Leonardo da Vinci and Armenia

The eminent Armenian writer Kostan Zaryan became interested in this topic as early as the 1920s. Important milestones include his lecture in Boston in 1944, a series of lectures at the American University in Beirut from 1952-1954, and a publication in the journal “Sovetakan Arvest” (No. 4-5, 1967), reprinted in 1999 in the collection “Navatomar,” edited by Yuri Khachaturyan.

  1. Leonardo da Vinci is considered the most well-rounded individual of the Renaissance era. Despite the numerous works that have survived to this day, he remains the most enigmatic, mysterious person of his century.

He seems well-known, thanks to his paintings, manuscripts, and thousands of subsequent studies, yet he continually eludes us, much like the inscrutable smile on the lips of his Mona Lisa.

Historians and researchers can never be entirely confident in their conclusions about him. The authenticity of his paintings remains a subject of debate for years. His drawings, which have received numerous mentions, have either completely disappeared or have been damaged due to improper storage. His sculptures are lost or destroyed. The canals he built and walls he erected are forgotten and unmentioned. Little is definitively known about his numerous journeys.

Truly, Leonardo da Vinci is an enigmatic figure

  1. And so arises a curious question for us: Did Leonardo visit Armenia, as he himself claims? A number of historians who have researched the issue—Richter, McCurdy, Strzygowski, Clemente Fuzaro—have no doubts about it. Others, primarily Italians, who may not be entirely impartial, categorically deny the fact of the journey, considering it another of Leonardo’s artistic fabrications.

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

Antonio de Beatis, a trustworthy witness who served as the secretary to Cardinal of Aragon, reports that during a visit to the artist in Cloux, he saw an innumerable number of volumes filled with writings in vernacular language. Leonardo himself speaks of 120 notebooks, of which, unfortunately, only half have survived to us, and even those are far from being in ideal condition.

Francesco Melzi, to whom Leonardo bequeathed his manuscripts, transferred them to Milan. Forty-seven years later, the famous painter and renowned author of “Lives” Vasari saw and leafed through these manuscripts at Melzi’s home. Even then, many of them were dispersed—Vasari tells of a Milanese artist who chose to purchase notebooks about art.

Immediately after Melzi’s death, a merciless scattering began. Fourteen manuscripts ended up in the Ambrosian Library in Milan, two disappeared, and thirteen, by order of Napoleon Bonaparte, were taken to France in 1796—including the “Atlantic Codex,” which later returned to Milan.

Many other manuscripts found their way to the Royal Library at Windsor, the British Museum, the Library of Sciences and Arts in East Kingston, and Lord Leicester’s Holkham Hall Library. The most voluminous—the “Atlantic Codex”—consists of 1,222 interlinked pages.

A significant portion of the notes was eventually lost. Even before the manuscripts were divided, Pompeo Leoni ruthlessly tore out hundreds of pages he considered scientifically valuable, and discarded others. Despite such reckless and ignorant waste, 5,000 manuscript pages of Leonardo have reached us.

These surviving pages are a priceless treasure. Reading them allows us to understand Leonardo’s working style, daily concerns, worldview, and to some extent, details of his biography.

Most striking is the boundless horizon of his thought, the variety of investigations, the insatiable thirst to understand everything, and the irresistible urge to subject everything to analysis.

If we were to only flip through the “Atlantic Codex,” we would encounter a thousand and one problems—mixed without any system, driven by momentary needs and according to mood.

On the same pages, we find mathematical calculations, various sketches, lists, geometric problems, household accounts, analogies between the passage of air through human lungs and ocean tides, new theories on vision, evaporation from the surface of the Mediterranean Sea, the nature of hail, numerous drawings, formulas, and much more.

When considering the evidence from these manuscripts, we should keep in mind two important circumstances. First, they were barbarically cut, partially lost, and arbitrarily torn apart.

Second, and this is extremely important—being personal diaries, they were never intended for publication. As is well-known, Leonardo did everything to make their reading difficult: he wrote from right to left, making the text readable only in a mirror reflection.

