“Armenian Letters” by Leonardo da Vinci

Moscow poet Ashot Sagradyan, a translator of Kostan Zaryan’s works into Russian, wrote: “I don’t remember under what circumstances, but somehow a conversation about Leonardo da Vinci came up. Kostan Khristoforovich said that he held his “Atlantic Book” in his hands, that he even read it, holding it in front of a mirror. Leonardo was left-handed, and it seems, it was more convenient for him to write with his left hand. However, if you look closely, all the lines in his drawings also go from left to right.

— And what did you find there? — I asked.

— That two years, supposedly missing from his biography, Leonardo spent in Armenia, in the Taron region, and even described the flood that occurred there. And moreover, and this is probably the most important thing, Leonardo brought the dome principle of architecture from Armenia to Basilic Europe, giving a rapid push to all European temple architecture.”

Armenian writer Kostan Zaryan (1885-1969) became interested in the topic of Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519) journey to Armenia in the 1920s. In 1944 he gave a lecture in Boston, in 1952-1954 — a series of lectures at the American University of Beirut. In 1967, Kostan Zaryan’s article about Leonardo da Vinci, which was republished in the collection “Navatomar” edited by Yuri Khachatryan in 1999, was published in the magazine “Sovetakan Arvest”. The Armenian Museum in Moscow publishes this study by the outstanding writer with minor reductions.

Kostan Zaryan. Photo: avproduction.am

Leonardo da Vinci is recognized as the most integral personality of the Renaissance era. Despite numerous works that have survived to our day, he remains the most mysterious, enigmatic man of his century. It seems that he is well known, thanks to his paintings, manuscripts, thousands of subsequent studies, yet at every step he eludes us, like the inscrutable smile on the lips of his Mona Lisa.

Historians, researchers can never be sure of their conclusions about him. The assessment of his paintings, the very fact of their authenticity have been the subject of dispute for many years. His drawings, which have been mentioned so many times, have completely disappeared or have been spoiled by improper storage. His sculptures have been lost or destroyed. The canals he built, the walls he erected have been forgotten and are not even mentioned. About his numerous journeys, no one really knows anything.

Leonardo da Vinci, truly an enigmatic man.

And so a curious question arises for us: did Leonardo visit Armenia, as he himself asserts? A number of historians who studied the issue – Richter, McCurdy, Strzygowski, Clemente Fuzaro – have no doubt about this. Others, mainly Italians, not being entirely impartial, categorically deny the fact of the journey, considering it among Leonardo’s other artistic fabrications.

Before trying to answer the question ourselves, we need to turn to the fate of the artist’s manuscripts.

Such a serious and trustworthy witness as the secretary of Cardinal Aragon, Antonio de Beatis, reports that when he visited the artist in Cloux, he saw an innumerable number of volumes with records in the vernacular. Leonardo himself speaks of 120 of his notebooks, of which, unfortunately, only half have reached us, and not even in perfect condition.

Francesco Melzi, to whom Leonardo bequeathed his manuscripts, moved them to Milan. Forty-seven years later, the well-known artist and famous author of “Biographies,” Vasari, saw and flipped through these manuscripts at Melzi’s house. However, by that time a large part of them had already been separated – Vasari talks about one Milanese artist who chose to acquire notes about art.

Immediately after Melzi’s death, ruthless squandering began. Fourteen manuscripts ended up in the Ambrosian Library in Milan, two disappeared, thirteen by the order of Napoleon Bonaparte were taken to France in 1796 – among them the “Atlantic Codex,” later returned to Milan. Many other manuscripts from the collection, after misfortunes and wanderings around the world, found refuge in the Windsor Royal Library, the British Museum, the Library of Sciences and Arts of East Kingston, the Holkham Hall Library of Lord Leicester. The most voluminous – the “Atlantic Codex” – consists of 1,222 pages bound together.

A significant part of the notes was lost over time. Even before the separation of the manuscripts, a certain Pompeo Leoni ruthlessly ripped out hundreds of pages, which, in his opinion, had scientific value, and threw out the others. Despite such senseless and ignorant squandering, 5,000 manuscript pages of Leonardo have reached us.

The surviving pages represent an invaluable treasure. Reading them, one can imagine Leonardo’s style of work, his daily concerns, his worldview, and to some extent the details of his biography.

First and foremost, the endless horizon of his thought, the diversity of his explorations, his insatiable thirst to comprehend everything, and his irresistible desire to analyze everything are striking.

