Francesca Fiorani, University of Virginia
Leonardo da Vinci and Cortona: Wetlands, Mapping, and the Art of Painting in Renaissance Italy
In the early sixteenth century Leonardo da Vinci made a spectacular map of the Tuscan countryside that features Cortona prominently—just a bit off center, towards the right. Far from casual, Cortona’s position offers insights on the ecclesiastical and political context of Leonardo’s map.
The lecture starts with an examination of the map’s visual language in the context of Renaissance geography. Then it reconsiders the map’s scope, which is traditionally related to Cesare Borgia’s military campaigns or a never-realized project to drain the valley’s malarian marshes. But taking into account Cortona’s prominent position within the map, the lecture addresses also the role Cortona’s bishopric played in the power struggle between Rome and Florence. The lecture concludes with a new evaluation of wetlands—including those around Cortona— within Leonardo’s art theory. Even though military campaigns, draining projects, or even power struggles between may have been at the origin of Leonardo’s map, it was the wetland landscape itself that stayed with artist for years to come and that came to play a foundational role in his art and thought.
Francesca Fiorani is a professor of art history at the University of Virginia. An expert on Renaissance art and the application of computer technology to the humanities, she designed the digital platform Leonardo da Vinci and His Treatise on Painting. She is the author of The Marvel of Maps: Art, Cartography, and Politics in Renaissance Italy (Yale UP, 2005) and The Shadow Drawing: How Science Taught Leonardo How to Paint (New York, 2020; paperback May 2022).