If all this is true, can we assume that Leonardo wished to deceive himself by writing about fictional events? Why would he need to write about nonsense, as some researchers stubbornly try to convince us?

  1. After the necessary preliminary explanations, let’s turn to the pages of the “Atlantic Codex,” which contain the famous “Armenian Letters.” Several decades ago, Richter, the first researcher of these manuscripts, concluded that before arriving in Milan, Leonardo traveled the East, primarily Asia Minor, performing specific tasks, 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 has been meticulously studied year by year, and there is not a single piece of evidence to suggest that he left Italy during that time period. Such attempts at denial, based on the facts of chronology, should be considered artificial and groundless.

Before the manuscripts were discovered in the Melzi house, no one had any idea that Leonardo had held a position as an engineer in the service of Cesare Borgia. Being a reserved and reticent man, Leonardo did not like to talk about himself and his life.

In reality, we know very little about his life up until the age of thirty, as he moved from place to place in search of the land and the country where he could realize his numerous plans. Just recall his famous letter to Ludovico Sforza, where he writes about the numerous and diverse works he could perform.

Let’s examine point by point the objections usually raised against the fact of Leonardo’s journey to the East. To begin with, Leonardo could not have been absent from Italy before entering the service of Sforza in Milan. His presence in Florence in 1472, 1475, 1478, and 1481 is documented. In 1483 and 1487, he was in Milan. All of this is perfectly true but does not account for the periods of time between these dates.

One argument is that travel to the East in that era took years. Today, we know that this is not the case; one could reach the coast of Asia Minor within a month, or even sooner if needed.

When a conspiracy against the Medici family was organized, Giuliano was killed in Florence’s cathedral, and Lorenzo barely managed to save his life. The leader of the conspirators, Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, fled to Constantinople, and Lorenzo de Medici demanded that the Sultan deliver him immediately to his envoy. The Sultan complied, and Bandino was brought back to Florence within 15 days. He was hanged on the wall of the Bargello, as evidenced by Leonardo’s impressive sketch that has come down to us.

We should also not forget that, ever since the Republic of Florence took control of the city of Pisa and bought a port in Livorno, there has been regular communication between the Near East and Florence.

A first-rate fleet was established, whose ships regularly transported export and import goods and carried numerous passengers. Leonardo could easily have availed himself of this opportunity, and his absence for a few months could have gone unnoticed.

What motivated him to embark on such an adventure?

This important question needs detailed examination.

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

Genius individuals, great deeds, noble gestures, generous expenditures, and alongside intolerant, ruthless, cruel fanaticism, vengeance, unjust punishments. “Beffa,” which means slander, was a common weapon of immoral, limited people against chosen talents, in order to knock them off their pedestal.

Undoubtedly, there were many in Florence who were troubled by Leonardo’s genius and his successes.

This illegitimate son, born from an extramarital affair, rather than keeping to the shadows out of shame, instead openly displays his talents and versatile abilities, inner nobility and dignity. He has reached an enviable position and is always surrounded by brilliant individuals. Despite not possessing great wealth, he allows himself to live lavishly.

In my opinion, it was precisely this oppressive atmosphere that drove Leonardo to leave his country and make his way to Armenia. This circumstance is not given the importance it deserves, although the hidden battle against Leonardo fueled by envy reached such a point that in April 1475, he was brought to court for immoral conduct along with Bartolomeo Paskini, Bachini, and Leonardo Tornabuoni, a close relative of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s wife. On the ninth of the month, the accused appeared before the judges of San Marco but were released on the same day due to irrefutable evidence in their favor.

This vile denunciation, born out of horrifying hostility, although legally inconsequential, nevertheless became a serious shock in the life of the great artist who fell into the clutches of sorrow and despair.