Leonardo da Vinci. Atlantic Codex. Photo: wikimedia.org

If we flip through just the “Atlantic Codex,” we encounter a thousand and one problems – they are mixed without any system, under the influence of momentary needs, according to mood. On the same pages, we will find mathematical calculations, various sketches, lists, geometric problems, household accounts, an analogy of air passing through human lungs to sea tides, new ideas about vision, about the evaporation of water from the surface of the Mediterranean Sea, about the nature of hail, numerous drawings, formulas, and much more.

When referring to the testimony of these manuscripts, two important circumstances should be kept in mind. Firstly, they were barbarously cut, partially lost, and arbitrarily torn apart. Secondly – and this is extremely important – being personal diaries, they were not intended for publication. As is known, Leonardo did everything to make them difficult to read: he wrote from right to left, so what is written can only be read in mirror reflection.

If all this is so, can it be assumed that Leonardo wished to deceive himself with a story about fictional events? Why would he need to write about nonsense, as some researchers stubbornly try to convince us?

After the necessary preliminary explanations, let’s turn to the pages of the “Atlantic Codex” that contain the famous “Armenian letters”. A few decades ago, Richter, the first researcher of these manuscripts, concluded that before arriving in Milan, Leonardo traveled to the East, mainly in Asia Minor, carrying out certain work, apparently as an engineer in the service of the Egyptian Sultan.

This conclusion was immediately and actively contested by a number of Italian historians – Leonardo’s life is studied in detail year by year, and there is not a single piece of evidence of his departure from Italy during the indicated period. Such attempts at denial, based on the facts of chronology, should be considered artificial and groundless. Until the discovery of manuscripts in Melzi’s house, no one had any idea that Leonardo held such a position as an engineer in the service of Cesare Borgia. Being a silent and closed person, Leonardo did not like to talk about himself and his life.

In fact, we know extremely little about his life before the age of thirty when he moved from place to place in search of that edge, that country, where he could realize his numerous plans. It is enough to remember his famous letter to Ludovico Sforza, where he writes about numerous and diverse works that he could perform.

Let’s examine point by point the objections that are usually raised against the fact of Leonardo’s journey to the East. Let’s start with the fact that Leonardo could not have been absent from Italy before he entered the service of Sforza in Milan. His stay in Florence in 1472, 1475, 1478, and 1481 is documented. In 1483 and 1487 he was in Milan. All this is absolutely correct, but it does not allow us to judge the time intervals between the given dates.

The argument is made that traveling to the East took whole years in that era. Today we know that this is not true, the coast of Asia Minor could be reached in one month, and faster if necessary.

When a conspiracy was organized against the Medici family, Giuliano was killed in the Florence Cathedral, and Lorenzo barely managed to save his life. The head of the conspirators, Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, fled to Constantinople, and Lorenzo Medici demanded that the Sultan immediately extradite him to his envoy. The Sultan fulfilled this demand, and Bandino was delivered to Florence in just 15 days. He was hanged on the wall of the Bargello, as evidenced by the impressive sketch of Leonardo that has come down to us.

Leonardo da Vinci. The Hanged Bernardo di Baroncelli, 1479. Photo: 1000museums.com

Another thing should not be forgotten – ever since the Florentine Republic seized the city of Pisa and bought the port in Livorno, constant communication was established between the Near East and Florence. A first-class fleet was founded, whose ships regularly transported export and import goods and carried numerous passengers. Leonardo could easily have taken advantage of this opportunity, and his absence for several months could have gone unnoticed.

What reasons might he have had for embarking on such an adventure?

This is an important question that needs to be explored in detail.

Life in Florence in Leonardo’s time was full of both joys and dangers. In the era of Medici autocracy, envy, cruelty, intrigue, slander, and revenge became commonplace.

Brilliant personalities, great deeds, noble gestures, generous spending, and alongside, intolerant, ruthless, cruel fanaticism, vindictiveness, unfair punishments. “Beffa”, that is, slander, baseness were common weapons of immoral, limited people against chosen talents to knock them off their pedestal.

Undoubtedly, there were plenty of people in Florence who were disturbed by Leonardo’s genius and his successes.

This illegitimate son, born out of wedlock, instead of keeping in the shadows out of shame, on the contrary, demonstrates his talents and diverse abilities, mental nobility, and dignity everywhere. He has achieved an enviable position and is always surrounded by brilliant personalities. Not possessing great wealth, he allows himself to live lavishly.

