) spherical surface as a globe.

If we can trust the translator, which seems reasonable from there being only a single common rendition of the quote, then the two key words would seem to be art and queen.

Combining various dictionary definitions for art leads me to a phrase such as creative visual representation for meaning in this context. Leonardo appears to be suggesting that the pinnacle of expression for one's scientific knowledge is the ability to meaningfully render it visually to the world.

Similarly one might ask "Why 'queen' rather than 'king'?", for which the only sensible explanation would seem to lie in the traditional distinction between the masculine and the feminine. In this case I believe the distinction is between 'conversion' and 'command', of true understanding rather than simply rote repetition.

The phrase then renders, a bit more clearly if less elegantly, as something like:

[Creative visual representation] is the [best means of conveying one's full understanding] of all sciences[:] communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.

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    Italian nouns have genders, and the Italian word for Art is feminine, so one would think most likely he just thought the metaphor would work better if extended to another feminine term. – T.E.D. Feb 20 '19 at 18:55
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    Objection. Have you followed up that footnote to Fidelio/Hamerman? archive.schillerinstitute.com/fidelio_archive/1993/… – LаngLаngС Feb 20 '19 at 19:14
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    @T.E.D. That's odd. In Spanish, which is closely related and also has gendered nouns, art is masculine. I wonder where that diverged. – Mason Wheeler Feb 20 '19 at 21:47
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    Also, I'd be happy to check the translation if we ever figure out what the original source. And in Italian, saying art is king sounds very unnatural. Italian has grammatical gender, English has not. There's a big difference. The original scans of Leonardo's notebook can be found here but are, alas, not easily searchable. – Denis Nardin Feb 20 '19 at 21:54
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    @MasonWheeler In Spanish, el arte is theoretically feminine, the seemingly masculine el just a trick to ease pronunciation (to avoid double stressed a). In plural it's feminine las artes. It's exactly the same story as with el agua, esta agua, las aguas. – kubanczyk Feb 20 '19 at 23:33

This is most probably a made up quote.

Checking later editions was unfruitful, but Leonardo is so long out of these filthy copyright laws, we might as well look at J.P. Richter: "Leonardo. The Complete Works", 1888; found on Wikipedia: The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. What is in there that has some semblance to the desired quote?

Justice requires power, insight, and will; and it resembles the queen-bee.

The mirror conducts itself haughtily holding mirrored in itself the Queen. When she departs the mirror remains there ...

Instrumental or mechanical science is of all the noblest and the most useful, seeing that by means of this all animated bodies that have movement perform all their actions; and these movements are based on the centre of gravity which is placed in the middle dividing unequal weights, and it has dearth and wealth of muscles and also lever and counterlever.

Science is the captain, and practice the soldiers.

PRIDE. The falcon, by reason of its haughtiness and pride, is fain to lord it and rule over all the other birds of prey, and longs to be sole and supreme; and very often the falcon has been seen to assault the eagle, the Queen of birds.

Oh! speculators on perpetual motion how many vain projects of the like character you have created! Go and be the companions of the searchers for gold. [Footnote: Another short passage in MS. I, referring also to speculators, is given by LIBRI (Hist, des Sciences math. III, 228): Sicche voi speculatori non vi fidate delli autori che anno sol col immaginatione voluto farsi interpreti tra la natura e l'omo, ma sol di quelli che non coi cienni della natura, ma cogli effetti delle sue esperienze anno esercitati i loro ingegni.]

If it really exists in some form, it would be in his treatise on painting. An old news magazine attributes a variant with specifically "painting" to originate in this posthumous work. But no version comes near the quote in question. If you look at the original Trattato della pittura you might get something like:

  1. Se la pittura è scienza o no. Scienza è detto quel discorso mentale il quale ha origine da' suoi ultimi principî, de' quali in natura null'altra cosa si può trovare che sia parte di essa scienza, come nella quantità continua, cioè la scienza di geometria, la quale, cominciando dalla superficie de' corpi, si trova avere origine nella linea, termine di essa superficie; ed in questo non restiamo satisfatti, perché noi conosciamo la linea aver termine nel punto, ed il punto esser quello del quale null'altra cosa può esser minore. Adunque il punto è il primo principio della geometria; e niuna altra cosa può essere né in natura, né in mente umana, che possa dare principio al punto. Perché se tu dirai nel contatto fatto sopra una superficie da un'ultima acuità della punta dello stile, quello essere creazione del punto, questo non è vero; ma diremo questo tale contatto essere una superficie che circonda il suo mezzo, ed in esso mezzo è la residenza del punto, e tal punto non è della materia di essa superficie, né lui, né tutti i punti dell'universo sono in potenza ancorché sieno uniti, né, dato che si potessero unire, comporrebbero parte alcuna d'una superficie. E dato che tu t'immaginassi un tutto essere composto da mille punti, qui dividendo alcuna parte da essa quantità di mille, si può dire molto bene che tal parte sia eguale al suo tutto. E questo si prova con lo zero ovver nulla, cioè la decima figura dell'aritmetica, per la quale si figura un O per esso nullo; il quale, posto dopo la unità, le farà dire dieci, e se ne porrai due dopo tale unità, dirà cento, e cosí infinitamente crescerà sempre dieci volte il numero dov'esso si aggiunge; e lui in sé non vale altro che nulla, e tutti i nulli dell'universo sono eguali ad un sol nulla in quanto alla loro sostanza e valore. Nessuna umana investigazione si può dimandare vera scienza, se essa non passa per le matematiche dimostrazioni; e se tu dirai che le scienze, che principiano e finiscono nella mente, abbiano verità, questo non si concede, ma si nega per molte ragioni; e prima, che in tali discorsi mentali non accade esperienza, senza la quale nulla dà di sé certezza.
  2. Esempio e differenza tra pittura e poesia. Tal proporzione è dalla immaginazione all'effetto, qual è dall'ombra al corpo ombroso, e la medesima proporzione è dalla poesia alla pittura, perché la poesia pone le sue cose nella immaginazione di lettere, e la pittura le dà realmente fuori dell'occhio, dal quale occhio riceve le similitudini, non altrimenti che s'elle fossero naturali, e la poesia le dà senza essa similitudine, e non passano all'impressiva per la via della virtú visiva come la pittura.
    English translation here.

We'd have to look for something like La filosofia, regina delle scienze or more 'motivational internet meme'? Like "L'arte è la regina di tutte le scienze e comunica il sapere a tutte le generazioni del mondo"?

As this is a "really nice" quote and all over the net, we have to look for an exact quote with sources. Those are always absent. Rule of thumb: if a quote on the net doesn't give the exact location to look it up for yourself, it is a lie.

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    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it's so hard to determine if the person really said that." -- Abraham Lincoln – Mason Wheeler Feb 20 '19 at 21:49
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    What makes me most suspicious is that there are very few instances on the internet of the quote in Italian, and they all seem to be retranslations from the English quote. Of course it wouldn't be the first quote to be more famous in translation than in original but one can't help but be skeptical – Denis Nardin Feb 20 '19 at 22:36
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    @MasonWheeler Please give the source of that quote. – Johan88 Feb 21 '19 at 1:35

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