He lost his peace of mind and will to create. Undoubtedly, this is the reason why he created very little during his last period in Florence, even though there were more than enough commissions and other artists worked tirelessly. He lost the desire to paint—even the portrait of Lorenzo, commissioned to decorate the chapel of St. Bernard in the Palazzo della Signoria, was never completed.

A man of proud temperament, Leonardo was not one to complain about his difficult financial situation. He was undoubtedly financially constrained, unable to cover his usual expenses. For instance, he had to approach the monks of San Donato to request a small advance to purchase paints to finish the work he had started in the monastery. However, even that remained unfinished.

To better understand Leonardo’s emotional state at that time, one need only evaluate the mood with which he approached the canvas “St. Jerome” — after long misfortunes, the unfinished painting ended up in the Vatican art museum. It irrefutably attests to the artist’s depression and despair.

In his blatant old age, St. Jerome appears more like a skeleton wrapped in skin than a living being. With deeply sunken eyes, twisted lips, and at the fateful edge between life and death, he lifts his bony palm to cover his pitiful, wounded chest from the cold. His burning eyes seem to plead for divine intervention, and a cry of horror escapes from his slightly open mouth.

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

This powerful unfinished painting explains it all to us. St. Jerome undoubtedly embodies the artist’s emotional state in Florence — the city had become an unbearable prison for him. The roaring lion symbolizes Leonardo’s wounded pride.

Leonardo felt hopelessly lonely, miserable, and filled with revulsion. His only goal was to flee the city, to escape its stifling atmosphere, and regain his freedom. Everyday existence mechanically continued.

He met with old acquaintances, with other artists whose mocking and insincere faces became unbearable for him. He could no longer stand to see the coarse, arrogant merchants and traders or the educated public who gathered in groups at Piazza della Signoria to discourse on classical art and Dante’s poetry.

He had no close people around him. His biological father, who lived with his third wife, showed little interest in his son. His mother, an illiterate peasant woman, had moved back to her native village and could not offer Leonardo any moral support.

His only salvation was escape. To forever rid himself of the coarse and ignorant Florentine merchants, and equally ignorant clergy.

Of course, Italy itself had plenty of opportunities for work. Pope Sixtus IV had initiated large-scale construction projects, and artists like Botticelli and Perugino were already creating for him. The Duke of Urbino, the Marquis of Mantua, the Doge of Venice, and the Regent of Milan were also active, encouraging the arrival of artists.

Rumors circulated about those who had ventured into far-off lands: Egypt, Syria, Russia, Turkey — figures like Micoletto, Aristotle di Fioravanti, and Gentile Bellini. Michelangelo himself was invited to Constantinople to build the Galata Bridge.

Leonardo should have preferred a trip to some distant country. A new world, a new environment, new people, new experiences. A chance to lose himself and refresh his spirit.

Why did he choose Armenia, or as he himself wrote, “Erminia”? After all, Armenia had already lost its independence, and its Cilician region had come under Egyptian control. However, Leonardo consistently mentioned Armenia in his notes, but never Egypt.

Foreign researchers have entirely overlooked the fact that Armenians were much better known in Florence than is commonly believed. First and foremost, there is the picturesque hill overlooking Florence, crowned with a beautiful basilica where Leonardo loved to spend long hours observing nature. The basilica is called San Miniato, but that is a later name, Italianized. In the Middle Ages, it was called San Minias — the name of an Armenian who preached Christianity in Tuscany in 250 AD and suffered martyrdom.

From a young age, Leonardo had the habit of visiting this basilica, examining its numerous mosaics — especially over the main altar, depicting the saint himself. On it was an inscription in gold letters: “San Minuato Rex Erminiae.”

Here, Leonardo also met monks from the monastery located behind the church. According to Father Lugano’s testimony, they were Armenians. These long-bearded monks with burning eyes could tell Leonardo about their homeland, which they had been forced to abandon: its tragedies, its customs, and beauty, and the struggle their people were engaged in to defend their faith.

Apart from the monks, Armenians could be encountered at every turn — after all, they had built thirty-four churches and monasteries in Italy and given the country eleven saints.