In my opinion, it was the oppressive atmosphere that made Leonardo leave his country and reach Armenia. These circumstances are not given due importance, although the hidden, envy-driven struggle against Leonardo reached such an extent that in April 1475, on a tip-off, he was brought to court for bad lifestyle along with Bartolomeo Paskini, Baccini, and Leonardo Tornambuoni, a close relative of Lorenzo Medici’s wife. On the ninth, the defendants appeared before the judges of San Marco, but were released on the same day due to the undeniable evidence in their favor.

The low denunciation, born of terrible hostility, although it had no legal consequences, however, became a serious shock in the life of the great artist, who fell into the claws of grief and despair. He lost the tranquility of thought and the will to create. This is undoubtedly the reason that he created very little in the last period of his life in Florence, although there were more than enough orders, and the rest of the artists worked tirelessly. He lost the desire to paint pictures – even the portrait of Lorenzo, ordered to decorate the chapel of Saint Bernard in the Palazzo della Signoria, was never completed.

A man of proud temperament, Leonardo was not accustomed to complaining about his difficult financial situation. He undoubtedly experienced financial constraints, unable to cover his usual expenses. For example, he was forced to ask the monks of San Donato for a small advance to buy paints to finish the work started in the monastery. However, it also remained unfinished.

Leonardo da Vinci. Saint Jerome, 1482. Photo: Musei Vaticani

To better understand Leonardo’s mental state at that time, it is enough to assess the mood with which he approached the canvas “Saint Jerome” – after a long misfortune, the unfinished painting ended up in the Vatican art museum. It irrefutably testifies to the artist’s depression and despair.

In his undisguised old age, Saint Jerome looks more like a skeleton covered in skin than a living creature. With deeply sunken eyes, twisted lips, on the fatal brink of life and death, he raises his bony palm to cover his pitiful, battered chest from the cold. The burning eyes seem to beg for the intervention of heavenly forces, a cry of horror escapes from the slightly open mouth.

At his feet lies a magnificent lion in a royal pose with a curved tail. The lion’s roar is meant to intensify the old man’s terror even further. Dense shadows create an oppressive, prison-like atmosphere.

This powerful unfinished painting explains everything to us. Saint Jerome undoubtedly embodies the mental state of the artist in Florence – the city became an unbearable prison for him. The roaring lion symbolizes Leonardo’s wounded pride.

Leonardo felt hopelessly alone, unhappy, and filled with disgust. His only goal was to run away from the city, from the stifling atmosphere, to regain freedom. The daily existence continued mechanically. He met with old acquaintances, with other artists, whose smirks and false faces became unbearable for him. He could no longer see the crude, arrogant merchants and traders, or the educated public who gathered in groups on Piazza Signoria to discuss classical art and Dante’s poem.

He had no close people. His biological father, who lived with his third wife, was not interested in his son. His mother, an illiterate peasant, had moved to her native village and could not provide Leonardo with moral support.

The only salvation was flight. To get rid forever of the crude and ignorant Florentine traders and equally ignorant clergy.

Of course, there were plenty of places to work in Italy itself. Pope Sixtus IV initiated large-scale construction work, Botticelli and Perugino were already working for him. The Duke of Urbino, the Marquis of Mantua, the Doge of Venice, the Regent of Milan were also not idle, and they encouraged the arrival of artists.

Rumors circulated about those who had gone to distant lands: Egypt, Syria, Russia, Turkey – such as Mikelozzo, Aristotle di Fioravanti, Gentile Bellini. Michelangelo himself was invited to Constantinople to build the Galata Bridge.

Leonardo had to prefer a trip to some distant country. A new world, a new environment, new people, new impressions. To forget and refresh the soul.

So why did he choose Armenia – as he himself writes, “Erminia”? After all, Armenia had already lost its independence, its Cilician part came under the power of Egypt. However, in his notes, Leonardo constantly mentions Armenia and never – Egypt.

Leonardo da Vinci. Atlantic Codex. Page 393 (verso), 1500

Foreign researchers completely overlooked the fact that Armenians were much better known in Florence than is commonly believed. First of all, it is worth mentioning the picturesque hill rising above Florence with a beautiful basilica, where Leonardo loved to sit for a long time, observing nature. The basilica is called San Miniato, but this is a later name, remodeled in Italian style. In the Middle Ages, it was called San Minias – named after an Armenian who preached Christianity in Tuscany in 250 and accepted martyrdom.

From an early age, Leonardo had a habit of visiting this basilica, examining numerous mosaics – especially over the main altar, with the image of the saint himself – it had an inscription in gold letters: “San Minuato Rex Erminiae”.

Here Leonardo also met monks from the monastery located behind the church. According to the testimony of Father Lugano, they were Armenians. These long-bearded monks with burning eyes could tell Leonardo about their homeland, which they had to leave, about its misfortunes, its customs and beauty, about the struggle that their people were conducting, defending their faith.

In addition to the monks, Armenians could be met at every step – after all, they built thirty-four churches and monasteries in Italy, gave this country eleven saints.

Italians often encountered Armenians during their travels to the East, especially to Byzantium. All Eastern people in Italy were called “Greeks”, that is, Greeks, in Florence there is still a medieval street Via dei Greci. Here, craftsmen from the East – Greeks and especially Cilician Armenians – had their “botegi”, that is, workshops, where they did finishing and jewelry work. Before Duccio, they had already created their own art school in Florence.

Leonardo undoubtedly knew the Armenians.

He visited the Platonic Academy, where, most likely, he met and conversed with Gregorio Trapezonti – a Greek by nationality, a connoisseur of everything Armenian, an outstanding man who taught in Florence, the author of valuable works on Plato and Aristotle, a participant in academic disputes, a defender of the philosophical views of David Anakhta and the Tatev Monastery.

At one time, Armenia maintained active trade relations with Venice, Pisa, Florence, and the misfortunes of the last Armenian king were still remembered.

Later, during the visits of Egyptian and Turkish embassies, the interpreters for the barbarians were Armenians. Da Vinci could converse with them, interested in information about Eastern countries. One of the Armenian translators, a native of Cilicia named Bardugimeos, passed through Florence on his way to Cesare Borgia. From him, Leonardo could have learned about Cilicia. Who knows, perhaps it was through him that Leonardo managed to find work with the Egyptian sultan.

Mention of Armenia and sketch in Leonardo da Vinci’s manuscript. Atlantic Codex. Page 393 (verso), 1500

Dr. Richter, the first to write about Leonardo’s journey based on data from the “Atlantic Codex”, believed that the artist served the Egyptian sultan as an engineer for some time.

Eduard McCorti, Strzhigovsky, Clemente Fuzaro consider this assumption completely natural, given Leonardo’s disappointment and difficult financial situation at that time.

I would like to mention some more circumstances that have not yet received due attention from researchers. According to a number of signs, Leonardo, like many other figures of the Renaissance, was influenced by the secretly preached Eastern religious-philosophical doctrine. At one time, it was even suggested that he converted to Islam. This opinion was almost immediately unequivocally refuted. However, we will not err against the truth if we say: a detailed study of the manuscripts suggests that the great artist was indeed a supporter of a mystical teaching that contained new prophecies. Such beliefs have spread widely. The sciences called “secret” were everyday bread. Such an extreme realist as Machiavelli, who was generally skeptical of religion, nevertheless believed that the air was saturated with spirits, the causes of great events were miraculous spirits, prophets, revelations, and heavenly signs. The Greek philosopher Marsilio Ficino – the central figure in the Platonic Academy and its founder – wrote books in defense of divination, magic, devil worship. In one of the letters addressed to Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino apologizes that he will not be able to visit him, since the stars are in an unfavorable position.

Agostino Nifon, one of Ficino’s best students, convinces in his works: “We must speak like everyone else, but think like few.” Leonardo’s records are nothing more than the embodiment of this principle in life.

Let’s turn to the manuscripts. The Atlantic Codex, the main subject of our interest, contains various projects addressed in the form of letters to “Devadaru of Syria, the viceroy of the holiest Babylonian sultan.” Here, in the letters, Leonardo promises to explain the causes and consequences of some disaster. He writes:

“Being in this part of Armenia, to lovingly and carefully fulfill your commission with which I was sent, and to approach it in the most suitable place, I arrived in the city of Calindra, located near our borders, at the foot of that part of the Taurus Mountains, which is separated from the Euphrates, overlooking the Great Taurus in the west.” According to the geographer Frekfield, this city was apparently located in the Calindra region of Cilicia and was called Kilindra in the Middle Ages. It is also mentioned in Leonardo’s Windsor manuscript, which testifies to the artist’s personal memories. We then encounter a description of the Temple of Venus. Leonardo writes:

“To the west of the Cilician coast, the island of Cyprus opens up before you.”