Italians often encountered Armenians during their travels to the East, especially to Byzantium. All Easterners in Italy were referred to as “Greeks,” and there is still a medieval street in Florence called Via dei Greci. Here, craftsmen from the East—Greeks and especially Cilician Armenians—had their “bottegas,” or workshops, where they carried out decorative and jewelry work. Before Duccio, they had already established their own art school in Florence.

Leonardo undoubtedly knew Armenians

He attended the Platonic Academy, where he likely met and conversed with Gregorio Trapezontius—a Greek by nationality, an expert in all things Armenian, a distinguished individual who taught in Florence, authored valuable works on Plato and Aristotle, participated in academic debates, and defended the philosophical views of David Anakhta and the Tatev Monastery.

In its time, Armenia had lively trade relations with Venice, Pisa, and Florence, and the misfortunes of the last Armenian king were still fresh in memory.

Later, during visits from Egyptian and Turkish delegations, Armenians served as translators for these foreigners. Da Vinci could have conversed with them, inquiring about information on Eastern countries. One of the Armenian translators, a Cilician native named Bardugimeos, passed through Florence on his way to Cesare Borgia. From him, Leonardo could have gathered information about Cilicia. Who knows, perhaps it was through him that Leonardo found employment with the Egyptian Sultan.

Dr. Richter, the first to write about Leonardo’s travels based on data from the “Atlantic Codex,” believed that the artist spent some time in the service of the Egyptian Sultan as an engineer.

Edward MacCurdy, Strzygowski, and Clemente Fuzaro find this supposition entirely natural, considering Leonardo’s disappointment and precarious financial situation at the time.

I would like to mention some additional factors that researchers have not yet sufficiently considered. By various indicators, Leonardo, like many other Renaissance figures, was influenced by a secretly propagated Eastern religious-philosophical doctrine.

There was even a time when it was suggested that he converted to Islam. This notion was almost immediately refuted outright. However, we would not err against the truth to say that a detailed study of the manuscripts suggests that the great artist was indeed a proponent of a mystical doctrine that contained new prophecies.

Such beliefs were quite widespread. The sciences, referred to as “mystical,” were a daily matter. Even an extreme realist like Machiavelli, who was generally skeptical of religion, nevertheless believed that the air was filled with spirits, and that the causes of great events were miraculous spirits, prophets, revelations, and celestial signs.

Greek philosopher Marsilio Ficino—a central figure in the Platonic Academy and its founder—wrote books defending divination, magic, and devil worship. In one of his letters addressed to Pico della Mirandola, Ficino apologizes for not being able to visit him, as the stars are in an unfavorable position.

Agostino Nifo, one of Ficino’s best students, asserts in his works: “We must speak as everyone does, but think as few do.” Leonardo’s notes are nothing less 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 “Devadar of Syria, the viceroy of the most sacred Babylonian Sultan.” In these letters, Leonardo promises to outline the causes and consequences of a certain disaster. He writes:

“Being in this part of Armenia, to lovingly and carefully carry out your assignment with which I was sent, and to proceed with it in the most suitable location, I arrived in the town of Kalindra, located near our borders, at the foothills of that part of the Taurus Mountains that is separate from the Euphrates, overlooking the Greater Taurus to the west.”

According to geographer Freckfield, this town presumably existed in the Kalindra region of Cilicia and was called Kilindra in the Middle Ages. It is also mentioned in Leonardo’s Windsor manuscript, indicating the artist’s personal memories. Next, we encounter a description of the Temple of Venus. Leonardo writes:

“West of the Cilician coast, the island of Cyprus is revealed before you.”

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 area of Kuklis, one can see the ruins of the Temple of Venus.

According to ancient traditions, the temple was erected where Aphrodite, the goddess of Love and Beauty, was born from sea foam. This is also mentioned in the Homeric epics. Every spring, since ancient times, numerous people travel there to honor the beloved goddess.