Leonardo da Vinci. Atlantic Codex. Page 393 (recto), 1500 PeopleOfAr writes that in the upper right corner of the left page is a map of the Armenian Highlands. The manuscript description notes that the Euphrates River, which originates in the Armenian Highlands, is indeed mentioned on the page.

On the back of the sheet, he again asserts the visibility of Cyprus from the eastern coast of Cilicia. Those who have been to Cyprus know that even today in the Kuklis area you can see the ruins of the Temple of Venus. According to ancient legends, the temple was erected where Aphrodite, the goddess of Love and Beauty, was born from sea foam – this is also mentioned in Homer’s epic. Every spring since ancient times, many people come here to glorify the beloved goddess.

Having visited this place twice, I clearly saw the Cilician shores, and there is no reason to doubt that Cyprus is also visible from that side. [Apparently, over time, Costan Zaryan confuses two points on the coast associated with the name of the goddess. The Cilician coast could be seen not from the southwest of the island, from the Kuklis described by the author, but from the northwest, from the Akamas peninsula, from its Baths of Aphrodite – trans.]

Next, Da Vinci describes the Taurus Mountains. He describes his precise observations of the sun’s rays illuminating the eastern slope four hours before sunrise. He speaks of the inherent whiteness of the slope, its shining light, which serves as moonlight for local Armenians in the darkness. Leonardo attributes this to the white color of the mountain rock – limestone.

Dr. Richter’s research fully confirms the described phenomenon.

“The peak of the mountain,” Leonardo continues, “is lit by the sun starting from the last third of the night.” Obviously, he saw the mountain together with Devadaru, as he adds: “When we observed it together, it seemed to us like a comet, and in the night darkness, it seemed to change shape, breaking up into two or three parts, lengthening or shortening. This is caused by clouds on the horizon, which stand between the sun and the mountain and block the path of some rays.”

Such an explanation is typical for Leonardo’s way of thinking, who always carefully studied unique phenomena of nature. The lower part of the same manuscript page is called “Armenian letters”. The sketch of the mountain landscape placed here apparently serves as an illustration. On the right side of the sheet are several brief sentences under the heading “Book Division.”

Here we encounter a highly significant circumstance. Leonardo intended to present all his impressions of Armenia, emotional experiences and even torments in a separate book, where the sufferings of the Armenian people were to serve as a background for an expanded exposition of a religious-philosophical worldview of biblical scale.

A series of events takes place related to the figure of a prophet predicting disasters and destruction. The Armenians initially imprison him, then release him, convinced that the prophecies are fulfilled. Here he was apparently supposed to interpret, according to his mystical teaching, the causes of the sufferings of the Armenian people and give a detailed description of its tragedy in images.

Francesco Melzi. Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, 1515-1518. Photo: wikimedia.org

Here is this plan:

“Preaching and affirmation of faith.
Sudden flooding up to its end.
Destruction of the city.
Death and despair of people.
Persecution of the prophet, his liberation and mercy.
Description of the destruction caused by the mountain.
Inflicted damage.
Destructive power of snow.
Discovery of the prophet.
His prophecy.
Flooding in the lower part of Western Armenia, which occurred due to the formation of a crevice in the Taurus Mountain.”

Next, Leonardo writes:

“To eliminate the consequences of the flood in the lower part of Armenia, it is necessary to find an outlet for water between the Taurus Mountains.”

“As the new prophet proved, the destructions occurred exactly as he predicted.”

Next, Leonardo provides a description of the mountains and the Euphrates.

Then he explains the reasons for the delay in performing the work.

He was late because it was “necessary to carefully describe and investigate the causes of the destructive event, which had such huge and amazing consequences.”

“I couldn’t immediately start the work assigned to me. Devadaru should not be angry because of the delay, because to carry out his wishes, everything needs to be thought out and clarified, and this takes time.”

“If Professor Govi calls it a novel,” McCorty rightly notes, “we must admit that Leonardo’s novel lacks interest in human feelings.”

Still addressing Devadaru, Leonardo continues:

“I omit the description of Asia Minor, the seas surrounding it and the lands, since I know that you are informed on this subject through diligent and careful research.”