Having visited this place twice, I clearly saw the Cilician coast, and there is no reason to doubt that Cyprus is also visible from that side. (Apparently, over time Kostan Zaryan confuses two points on the coast associated with the name of the goddess. The Cilician coast could have been seen not from the southwest of the island, from the Kuklis described by the author, but from the northwest, from the Akamas Peninsula, with its Baths of Aphrodite — translator’s note).

Next, da Vinci describes the Taurus Mountains. He outlines his precise observations of the sun’s rays that illuminate the eastern slope four hours before dawn. He talks about the inherent whiteness of the slope, its glowing light, which serves as moonlight for the local Armenians. Leonardo attributes this to the white-colored mountain rock — limestone.

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

“The mountain peak,” Leonardo continues, “is illuminated by the sun starting from the last third of the night.” Clearly, he saw the mountain with Devadar, as he adds: “When we observed it together, it seemed to us like a comet, and in the darkness of the night, it seemed to change shape, splitting into two or three parts, elongating or shortening. This is due to clouds on the horizon, which come between the sun and the mountain and obstruct some rays.”

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

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

A series of events unfold, related to the figure of a prophet predicting disasters and destruction. The Armenians initially imprison him, then release him, convinced that the prophecies are coming true. Here he was apparently supposed to interpret, according to his mystical teaching, the reasons for the sufferings of the Armenian people and provide a detailed description of its tragedy.

Here is the plan:

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

Next, Leonardo writes:

“To mitigate the effects of flooding in the lower part of Armenia, it is necessary to find an outlet for the water between the Taurus Mountains.” “As the new prophet proved, the destructions occurred exactly as he predicted.”

Then Leonardo gives a description of the mountains and the Euphrates.

He then explains the reasons for the delay in executing 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 astonishing consequences.”

“One could not immediately begin the work assigned to me. Devadar should not be angry about the delay, as to fulfill his wishes, everything needs to be thought through and clarified, which takes time.”

“If Professor Govi calls this a novel,” Mac-Corti fairly notes, “it must be admitted that Leonardo’s novel lacks interest in human emotions.”

Still addressing Devadar, Leonardo continues:

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

Following these lines are excerpts from the information he received from local residents, primarily about the Caspian Sea and the mountains.

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

This information was undoubtedly given to him by local residents, according to Dr. Richter—residents of the Caspian coast. Overall, the information he provides is clear and straightforward; there is no doubt that it was obtained directly through personal experience.

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

Leonardo writes about how the landscape changes at different heights of the mountain up to the zone of eternal snow. The dry, barren peak is vividly and visibly described. “Halfway to the peak, the air becomes scorching; no wind ever blows here.

Here, no living creature can survive for long, except for birds of prey that inhabit the high-mountain crevices of Taurus and descend below the clouds in search of prey in secluded places.

Here, there are only rocks—from the level of clouds to the very peak, and each rock shines with dazzling whiteness. Due to the stony, 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 have moved him. Undoubtedly, all of this was truly felt and experienced.

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

“Through my letters, I have acquainted you with the events here, and now I should not remain silent about 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 that you, on your end, will sympathize with the sad situation in which I currently find myself.”

Here he describes the hopeless situation in which he, along with the local residents, has found himself. The situation is desperate, full of fear and dangers: “Never since the world was created from the elements has their might and fury sown such destruction—calamities rained down upon us for ten hours in a row.”

“Initially, we were subjected to the assault and violence of hurricane winds; then, as if that were not enough, the strongest snowstorms filled the valley, destroyed a large part of the town, and in addition, water flooded its lower part.

Then suddenly a downpour began, and a whole stream of descending water, mixed with sand, mud, and stones, roots, and branches of torn trees swept them away. This was followed by a massive fire—not only due to the winds but also due to approximately thirty thousand bandits who have laid waste to the country and continue to destroy it.

Few survivors are in such a desperate situation, in such horror, so stunned that they hardly dare speak to each other. Abandoning everything, they cling to each other, taking refuge in the ruins of churches, men and women, old and young—like a herd of frightened goats. And if it were not for those, among former enemies, who gave us some food, we would have died of hunger.”

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

The letter ends with the following lines:

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

Clear and precise descriptions are accompanied by equally accurate realistic drawings: camels, used by the locals to cross the river, the heads of three Armenians, as well as architectural sketches.

  1. Many other facts confirm Leonardo da Vinci’s journey to Cilicia. Describing Cyprus, which he saw from a distance as a “world of golden Venus,” he mentions numerous shipwrecks near the perilous island cliffs. […]

Another example— at that time in Egypt, the so-called “Babylonian” Sultan Qaitbay apparently employed Leonardo as an engineer, overseeing construction and restoration work. In 1477, the sultan traveled throughout the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, 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 becomes clear that around that time, there actually were terrible floods and earthquakes, which Leonardo describes so vividly.

Another important point: speaking of pigments for painting, Leonardo mentions “terra Armena”—a dark yellow or light brown color that was used by no one else. Only the famous Vitruvius, who lived in the Roman era, in the first century BC, in his ten-book work on architecture, speaks of Armenian blue paint, which was used to paint houses and other buildings.

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

  1. After all these obvious pieces of evidence, a question arises: why are they not taken into account by some Western, and especially Italian historians? Are they not 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 the famous Austrian art historian Strzygowski in his book “The Origin of the Christian Church.” “The Renaissance was destined to recognize the essential advantages of the simple Armenian dome plan and give it a long-lasting place in European architecture.”

We should not forget that the initial period of the Italian Renaissance was characterized by a struggle against the old, a desire to break free from the stifling atmosphere of scholasticism, to return to clear and harmonious forms, to the moon and the sun.

“Cursed be the one who invented the ill-fated Gothic architecture,” declares Antonio Filarete in 1450. “Only barbarians could introduce this style into Italy.”

The Florence Cathedral, built in the Gothic style, remained without a dome for decades—Brunelleschi managed to cover it only when he turned to Armenian style and technique. “Looking at the cathedral from the west and from the inside,” says Strzygowski, “one might think it was built by an Armenian architect.”

When later Brunelleschi constructed the Pazzi Chapel, he again employed forms typical of Armenian architecture—using the square as the essential basis for supporting the dome’s foundation. His plan for the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli is also executed in the Armenian style.

Alberti and Michelozzo, who visited the East, further developed this approach, more often using the square as the base for supporting the dome.

However, reviewing the sketches that Leonardo brought from Armenia, it becomes evident that he was the first to definitively adopt and use this form of domed structures, initially not for churches but for other buildings.

It’s impossible to understand and explain Leonardo’s sketches without acknowledging his journey to Armenia. Precisely under his influence, 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 that Italian architecture entered a period of mixing styles and uncertainties is confirmed, among other things, by the circumstances surrounding the construction of Milan Cathedral. Gian Galeazzo Visconti began it in 1385.

German and French architects were invited since there were not enough reputable ones in Italy at the time. Each of the invited architects applied their own principles to taste, often contradicting what was previously done. 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, as it turned out to be impossible to complete the construction that had started with mixed styles and principles.

However, the meeting and collaboration between Bramante and Leonardo, who brought drawings of Armenian churches from the East, proved to be fateful, as if preordained from above. Soon, Bramante fully utilized the principles of Armenian architecture, for instance, in the construction of the Church of San Satiro.

He used the Eastern style—semi-circular apses and sacristies, heptagonal vaults, and spherical domes. As Strzygowski accurately notes, not having enough space for apses, Bramante, staying true to his chosen style, creates an effect of depth by covering the wall behind the altar with painted apses. Later, in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, he added another apse and one more arch, which he later used in his Roman constructions.

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

After settling in France, he was inspired by Armenian architectural forms while constructing the Chambord Palace. The centerpiece of this structure is, as is well known, a cross-shaped hall crowned with a dome—its design 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.


Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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