These lines are followed by excerpts from the information he received from locals, mainly about the Caspian Sea and mountains.

Leonardo da Vinci. Atlantic Codex. Page 207 (recto), 1490

Then comes a description of various natural phenomena. Leonardo talks about the change in the length of the shadows from the Taurus Mountain, comparing them with different distances: “In the middle of June, the shadow extends to the Sarmatian border, the journey there takes twelve days; in the middle of December, the shadow reaches the borders of the Hyperborean mountains, which are a month’s journey to the north.”

This information was undoubtedly given to him by local residents, according to Dr. Richter – inhabitants of the Caspian coast. In general, the information he provides is clear and simple, there is no doubt that it was obtained directly through personal experience.

Here is another quote: “The population of the valleys in the foothills lives richly, there are many beautiful springs and rivers and abundant vegetation, especially in the southern part.”

Leonardo writes about how the landscape changes at different altitudes of the mountain up to the zone of eternal snows. The dry, desert peak is vividly and visibly described. “Halfway to the top, the air becomes scorching, there is never any wind here. No living creature can live here for long, except for birds of prey, which inhabit the high-altitude crevices of Taurus and descend below the clouds in search of prey in secluded places. Here are only rocks – from the level of the clouds to the very top, and each rock shines with a dazzling whiteness. Due to the rocky, dangerous road, no one is able to climb to the top.”

The descriptive text leaves a strong impression on the reader. The author directly shares the impressions that excited him. Undoubtedly, all of this was truly felt and experienced.

It is unknown to whom the next letter was intended. In any case, not Devadaru, but someone else with whom the author was closely and intimately connected.

“Through my letters, I have been acquainting you with the events here, and now I should not ignore the events of recent days.”

In the second part of the letter, Leonardo adds: “I have often expressed joy about your well-being. I think you will sympathize with the sad situation I find myself in now.”

Here he describes the hopeless situation in which he found himself together with the locals. The situation is desperate, full of fear and dangers: “Never since the world was created from the elements, their power and fury have not sown such destruction – disasters fell upon us for ten hours in a row.”

Francois Hippolyte Lale. Leonardo da Vinci. Photo: wikimedia.org

“At first we were subjected to the attack and violence of hurricane winds, then, as if that was not enough, the strongest snowstorms filled the valley, destroyed a large part of the city, in addition, water flooded its lower part. Then suddenly it started raining, and a whole stream of pouring water, mixed with sand, mud, and stones, roots and branches of torn trees carried them away. This was followed by a grand fire – not only because of the winds, but also due to about thirty thousand robbers who have devastated the country and continue to destroy it. The few survivors are in such a desperate situation, in such terror, so stunned that they hardly dare to speak to each other. Abandoning everything, they hold on to each other, hiding in the ruins of churches, men and women, old and small – like a herd of frightened goats. And if it were not for those, among the former enemies, who gave us a little food, we would have died of hunger.”

This is a touching and at the same time accurate description of an eyewitness to the Armenian massacre. If Leonardo had not witnessed these terrible events with his own eyes, if he had not personally, being a foreigner, experienced these horrors, he would not have been able to imagine such a tragedy.

The letter ends with the following lines:

“I am sure that you, as a friend, will sympathize with my troubles, just as I rejoice in your successes.”

The clear and vivid description is accompanied by equally precise realistic drawings: camels with the help of which residents cross the river, the heads of three Armenians, as well as architectural sketches.

Many other facts confirm Leonardo da Vinci’s Cilician journey. Describing from afar Cyprus, this “world of golden Venus,” he mentions numerous shipwrecks near the dangerous island rocks.

Another example — at the time in Egypt there was a so-called “Babylonian” Sultan Qaitbay, who apparently hired Leonardo to work as an engineer, director of construction and restoration work. In 1477, the sultan travelled through the entire valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, inspecting the state of the fortresses. Forty years later, these fortresses were destined to fall into the hands of the Turks.

From written sources, it turns out that just at that time there were indeed a terrible flood and earthquake, which Leonardo describes so excitingly.

San Miniato al Monte in Florence, 1018. The basilica is named after St. Miniato of Florence, a martyr of Armenian origin. Photo: abstrartfirenze.org

Another important circumstance. Speaking of paints for painting, Leonardo mentions “terra Armena” – a dark yellow or light brown paint, which was not used by anyone else. Only the famous Vitruvius, who lived in the Roman era, in the first century BC, in his ten-book work dedicated to architecture, speaks of Armenian blue paint, which was used to paint houses and other buildings.

It can be assumed that the paint of the color of Armenian soil was brought by Leonardo da Vinci from Armenia himself.

After all these obvious pieces of evidence, the question arises: why are they not taken into account by some Western and especially Italian historians? Aren’t they trying to deny Leonardo’s journey to the East and, in particular, to Armenia, to deny the influence of Armenian architecture on European architecture in general and Italian in particular?

“Italy was destined to reintroduce Europe to the Indo-Aryan dome,” says renowned Austrian art historian Strzygowski in his book “The Origin of the Christian Church.” – “The Renaissance was destined to acknowledge the substantial advantage of the plan of a simple Armenian dome and for a long time give it a place in European architecture.”

It should not be forgotten that the entire initial period of the Italian Renaissance was characterized by a struggle against the old, an attempt to break free from the oppressive atmosphere of scholasticism, to return to clear and harmonious forms, to the moon and the sun.

“Damn the one who invented the damned Gothic architecture,” Antonio Filarete proclaims in 1450. “Only barbarians could have introduced this style in Italy.”

The Florence Cathedral, built in the Gothic style, remained without a dome for decades – Brunelleschi was able to cover it only when he turned to the Armenian style and technique. “Looking at the cathedral from the west and from the inside,” says Strzygowski, “you might think that it was built by an Armenian architect.” When later the same Brunelleschi built the Pazzi Chapel, he again applied forms characteristic of Armenian architecture – he used a square as a necessary basis for the support of the dome base. His plan for the Church of Santa Maria dei Angeli is also executed in the Armenian style.

Alberti and Michelozzo, who visited the East, developed this direction even further, even more often used the support of the dome on a square.

Nevertheless, looking at the sketches brought by Leonardo from Armenia, you are convinced that he was the first to finally adopt and use this form of domed structures, although initially not for churches, but for other buildings.

Leonardo da Vinci. Atlantic Codex. Page 1098 (recto), 1514.

It is impossible to understand and explain Leonardo’s sketches if we do not admit his journey to Armenia. It was under his influence that Bramante completely abandoned the Gothic style and adopted the principles of Armenian architecture, which later gave a new direction to the construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral.

The fact of the entry of Italian architecture into a period of blending styles and uncertainty is confirmed at least by the circumstances of the construction of Milan’s Duomo. Gian Galeazzo Visconti started it in 1385. German and French architects were invited, as there were not enough authoritative ones in Italy at the time. Each of the invited ones applied their own principles to their liking, often contradicting what was done earlier. By the time of Gian Galeazzo’s death, only the walls of the church had been erected.

When Ludovico took over the state, he invited Bramante and da Vinci to continue the work. They could not help, it was impossible to complete the construction of a building, at the beginning of which different styles and principles were mixed.

However, the meeting and cooperation of Bramante with Leonardo, who brought from the East drawings of Armenian churches, was fateful, as if predestined from above. Soon Bramante fully used the principles of Armenian architecture, for example, in the construction of the Church of San Satiro. He used the eastern style – semicircular apses and sacristies, heptagonal vaults and spherical domes. As Strzygowski accurately notes, not having enough space for apses, Bramante, faithful to the chosen style, creates an effect of depth by covering the wall behind the altar with painted apses. Later, in the Church of Santa Maria della Grazia, he added another apse and one arch, which he later used in his Roman buildings.

Leonardo’s main architectural idea was to use an octagon, which he combined with the Armenian square resting on apses with internal supports.

Living in France, in the construction of the Chambord castle, he was inspired by the forms of Armenian architecture. The center of this building is, as is known, a cross-shaped hall crowned with a dome – its plan inspired Bramante during the construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral.

In light of the facts presented, we can conclude – yes, Leonardo da Vinci did indeed visit Armenia.

Kostan Zaryan. Leonardo da Vinci and Armenia, 1967

Santa Maria presso San Satiro in Milan (architects – Giovanni Antonio Amadeo and Donato Bramante), XVI century. Photo: wikimedia.org, aleteia.org

Source: www.armmuseum.ru Prepared according to the materials: Aniv, No. 2, 2006; Sagratyan A. Pleasant minutes of short meetings, 2010

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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